Did you ever look at a beautiful canopy tree just ten feet from a building and wonder what idiot planted so close? Your Design Pundit knows the answer to that uncomfortable question, but explaining exactly why a tree is planted in a dicey spot is a longer story. And the issue is far from trivial.
Thirty years ago only 87,000 souls populated Collier County, Florida, a place that is now home to 337,000 people. Planned communities accommodated much of this growth, new living places where landscape architects and developers imagined a leafy future of streets lined with shaded homes.
According to an old proverb, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’.
That leafy future envisioned so long ago by starry-eyed designers morphed to the present, replete with forty foot canopy trees and undesirable consequences. Maturity is bringing on-going maintenance expense and infrastructure damage, particularly in our gated communities as Code-required trees find insufficient space for growth. Displaced underground pipes, buckled sidewalks and trees over-hanging roofs are serious problems. And unlike shrubs, trees aren’t amenable to radical shearing.
These beautiful trees are a ticking time bomb.
Trees locations in gated communities are not random- they are very carefully considered by every design office, including mine. We are required to prepare extensive calculations used to determine tree quantities and species. And like engineers and architects, our first stop is the Collier County Land Development Code ( bit.ly/1Lw53CR). The LDC, as it is called, is the development Bible, containing rules all must follow.
With time the LDC has had a stunningly positive effect on the environment in Collier County. Planting requirements along with sensible sign ordinances and other straightforward measures have provided an appealing visual environment while in some measure replacing materials lost to development. These rules were pioneered decades ago when communities like Boca Raton, Florida realized that planting is an essential part of any new project.
Consider some of the measures included in the Code: shrubs between parking lots and streets, buffer plantings between dissimilar or incompatible land uses, trees in parking lots, plantings around commercial buildings, among others. These plantings are all carefully calculated by a registered landscape architect, signed and sealed, then submitted as part of the site plan approval process. The requirements are far from onerous. Inexpensive 12’ trees satisfy the canopy tree requirement, for example.
More specifically, though, sometimes the best intentions have…consequences. Let’s look at the requirements for a typical single family lot with 55’ of street frontage. The County Landscape Codes require one tree for each 3,000 square feet of pervious area. In practice, this means one, infrequently two trees.
A Planting Plan begins with quantity calculations, followed by specifying species acceptable to the Code and suitable to the project. Armed with this data, I am looking at a plan on my computer screen with the mouse in hand. Where do I plant the required trees?
Conditions vary, of course, but the point remains: the plantable front space for this typical villa can be as little as ten feet from the house. The available space on the side will be either zero, in the case of zero lot line arrangements, to perhaps ten feet.
Where do I plant that required tree that will become 40’ tall and as wide? In the only available space, that’s where. I click the mouse. showing the required tree or trees in front of the building but knowing full well that I have created a problem for some homeowner or HOA decades later who will wonder what kind of an idiot planted a canopy tree so close to a building.
I won’t be there, but if I were, I would raise my hand. And if you are looking for a better answer to the question, stop reading. I don’t have one.