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Cape looks at establishing ‘tree fund’ for developers

Parks, medians, beautification projects could benefit from allowing builders flexibility to meet requirements

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Sep 15, 2023

A jatropha tree with its colorful red blossoms. The trees are popular yard/garden additions across Southwest Florida. PHOTO PROVIDED

Commercial developers may have an opportunity to pay into a Tree Trust Fund to reduce the number of trees on their property within the city of Cape Coral.

Cape Coral City Council on Wednesday was in favor of a proposed Tree Trust Fund within the landscape ordinance, but with further fleshing out as to how much it would cost developers to reduce the number of trees on their property.

“The tree fund allows developers to properly develop the site for usage of the site while providing existing tree preservation,” said Omar Leon, city arborist. “The tree fund would be utilized by the city to pursue to obtain trees, irrigation, and costs associated with establishing the trees.”

He said the fund itself would support the proper planning, management and growth and add additional tree canopy to existing city parks, medians, and beautification projects.

The Tree Trust Fund would be split into two funds, one for the CRA, and the other for the general fund.

Public Works director Persides Zambrano said up to 30 percent of required trees can be reduced administratively by Public Works. Due to the CRA land code, parcel size and type of development, their option to get a tree reduction is based up to 100 percent.

Leon said with commercial development, other than the CRA South District, there is an allowance for a 15 percent reduction in the total tree amount required. In addition to that, they can go beyond to 30 percent, which requires additional review and approval of the plan.

“The goal of this is to allow for proper usage of our tree canopy in landscape design and after that is exhausted, have another opportunity to utilize the trees that cannot be used on the property,” Leon said.

Interim city manager Michael Ilczyszyn when they were looking at increasing tree canopy citywide, they brought the first-ever arborist into the city and with him, the idea of a Tree Trust Fund for an opportunity to deploy trees throughout the Cape.

At the same time there were a couple of developments, which had to comply with the existing land development code, he said, including ABC Supply Building and Aspire on Chiquita Boulevard.

Ilczyszyn said ABC Supply is in an industrial complex with a massive warehouse supplying roofing and building material. He said the number of trees they had to put on the property literally would choke themselves out, leaving them having to weed whip the entire property.

“In the back of the yard is another set of landscaping that can’t be seen by anybody,” Ilczyszyn said.

The other property has sabal palms that are two feet from each other, which blocks the architecture, and they, too, cannot mow their grass.

“We want the canopy. This flexibility still requires the tree count. The offsite option would go into this fund and improve medians and parks and some elements in the city. It’s another option in our tool bag to work with developers and obtain tree canopy,” he said, adding that this is not the majority of the projects.

Questions were brought forth concerning the developer having to contribute $1,500 to the CRA Tree Trust Fund and $2,500 to the Tree Trust Fund general fund if they want to reduce the number of trees on the property.

Leon said it is market cost for the contractor to come in and install a tree and guarantee the establishment of a tree. For a 2-inch caliber tree it ranges between $1,100 and $1,600 and a 3-inch caliber ranges from $2,000 to $2,500. The price also includes incorporating the cost of the irrigation, design and installation.

“That is where you get the number. It’s not a wholesale cost buying a tree at a nursery,” Leon said.

Councilmember Robert Welsh suggested that they add that the trees should be used within a certain number of miles for the property, so it stays in that particular district.

Ilczyszyn said developers always have options, but it comes down to dollar and cents.

He said with fees and rates, with anything there are three places in the market — what it costs, below and above. Ilczyszyn said if they want a lot of people to put funds in the Tree Trust Fund you set the fee below market. At market is for those who have development issues and the above market is for those who really want to use it and cannot redesign their site.

“We can bring all three options. We don’t want below market. We will get 30 percent less landscape. At the market we can refresh annually and set just above it to get more trees to put throughout the city,” he said.

Wednesday’s Council meeting was a workshop designed for discussion and direction to staff for further action, if any. While a consensus may be reached, no formal votes are taken.