Neighbors gather Jan. 1 at the site of a banyan tree at the property known as Banyan Tree Estates on Park Avenue in Anna Maria. The group lamented the loss of the landmark tree’s prop roots and its overall size. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
Bare tree tops The sea grape trees and shrubs on the beachfront near the Park Avenue beach access in Anna Maria have been cut.
Woman on bench by short tree Nearby are healthy sea grapes and other beach plants. Islander Photos: Rick Catlin
Anna Maria Commissioner Nancy Yetter and Park Avenue resident Betty Yanger became concerned at the end of 2013 when workers trimmed a banyan tree on two vacant lots on Park Avenue.
Yetter was concerned enough to go to the site with several area residents to determine if any city codes were violated.
“They were trimming on private property and it appeared no trees were being removed,” the commissioner said.
Yanger said it was a shame that the tree had to be trimmed so severely.
“It’s always been a community tree. I wish it could have been turned into a park, but I guess they had to make room for a house,” she said.
Yetter was more upset when she discovered some sea grape trees and shrubs along the shore, only 100 yards from the Park Avenue Banyan Tree Estates where the tree was cut, had either been burned down, cut down or were destroyed by a chemical.
“I would really like to know who did that,” she said.
Yetter said the arborist who supervised the banyan tree trimming had no idea what happened to the sea grape trees.
“Destroying sea grapes on the beach I believe is against the law in Florida,” Yetter said. “The (trees) look like someone just cut them down or burned them.”
Mayor SueLynn said she spoke with the arborist who supervised the work.
“He was a bit reluctant to talk at first, but later opened up. He said no trees are being removed, but he knew nothing about the sea grapes. We’ll keep an eye open to make sure no trees are removed,” she said.
“At this point, I don’t see any city or state violations,” she added.
The destroyed sea grapes are along the beachfront between 101 Maple Avenue and 102 Park Avenue, an area of property that belongs to the city.
Real estate sales agent David Teitelbaum of Island Real Estate, who put together Banyan Tree Estates for owner Stephen Walker, said the contract states that no banyan trees will be trimmed or removed without approval of a licensed arborist.
“That was specific in the contract. The owner is to save as many trees as possible,” Teitelbaum said.
Still, Yanger was sad to see the tree trimmed.
“It’s such a community tree, I hate to see any part of it trimmed,” she said.
Calls to Whitehead Construction, the contractor for Banyan Tree Estates, were not returned by press time for The Islander.
Sea grape, dune protection
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection provides guidelines for protecting the small number of plant species that endure the extreme conditions encountered along our state’s coastline.
According to the DEP, dune species, such as sea grape trees and shrubs, thrive in the harsh beach environment, acting as a continuous sand trap. The accumulation of sand by the leaves, limbs and stalks play a major role in the construction of a healthy dune system. Without sea grapes and other salt-tolerant plants, the beach and dunes are more vulnerable to erosion.
The Florida Legislature enacted a law that states, “no person, firm, corporation, or governmental agency shall damage or cause to be damaged sand dunes or the vegetation growing on the dune system.”
Property owners and their agents who want to alter native vegetation seaward of the DEP Coastal Construction Control Line must apply for a permit if the alteration can be expected to damage the plants.
Damages include “trampling, crushing, breaking, digging up, or excessive cutting of roots, stems or branches of native salt tolerant plants naturally occurring or planted for dune restoration.”
However, vegetation maintenance that does not damage plants, including trimming, is exempt from permit requirements.
Exemption from permitting by the DEP does not shield the property owner from enforcement by local, state or federal agencies.
For more information, contact the Florida Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems at 850-488-7708. Information also can be found at www.dep.state.fl.us/beaches/publications.