Time is running out to save 97 Australian pine trees marked for removal at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.
Manatee County commissioners voted 4-2 June 19 to remove and replace the trees at Coquina, a public beach the county manages and maintains, to make way for the first phase of a parking lot improvement project at the south end and on an access road.
With six trees chopped down already, the county is set to remove 103 Australian pine trees in total — more than 10% of the 991 Australian pines at Coquina — for phase one. Another 129 trees are planned for removal in phase two.
For now, the 97 marked trees remain standing while the county works to provide the city of Bradenton Beach with its finalized landscape plans for replacement trees.
City commissioners had directed building official Steve Gilbert to request a tree replacement plan from the county and issue a stop-work order on the project if the county failed to comply. City commissioners also ordered Gilbert to investigate whether the city could revise or revoke the construction permit for the project.
Gilbert wrote in a July 3 email to The Islander that the county provided the city with a draft landscape plan June 28 showing the replacement of 103 Australian pines with 83 green buttonwood trees, 10 gumbo limbo trees and 10 shady lady black olive trees. The county plans to plant the trees in the grassy area near the playground and between the access road and parking.
Bradenton Beach’s land development code requires the replacement trees, which can be any species but palms, have a minimum diameter of one-and-a-half-inch caliper and a 10-foot height when planted.
Gilbert said the removal of the Australian pine trees remains on hold until the county provides final plans for replacement, as of July 3.
However, he also said the city cannot revoke the construction permit for the project if the county adheres to the city’s LDC.
“If any applicant is working on an approved permit, where they are in compliance with the land development code, the city has no right to revoke the permit,” Gilbert wrote in an email to The Islander.
Public response to removals
Public opposition to the project has rung loud since the county’s plan surfaced in May, culminating in a petition with 1,010 signatures opposing the project. Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie delivered the petition to county commissioners before the vote in June.
People also shared their frustrations on social media.
Of the 277 comments on Facebook July 3 regarding The Islander’s story about the Coquina plan, only four comments supported taking out Australian pine trees.
Many people commented “Save the trees!” while others referenced Joni Mitchell’s hit song “Big Yellow Taxi,” which begins with the lyrics, “They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot.”
More people aired their opinions on The Islander’s June 26 Facebook post about the tree removals.
“Desecrating one of the most beautiful, natural beaches in Florida is a tragedy. For decades people have been quite content to park and use this natural wonder. Such a shame!” Linda MacKay wrote June 25 on The Islander’s Facebook page.
“Manatee County is ruining Manatee County!” Lori Giudice Farnsworth, of Bradenton, wrote.
“The county’s few voted for this! Not the voice of the residents!” Cynthia Raines Langston, of Holmes Beach, posted on Facebook.