Brickell Trees: Walking the Walk

My Resurvey of the Brickell Avenue Medians


Commissioner Marc Sarnoff

We all love the City of Miami and each of us want Brickell to be a boulevard that makes us proud. In that spirit, a capital improvement project as originally planned was slated to add 237 fully-grown shade trees and palms on Brickell Avenue between Southeast 25th Road and Southeast 15th Road. No doubt those who did not attend the numerous meetings were rightfully concerned that some trees were being removed. The project was then put on hold to further assess the community's response in hopes to garner an effective compromise.

Before discussing specific trees and the logistics involved in adding and removing trees, I want to thank those who voiced their thoughts and opinions to me and members of my office and took part in trying to add perspective and knowledge to the debate. The input was instrumental in defining the new direction of the project. Once the citizens of Brickell brought their concerns to our office, I had a responsibility to halt the project and reevaluate its objectives. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to hear and implement ideas from both sides of the spectrum on this issue. As much as some residents would like, we have no way to travel back in time and start the project from the beginning. All we can do is move forward with a modified plan that addresses as many of the concerns of residents and fellow travelers as possible. This new strategy, described below, does exactly that.

The original plan (no longer under consideration) called for the removal of 71 trees and the planting of 237 mature trees. When the plan was put on hold, only 36 trees had been removed, leaving 35 of the original 71 untouched. Not a single tree has been removed since. Due to mixed reactions at the start of the project, I decided that the most prudent thing to do was to resurvey the area myself, and listen to the contrary opinions about which trees should be removed and which should be kept. The aim of the revised plan is to balance a high canopy together with plants that are intended to grow below that canopy so that the median's arbor will appear full at its highest, as well as at its medium height.

First, it is significant to mention what trees and shrubbery will be added to the medians to replace the trees that have been removed, filling the emptiness where there were no trees to begin with. Overall, 180 new trees will be added. This reduction from the 237 additions in the original plan is the result of saving 29 more trees which would have been removed. Of these 180, 81 are new high canopy trees measuring at least 25 feet in height. The other 99 are smaller trees and palms. The assortment of high canopy trees includes 25 Live Oaks, 20 Gumbo Limbos, 26 Pink Tabebuias, 4 Black Olives, 5 Royal Poincianas and 1 Mahogany. The smaller trees that will be planted include 34 Jatropha trees, 15 Pitch Apple trees, 36 Simpson Stopper trees, and 14 palms of different species. Additionally, 14,000 shrubs will be added on certain medians where trees are not allowed to be placed because of Florida Department of Transportation regulations.

The trees were strategically selected to create a two-tiered canopy with high and low cover throughout the avenue. This was done to address one of the main concerns of the public: the removal of existing canopies which can be seen in front of the Brickell Townhouse, Brickell Mar, Skyline, Atlantics and Brickell Place condominiums. Additionally, there will be new high canopy trees planted in the areas which have already been cleared. An example of the changes in the plan to protect against uneven canopies is the original plan called for 24 Wild Tamarinds and 2 Pink Tabebuias. However, the Tamarinds are unavailable at 25 feet, which is the height of the other trees. Including this type of tree would lead to an unbalanced canopy. We replaced all of the Wild Tamarinds with Pink Tabebuias: a flowering tree which will provide a denser canopy, vibrant in color. Another example of our tweaking the original design is the use of 5 Royal Poincianas at 25-30 feet to replace 5 other trees that could only be found and planted at 15 feet. The addition of these trees creates a unique eclectic mix that will work together to provide shade and preserve the original character of the avenue.

Now to the issue of removal.

I have walked the Brickell Avenue strip between 25th and 15th Road multiple times now, and I have inspected each tree. Members of my office have also walked the medians with Fairchild Botanic Garden arborist Bob Brennan. His survey came at the request of concerned homeowners and he concedes that some trees should be removed because of hazard to residents and visitors of the avenue. He believes that the best course of action in our present state is to remove 3 trees. I believe we can save 2 of the trees Brennan has indicated could be replaced, but I think 5 other trees should be removed and replaced. Therefore, instead of 35 additional trees being removed, only 6 trees will be removed. The remaining trees will be preserved. Our aggregate findings and suggestions for tree removal include the following:

Brennan's Suggestions:

Proceeding from southwest to northeast, Brennan suggests removing a Gumbo Limbo slightly northeast of the intersection of Brickell Avenue and Southeast 25th Road. It can be preserved. The damage to the bark of the tree, while substantial, has not reached the substrata. Time will tell if the tree can survive the damage, but we can revisit the idea of its removal at a later date if there is further deterioration.

He also suggests the removal of a Live Oak a little further down the street from the same intersection because, under his estimation, it is dying or already dead.

Brennan recommends the removal of a Royal Poinciana slightly southwest of the Brickell Avenue and Southeast 15th Road intersection. It can be saved by the appropriate care, and is worth the try.

My Inspection Revealed:

So that we are clear, Brennan and I discuss 8 trees in total, 1 which we are in agreement should be removed, 2 that can be saved, and 5 others which should be removed. Therefore, there are only 6 trees in total which should be removed to improve public safety and the canopy.

From South(West) heading North(East):

1. The Pigeon Plum labeled tree #22 on the City tree survey should be removed. (For the reader's reference, the identification number of each tree on Brickell Avenue starts sequentially closest to Southeast 25th Road [lowest number] and ends with the tree closest to Southeast 15th Road [highest number]). The tree has a hollow trunk and the base is significantly smaller in relation to the rest of the tree, causing an unnecessary risk in storms. The photograph below clearly demonstrates the hollow trunk and its potential hazard to residents and travelers.

2. Brennan and I are in agreement regarding the Live Oak (#24) as it has sustained structural damage. The photo above clearly presents the potential hazard to residents and travelers.

3. I recommend the removal of a Pigeon Plum a little further down the road (#33) because, as is clearly demonstrated in the photograph below, an entire side of the tree is dead and unsalvageable.

4. I recommend the removal of a Gumbo Limbo (#65) further down the road because the top of the tree has been severely damaged. This has created an instability resulting in a potential hazard.

Trees 5, and 6. The removal of 2 Royal Poincianas (#152 and #153) close to Southeast 15th Road is necessary because the tops have suffered severe storm damage, leaving a number of dead branches. During the initial planning stage it was determined that those can be replaced with poincianas that are larger, providing greater shade. The damaged canopies are shown below.
7. Tree #150, shown above, is 1 of the 3 trees that Brennan believes could be removed, but I think this particular one can be preserved. The photograph above evidences a canopy demonstrating the contrast in canopy to trees #152 and #153.

The removal of these 6 problematic trees brings the total of trees removed to 42, 29 less than the original project. No other tree on the avenue will be removed. With the addition of 81 large canopy trees, not including the additional smaller trees, palms and shrubs, the net gain of large canopy trees on the Brickell Avenue medians will be 39. These changes consider all viewpoints and will preserve many of the older trees.

At the request of this office, the City project manager has rendered illustrations of the modified plan for the public to view, and has posted it on the city website. The green circles represent trees that were chosen for removal in the original plan but will now remain. The red circles symbolize the 6 trees that will be removed. Trees that were not slated for removal in the original plan and will remain in place are not labeled. A link to the plans on the city website is provided here.


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