Desert Storm veteran fined $5,000, told to move trees at Florida home

Published November 17, 2013

| FoxNews.com

An Operation Desert Storm veteran is being fined $5,000 by his homeowners association and forced to dig up two trees he planted in front of his Florida home because the organization says the trees are too small.

“I love these trees,” 51-year-old Patrick Fitzgerald told WESH-TV. “To come back to this country after that time . . . it’s funny that I don’t have the right to plant a tree in front of my house. There’s something wrong there.”

Fitzgerald, who served during the first conflict in Iraq during the early 1990s, reportedly planted two Magnolia trees about a year ago in the grassy swatch abutting his front lawn that separates the sidewalk from the road.  He told ABCNews.com he planted the trees because he believed a surfeit of fertilizer was killing his other trees.

The River Grove Homeowners Association, the volunteer body which oversees Fitzgerald’s 119-home, Merritt Island subdivision, meanwhile, reportedly says its regulations enforce an 8-foot minimum height on trees fronting the sidewalk, and permits homeowners only two trees in that location, as part of its overarching “treescape plan.”

“In this case, this particular homeowner already has two magnolia trees that are of size,” Seth Chipman, an attorney for the HOA, told the station. “And so the association is saying, ‘Look, you already have the two trees in the treescape plan, we don’t want tiny seedlings.’ That’s their prerogative.”

The year-long dispute has engendered bitter words and legal action, with Fitzgerald estimating he has thus far spent $2,000 to pay for a lawyer, as well as the formal mediation proceedings involving him and the HOA.

“Trust me, I didn’t want to spend almost $2,000 to protect two trees,” he reportedly said.

In the end, Fitzgerald says he will likely be forgiven the $5,000 in fines – which previously accrued at a rate of $100 per day – if he uproots the trees within 20 days. He told ABCNews.com he plans to replace his beloved Magnolia trees in pots sometime this weekend in order to avoid paying the penalty.

“All he had to do was move his trees 2 feet into the other side of his property,” the Board president reportedly said. “Yes, he has to take care of it.”

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