By Margie Plunkett

A row of unruly Australian pines, once a kempt hedge bordering a Cocoanut Road home, will be preserved after winning a reprieve on a sentence of eradication for the designated invasive species.

The Boca Raton City Council voted to save the trees after hearing the second appeal by the owner of the barrier island property at 1271 Cocoanut Road, who brought evidence that Australian pines have been allowed to thrive in other areas of the city: at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton Beach Club, at the Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club and in the same neighborhood where his trees had been condemned.

In documents supporting eradication of the trees — in keeping with city goals of ridding Boca Raton of invasive, exotic species — the city pointed out that those areas are not under its control. In the case of FAU, the land is owned by the state.

Charles Putman, who represented property owner Joseph Ligouri, noted that the FAU land is actually owned by the Department of Environmental Protection.

“I think that’s humorous because they’re the ones who have created the legislation they asked all of you to enact,” Putman said. “If there was a real concern about getting those trees out of there, they would have been gone.”

Putman also pointed out that there are homes constructed in the early 2000s whose Australian pines had not been removed. He noted that Ligouri had consulted with a landscaper who said most of the trees in his yard were healthy, but suggested removing a couple that were not and trimming the rest back to 25 feet.

Mayor Susan Whelchel said she supported keeping the trees — otherwise the city would have to go back and demand that others in the neighborhood remove theirs. “How can you do that?” she asked.

The council asked Ligouri to clean up the stand of trees, although it did not include the request in the resolution.

“We would ask that the developers consider the fact that (the Australian pines) had grown wild from what was a nice hedge at one time,” said council member Michael Mullaugh. “Maybe they could be dressed up a little bit. I don’t want to make a demand on the owner, but it would be nice if it happened.”

The issue first came up in January when Ligouri wanted to preserve the trees on the vacant lot where he planned to build a new home. Ordinances intended to rid the city of Australian pine and other invasive species require that the trees be removed before a certificate of occupancy can be granted.

The city manager denied Ligouri’s request in April, and the property owner appealed to the Environmental Control Hearing Board. The board denied the appeal in June, upholding the city manager’s decision.

The vacant lot once held a home that fronted on Spanish River Road, with the Australian pine hedge in place until 2007. The home was razed and the property went unmaintained, according to city documents. The 30-foot Australian pines have grown unrestrained. The property owner argued that the trees are consistent with the area, pose no environmental danger and are no more susceptible to wind threat than other trees, according to the documents. 

City staff challenged all three arguments.                                 Ú

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