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Neighborhood to lose royal palm canopy; Type, placement is safety risk

By Staff | Mar 20, 2008

After one of John Jaroszewski’s neighbors planted royal palms along the right of way in his southwest Cape Coral neighborhood, others began to take notice. Soon it seemed that everyone on his street was following suit and Jaroszewski himself paid a landscaper $200 a piece to set up the greenery at his home.

But there is a problem — city codes forbid planting that type of palm because of its height and proximity to power lines. In a storm, blowing palm fronds could easily knock out power to an entire neighborhood.

After the city caught wind of the situation, staff told the residents they would have to remove up to 80 of the 160 palms planted during the beautification process.

Jaroszewski fought the ruling and asked the City Council for a variance to allow the trees to remain, but the council ruled against the request Monday in a 7-1 vote.

“When you were planting, did you look into the restrictions?” Councilmember Dolores Bertolini asked him. “If (the landscaper) knew what the rules were, he would know he shouldn’t plant in the right of way.”

“I blame the tree guy for not researching the codes,” Jaroszewski said Wednesday.

On Monday, Mayor Eric Feichthaler said city code long held that no planting could occur in the right of way, but that has changed in recent years. Still, the change dictates that taller plants cannot be planted underneath power lines because of safety risks.

“With any tree that grows over 15 feet, there is a concern that it could cause damage to the neighborhood,” Feichthaler said.

In his petition to council, Jaroszewski argued that other neighborhoods continue to put taller plantings in the right of way. He added that his area looks “beautiful.”

But Bertolini and most of the council was unsympathetic, pointing to the laws on the books.

“They’re breaking the law,” she said. “If people continue to break the law, it doesn’t make it right.”

Residents in the neighborhood received their notices from the city Wednesday which tell them that they have two weeks to remove the trees. As an extra burden, the city is not paying for any of the removal.

Jaroszewski is hopeful that his landscaper, who did most of the work across the neighborhood, will take care of the situation at no cost.

“We’re trying to work something out where the trees are moved somewhere else on the property,” he said.

But the situation is in flux now as residents under the gun do not have a deal worked out to get the plants removed and many want to keep the palms where they are.

“That’s all up in the air, but the neighbors are talking about legal action against the city and the contractor,” said Jaroszewski, who added that his neighbors may argue that the city implied its consent when the first person to plant the palms was not cited.

Still, he holds no ill will toward the council and understands why the elected officials made the decision that they did.

“We gave it our best shot,” Jaroszewski said. “I can see the city’s point, too. If they give us a variance, then they open up the floodgates to the rest of the city.”