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Latest Flap Highlights the Need for City-Wide Tree Ordinance

Thanks to Brickell resident and photographer Claudio Lovo, for bringing attention to a potential arborcide of 23 mature trees in the heart of Miami’s Brickell neighborhood. Lovo noticed that an application for tree removal had been filed by the ‘Point View Association’ for the removal of nearly all the large shade trees along the west side of Brickell Bay Drive between 14th and 15th street. Shortly thereafter, he tweeted out a call to action for Brickell residents to thwart the unnecessary tree removal.

These 2 perfectly healthy black olive trees, along with 21 others including crepe myrtles, could be gone because they ‘block views’.

Here is a .pdf file with pictures of each tree slated for destruction, and a map of the area. It’s a stunning amount of tree cover and valuable shade that would be lost in an instant if the permit is approved.

For some background, it appears that the Point View Association, which is a condominium board made up of a few older-construction condo buildings along Brickell Bay Drive, collected enough signatures to formally file a request for the tree removal. According to Lovo, owners of lower-floor units are upset that the trees obstruct their views of the bay. I spoke to a few local residents leaving the buildings who speculated another reason is that the leaves blow into the swimming pool areas of the condominiums, causing an inconvenience to the maintenance crews.

Regardless, both arguments are utterly irrelevant as the presumably healthy trees reside on public property belonging to all residents of the City of Miami. I’m no arborist, but leaves periodically falling from trees is not an abnormal phenomenon. Perhaps the trees could use some simple pruning, which is normal maintenance for trees of this size.

“These trees are part of the public realm - that space between private buildings. By allowing them to be removed out of the interests of a few, you deprive the many, allowing forces to act out of balance.” - Karja Hansen

City of Miami District 2 Commissioner Sarnoff is adamantly opposed to the tree removal, and posted the formal ways to protest via his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

I sent an e-mail and called the Public Works department (who were very helpful in sending me the background material). But in case my e-mail was not clear enough, I posted another message below.

On Brickell Bay Drive near 15th Street, if you would like to go sign it.

The Next Steps

The permit application will go before the Historical and Environmental Preservation Board Meeting scheduled for September 4th at Miami City Hall. However, it’s imperative to voice your opposition before August 16th, which is the end of the posting period.

Here’s how:

If you would like to protest this proposed application for tree removal, you must supply the following information:
1) The location of the project and or project name (#12-209 – Brickell Bay Drive between SE 15 Road and SE 14 Street)
2) Your contact information: name, address, phone number, and e-mail address
3) The reason that you are protesting

You can transmit this information in any one (1) of the following ways:

1) Via E-mail: e-mail Regina Hagger (RHagger@miamigov.com) before midnight on August 16, 2012. Please be sure to “reply to all” of the parties in the Cc: field. (eestevez@ci.miami.fl.us, jsantana @miamigov.com, srevuelta @miamigov.com)

2) Via United States Mail: send a Certified Letter, with a Return Receipt via US Postal Service to:
City of Miami Public Works Department, 444 SW 2nd Avenue, 8th Floor, Miami FL 33130, ATTN: Regina L. Hagger. Note: the letter must be post marked by August 16, 2012. Any letter received with a postmark after August 16, 2012 will not be considered. We do allow 2 business days after the posting end date for the mail to be delivered to The City via the Postal Service.

3) Via Telephone: Call Regina Hagger at the City of Miami Public Works Department (305) 416-1749. I will take your protest over the phone. If you receive my voice mail – please leave a clear message with your name, phone number and reason for protest. I will call you back to let you know that your protest has been received.

4) In Person: You may come to the City of Miami Public Works Department. We are located at The Miami Riverside Center - 444 SW 2nd Avenue, 8th Floor, Miami FL 33130. You can ask for me and I will give you a protest form to fill out in person OR you can ask for a Protest Form from the Receptionist at the Public Works Reception Desk. Our business hours are Monday through Friday 8 am – 5 pm.

The Future

Today’s impassioned response to the potential tree destruction highlights a larger issue. As Karja Hansen of the Barrio Workshop explains on her Tumblr blog,

It is really easy to get fired up about sudden small injustices when they pop up. What is harder is the sustained effort, the continual attention. But that is what it takes, especially when you’re moving as fast as we are these days, and we’ve veered off in some important directions as much as we have.

