A nearly century-old rain tree, likely the largest of its kind on the continent, should not be designated historic, the Broward County Commission said Tuesday, eliminating one obstacle to a massive highrise project which requires removal of the six-story giant.
The tree, which for 75 to 100 years has grown in the 400 block of Southwest Fourth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, is within the proposed Marina Lofts project. The development on the south bank of the New River would feature two 36-story towers and 1,000 rental units.
On a 7 to 2 vote, with County Mayor Kristin Jacobs and Commissioner Martin David Kiar in the minority, the commission rejected historic status for the tree. Such designation would have required developer Asi Cymbal to procure county approval before moving the tree two blocks away to make way for his project.
Commissioners cited the jobs and increased tax base Marina Lofts would bring as reasons for not impeding the project with an historic tree.
"The tree isn't going to be destroyed, it's just going to be moved," Commissioner Stacy Ritter said.
Commissioners also balked at usurping the authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale. In 1987 the city designated the tree as "protected," which it means it can only be moved upon permission from the city.
"Ultimately, we should let the city make the decision," Commissioner Sue Gunzburger said.
Cymbal, who was prepared to sue the county, called the vote "historic."
"The silent majority in the county and city stepped up to reclaim the future," he said.
Twenty-nine people spoke on the issue, 17 against the historic designation. Among them were business people, pastors, Cymbal's lawyer and Paul Cox, a vice president of Environmental Design, the Texas firm Cymbal has hired to move the tree.
Cox said his company would prune the tree's roots into a ball, put supports beneath it, hoist it via hydraulic lift and move it with a special transport. The firm has moved many older and large trees, he said, with a survival rate of 98 percent.
"We want to do what's best for the tree," said Cymbal.
The tree, whose canopy stretches 127 feet across, is listed by the state as a "Florida Champion," which means it is the largest of its species in Florida. Since Florida is the only state where rain trees grow, it may well be the biggest such tree in the country.
"How can we walk away and say this tree is not historic?" asked Jacobs.
"Once in a while maybe we can do something that's not about money, that's about the things of nature that are really part of all of us," said Fred Carlson, asking for the historic designation.
Fort Lauderdale arborist L. Thomas Chancy, who has examined the tree, said it won't survive replanting. "It'll decline," he said. "It'll die."
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(Flickr photo by jemasmith.)
BEFORE YOU GO
Click below for a 3,500-year-old tree that recently burned down in Central Florida: