The Australian pines along Village Boulevard and Brandywine Road buffer the roar from Interstate 95, shade the local roadway from sun and create a tunnel of green through what otherwise would be a barren, asphalt landscape.
They’re also an invasive species that soaks up too much water, spreads branches too close to passing cars, sheds pine needles that clog drains and costs the city a small fortune to trim. And they have shallow roots that make them prone to tipping during windstorms.
So they’re coming down.
The city commission is scheduled to vote Monday to spend $800,000 to remove the two-mile stretch of some 1,000 trees and replace them with non-invasive cocoplums, sea grapes and sable palms, starting in January, in time for the rainy season.
The money will come from a city reserve fund, to be replenished when the city completes the sale of the old city hall building to a developer. That closing is set to take place by March.
“It’s going to be a beautiful, beautiful stretch,” assured Deputy City Administrator Dorritt Miller.
Miller said the trees have passed their useful life, have gaps because they’ve been battered by storms and they cost $100,000 a year to maintain. As a result, the city’s landscape planner, Ray Caranci, has been working with landscape architects to come up with a new plan for greenery along the route.
The project will not be as easy as ripping out old trees, Miller said.
Experts have told the city that the trees need to be taken out carefully to completely remove the root system. The soil then will be prepared and replacement trees brought in.
The sable palms will provide immediate height to the new wall of green, Caranci said. The cocoplums will grow densely, to about 15 feet, to screen the street from the Interstate, he added.
City Commission President Cory Neering said he’s been pushing for the project since he was elected two years ago.
“It’s a nice Christmas present for the folks,” said Neering, who lives in the neighborhood. “At least 90 percent of the folks, if not more, that live in the area are excited about this.”
Rain and windstorms cause the pine needles to fall and cause flooding, he said. “It’s just been a big mess.”
The city has fielded many complaints, from people who favor the trees and those who don’t.
When the city does its annual big trim, topping the trees and thinning them on the sides like a hedge, some people complain that the verdant barrier has been vanquished to the point where cars on I-95 are in plain sight and within earshot of the condos along Village Boulevard. Others complain when the trees aren’t trimmed.
Neering said he’s been assured that, within three years the new plantings will have fully covered the area buffered by the old. In the meantime, he noted, I-95 has its own wall of plants parallel to Village Boulevard, which he said will provide some cover for residents. Eventually he’d like to see a sound wall erected as well.
Ron Warnecke, president of Villages of Palm Beach Lakes, a master homeowners association in the area, said the city is to blame for some of the tree problems but that residents look forward to the project. The Villages used to maintain the trees for the city. “They were a perfect-looking hedge and everybody liked it,” he said.
But in a cost-saving move, the city took over the job and “ended up spending more to make it look the way it looks now and now it’s beyond repair,” he said. “I hope whatever they do, they maintain it, so they don’t have to redo it again in 10 years.”
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4703.