Today’s flash in the pan effort to save 22 Olive Trees along Brickell Bay Dr is of importance and value, but it is simply a symptom of a larger problem: The City’s Tree Ordinance and its general attitude towards trees and landscaping, and the importance of these things in the overall picture.

As the Urban Paradise Guild urges us,

Protesting the removal before it becomes fait acompli is essential.”

In other words, without an over-arching tree ordinance (like Washington D.C’s for example) or Tree Ordinance Committee, today’s Brickell tree kerfuffle is tomorrow’s Coconut Grove battle or Friday’s Belle Meade tiff.

This is an important issue we should work together on in the near future. For the short term, it’s important we win the task and hand defeat this senseless destruction in Brickell.

The City of Miami actually has a plan for this street to create an attractive public space for people along Biscayne Bay. The details are in the planning stages, but tentatively it calls for removing the long row on-street parking, expand the sidewalk, planting shade trees and potentially including a buffered bike lane.

Douglas Thompson, a landscape architect and his wife, Ebru Ozer, a professor of landscape architecture at FIU, created the rendering below as an alternate long-term vision for Brickell Bay Drive. (Read more about the idea on Miami Urbanist - Envisioning Brickell Bay Park)

Final Thought
When a passerby spotted me posting the sign to the tree, she said, ‘Be careful, putting things on trees is illegal.”

I replied, “I’d rather get a ticket for putting something on a tree than having no trees left at all.

Update (8/16/2012 2:10pm)

City of Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff  via Twitter: “The City Manager confirmed this morning that the application to remove the trees on Brickell Bay Dr. has been withdrawn. No tree removal.”

Transit Miami recently sent out a list of questions to City of Miami District 2 Commission candidates to get their views on the issues facing District 2. Representing one of the most important economic and urban centers in our region, the District 2 commission seat plays a central role in supporting regional and local transit, and ensuring walkable, pedestrian friendly streets for city residents. The area included in District 2 includes those parts of the city that are best poised to take advantage of existing premium transit and walkable urbanism. We’ve posted the answers in the order they were received  - so far only Michelle Niemeyer and Marc Sarnoff have responded.

How will you work toward the goal of expanding transit in District

I would determine where we stand, where we have the most urgent needs, and where we should have improvements into the future, and then I would work with private resident and stakeholder organizations, the City, the County, State and Federal agencies together to be sure to get the greatest impact without duplication of effort.

Do you support the South Florida East Coast Corridor project to expand local and express rail service to downtown? Do you support a Tri-Rail option or a Metro-Rail option?

Yes, we badly need public transit that goes into downtown. This should be a priority rather than over spending on public projects that are not needed.

Do you support a MetroRail Baylink connection?

Absolutely. I think its crazy we don’t have a connection from the airport to downtown to Miami Beach.

How will you ensure that upcoming mega developments, like the Genting casino, contribute to pedestrian friendly street frontage?

Special area plans need to be approved by the commission, and the commission needs to strongly negotiate that they are outward facing community oriented properties as oppposed to the inward facing business model which is typical of desitination resorts  and casinos.

The Transit Miami led coalition to improve pedestrian and cyclist conditions on Brickell led to the temporary lowering of the speed limit by the Florida Department of Transportation, but only a change in the design of the street toward a true pedestrian boulevard will impact  driving habits. TM sent the FDOT a list of over 20 missing crosswalks and recommendations for travel lanes that will encourage lower travel speeds, which have been ignored to date. Will you join our coalition and fight with us to ensure that Brickell is reconstructed with narrowed lanes, permanently reduced speeds, and more abundant crosswalks?

Yes. Every community in this district has a road which bisects its neighboood and is treated by the county and the state as a commuter highway. These roads include Main Highway, South Bayshore, Brickell, and Biscayne Boulevard. In order for us to have healthy outdoor environment and pedestrian friendly walking communities we need to place a heavy emphasis on creating public transportation which will decrease the volume of cars beig pushed through our neighborhoods because the existing infrastructure is already overburdened.

In the ongoing planning for the I395 reconstruction, the Florida Department of Transportation is pushing an elevated highway through Overtown that will dwarf the existing expressway that decimated the once vibrant Overtown community. Other alternatives include a tunnel option that will open up over 40 acres of prime downtown land, as well as an at grade boulevard option. Which alternative would you support as District 2 commissioner?

If we could afford it, I support the tunnel.

 

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