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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Landscaping a hot topic in Holmes Beach

It seems some residents in Holmes Beach are standing up to speak for the trees, but they differ in which trees they speak for - mature trees, native trees, or non-native trees.

Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore attended this month's parks and beautification committee meeting to address residents' concerns about the city's policy on removal of mature Australian pine trees.

Earlier this year, Holmes Beach resident John Molyneux questioned why mature Australian pine trees on a beachfront easement at 74th Street were allowed to be removed and has since lobbied for an ordinance that protects mature trees, not specifically Australian pines.

According to Joe Duennes, superintendent of public works, the city's policy is to remove Australian pines from rights of way when they are along an evacuation route or by citizen request when it is determined that the tree is large enough to potentially damage that citizen's property by falling.

The city is liable for damage to private property caused by trees on rights of way.

Whitmore said she has received several letters and phone calls from residents asking for the trees to remain, but the city policy is to slowly get rid of Australian pines along evacuation routes. "It's the last thing I want to see happen, but it's a fact of life. People expect different things today. It's not the Island it was 20 or 30 years ago."

Whitmore said the city has only removed invasive Australian pines and is making an effort to replace trees, but the cost prohibits it from happening quickly.

Some residents have written letters in favor of keeping Australian pines on the Island. Those in favor cited benefits such as shade, aesthetic value and nesting for birds.

Parks and beautification committee member Debra Heger explained that the Australian pine and other non-native trees are still misunderstood by many residents.

Unfortunately, even if you like a non-native invasive plant, such as a punk tree, Brazilian pepper tree or Australian pine and choose to keep it in your yard, Heger said, it spreads its seeds to other yards through wind, water or birds, and they choke out native plants.

Heger also said birds may nest in Australian pines, but birds that look for native plants to nest are being displaced. Keeping invasive trees is a choice to get rid of everything else, Heger said.

According to information from the Manatee County Extension Services office, invasive exotics are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, and Australian pines have "devastated" beachfront communities.

Heger noted the Island is full of Australian pines although alternative trees can also provide a canopy of shade and attract wildlife. Native alternatives providing shade similar to the Australian pines include the slash pine, sand pine, paradise tree, cabbage palm, southern magnolia and soapberry.

Heger pointed out that not all exotics are invasive. Invasive exotics, if not removed, prevent the growth of native vegetation.

Holmes Beach resident Maro Lorimer suggested that there are plenty of empty spaces to propagate natives before chopping down existing exotics.

Heger told the committee, "You can't get a healthy canopy to thrive and grow with invasive exotics present. You can't phase in replacement trees if Australian pines are here."

Molyneux stressed that his movement is about implementing a clear guide for what can be permitted. "Part of the character and beauty of the Island is its flora and fauna."

Committee member Kathy King said everyone was in agreement that Islanders want a canopy of trees, "but, it has to be phased in. We can't provide you with a beautiful natural landscape without taking [invasive exotics] out or else we're throwing money away. We all want trees and greenery, just not the same species."

Whitmore said the issue of tree removal would be brought up at a city commission work session and Molyneux will be able to voice his concerns to the commission.

In the meantime, the beautification committee members plan to hold another work session June 2 to compile recommendations to clarify current city landscaping codes. The committee's goal is to recommend changes that would clarify inconsistencies in the existing landscape ordinance and propose stricter guidelines on how much landscaping and what types of landscaping are permitted for homeowners.

In other business, Whitmore said that the city has contracted with Connie's Landscaping Services to beautify the city hall property. Money budgeted for ground maintenance will be used for new landscaping that will feature drought resistant and saltwater tolerant plants.

Also, Whitmore said, the recent planting of palm trees on the right of way on 28th Street is obstructing the view of oncoming traffic for drivers attempting to make a left turn onto Gulf Drive. Whitmore said the trees will be moved to relieve the problem.