The Coastal Star

Highland Beach: Developer faces deadline over tree removal

By Rich Pollack

A developer that hopes to build townhouses in Highland Beach has less than a month to seek a permit for work done almost two years ago.

During a July 23 hearing, the town’s Code Enforcement Board voted unanimously to give Golden City Highland Beach 30 days to file for a permit that town officials say should have been applied for before fill was added after trees felled by Hurricane Irma were removed.

Should Golden City not comply with the board’s order, it would be fined $250 a day until it makes the permit application.

Town Manager Marshall Labadie says the town is only asking the developer to apply for a permit for work that has already occurred.

“The resolution to the current enforcement order is to simply apply for the permit,” Labadie said. “We’ll review the application and schedule it for the next available Town Commission meeting.”

Attorneys for the developer contend that a permit is not necessary, in part because town officials at the time knew the work was being done — and, in fact, required the trees to be removed — and did not request a permit.

Attorneys also argue that because the property is a protected wetland, it falls under the jurisdiction of the South Florida Water Management District, not the town.

At the root of the dispute between the town and the developer is Golden City’s removal of four Australian pine trees and three Brazilian pepper trees that were knocked over during the 2017 hurricane.

Attorney Jamie Gavigan, who represents Golden City, said his client was asked by the town to remove the trees and town officials watched as fill was added for safety purposes.

“Trees were uprooted and because there was a hole, fill was put in to make sure the area was safe,” Gavigan said.

The filling of the holes left by uprooted trees caught the attention of the South Florida Water Management District before the town got involved.

In September, the water district and Golden City entered into a consent agreement in which the property owner agreed to pay $14,200 in civil penalties for filling the land where the trees had been removed without a permit.

Golden City is also required by the water district to remove fill and restore the area.

Town officials say that a permit is required before that work can be done, but Gavigan argues that the town’s authority is trumped by that of the water district.

Prior to last month’s hearing, lawyers for Golden City asked for a continuance because a member of their firm with valuable information was unable to attend.

The Code Enforcement Board denied the request, and Gavigan implied that an appeal of that decision could be filed. If that happens, the case would be heard in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. Ú

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