Developer vows: ‘Trust me, I’m saving that tree’
Three weeks ago I wrote about ‘Pink Floyd,’ the massive grand oak in Arlington Park that is named for the street on which it is situated – and for the pink ribbon around its trunk that marks it for potential removal due to impending development.
Neighbors had joined forces to try to save the tree, which is more than 200 years old. They circulated a petition, held a vigil and attempted to convince the city or a philanthropist to purchase the portion of the land containing the tree and create a pocket park.
Despite numerous attempts, I had been unable to reach Phuc ‘John’ Pham, the developer who contracted last December to purchase the .61-acre property on which the tree sits for a below-market $825,000. He was told the property could be split into five buildable home sites – but that would require the removal of Pink Floyd, as well as three other oaks more centrally located on the site.
Last week, however, Pham did call me back. As I reported, he confirmed that he had asked the city for $5.5 million to allow him to turn the property into a park; he was enamored with the idea of dedicating the park to his daughters Mai, 8 and Joi, 6. Pham justified his asking price, which a city official had politely called ‘very high,’ by saying that in his estimation it would cost $4.8 million and take two years to create the park – a considerable personal sacrifice given the profit he could make by building multiple homes instead.
‘I think me making 700 grand for a two-year project is not greedy,’ Pham said.
But all of that is moot, Pham insisted, because he said his plan all along was ‘to keep that right front tree.’ The application he filed with the city’s zoning department on Feb. 22 asked for the property to be split into four buildable lots rather than five, expressly because he intends to preserve Pink Floyd. (As of press time, that application was still pending.)
‘Legally, by Florida and city law, I can go after five,’ Pham said. ‘I’m going to save the city and the neighborhood the headache. I could take down the tree if I really wanted to. But I’m not going to.’
A typical city lot is 50 feet wide; the four that Pham now plans would each be 62 1/2 feet wide. It’s difficult to image a design for that space that could accommodate both a house and the tree, which has several branches that extend horizontally over 25 feet. But Pham said he has a plan that would ‘push the house to the back of the lot and ‘mitigate the (branch) trimming as much as possible.’
When I asked exactly what that meant – neighbors were concerned that extensive trimming would kill the tree – Pham estimated that four to five branches would need to be trimmed ‘maybe three to five feet’ each.
‘I’m just going to look at the best place to put the house as far away as I can,’ Pham said. ‘I won’t even touch 1% of that tree. I did that to save the tree.’
Flo Entler, founder of the Preserve Arlington Park Neighborhood Committee and a nearby resident who has been leading the fight to save Pink Floyd, said she was surprised and delighted to hear of Pham’s intentions.
‘Everyone will be so happy to hear of Mr. Pham’s magnanimous effort to save this amazing tree that has become such an icon,’ Entler said. ‘Hopefully this tree will be free to live its full life, thanks to Mr. Pham.’
Born in Vietnam, Pham came to this country at the age of 3; when he was 4 years old he was put into foster care, where he remained for the duration of his childhood. The experience instilled an intense ambition to succeed that fueled the wealth he accumulated as an automotive parts wholesaler and commercial developer in Dallas.
‘That made me realize if you want to get something in life, you have to work hard for it,’ Pham said. ‘That’s what made me what I am today. This is why I want to leave something behind for my kids. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with building a legacy for them.’
Pham’s business, M & J Pham Homes, is named after his daughters, who attend nearby Southside Elementary School. Since moving to Sarasota four years ago, Pham has purchased dozens of lots both east and west of Tamiami Trail – and he has also built homes in the $1 million-plus range.
Pham said he loves Sarasota, loves his daughters and loves his wife, Faith. But Pham said he also loves trees, and that he wants to ‘do what’s right’ by saving Pink Floyd. He likes to think about the family that will live in the home beside Pink Floyd and the children who may climb on its Spanish moss-laden branches. He likes to imagine his own daughters driving by some day, feeling proud of how much their father has, as he put it, ‘improved the community.’
‘A family will move in that house, climb on that tree and guess what? I had something to do with that by saving that tree,’ Pham said. ‘They will look up and see a huge grand oak and I’m going to have something to do with that, even if they never know who I am.
‘But I know who I am and I saved it.’ he said. ‘Trust me, I’m saving that tree.’
Contact Carrie Seidman at email@example.com
or (505) 238-0392.
To: Sarasota City Commission
Subject: Arlington Park Neighborhood Concerns
Date: March 4, 2022
A number of years ago, the Arlington Park neighborhood was confronted with housing developers recklessly and unnecessarily cutting down many oaks and other trees, building large houses on smaller lots, and changing the complexion of our development. Our Association Board, under the direction of its then President,
Nathan Wilson met with city officials. We received cooperation and guidelines were established to help protect our established canopy. and building appropriately size houses. Developers had to receive permission to remove any trees and guidelines for protecting all nearby trees were established. Also, discussions were held regarding building immensely larger houses that should have been built elsewhere in a different community where they would be seen as appropriate. This appeared to have worked for several years until recently.
We understand that some guidelines have been changed or loosened without any consultation with our neighborhood. One new example pertains to a 2 house lot on Datura Street where a developer is seeking to build four houses. There is no doubt that this will escalate with developers cramming many houses in small areas, completely changing the nature of our neighborhood. This would involve our neighborhood becoming a series of many subdivisions within our current compact community. Currently, our traffic within our community is reasonable. Becoming a community of many subdivisions would result in an undesirable increase in our traffic flow and represent longer waits at intersections, inducing more traffic noise within our neighborhood.
We vote representatives and their appointees to our Sarasota Commission, expecting them to represent us, the established folks, living in our neighborhood. Developers should not be given priority. We know money is involved, tax revenue, etc. It is now difficult to meet and discuss these important issues due to the Covid situation. We ask you to return to more conservative guidelines that would appeal to our neighborhood, attempting to remain a desirable, and laid-back beautiful community rather than an urban housing development that has lost its appeal for a harmonious and congenial community. We submit to you that if our location were east of the trail, you would be receiving even more opposition. You know better. We do need to remind you that an Arlington Park Neighborhood Action Strategy Plan was developed and approved by our City Commission several years ago.
We hope that this housing and tree situation can be resolved in a reasonable manner, rather than alerting more of our community and our state to become involved. This doesn’t have to become political but we want to save and conserve a neighborhood that has been looked upon by its neighbors and many visitors as a beautiful and desirable community that should remain relatively untouched. We realize that houses will be sold and some teardowns occur and new houses built, but this should happen in a reasonable manner as we have described.
We respectively request that you consider our community’s desire to remain a beautiful, compact community as presently exists. We hope you appreciate our canopy-oriented, diversified housing as a model that should not be interrupted.
Thank you for your cooperation and assistance involved in this endeavor.
Past President – Arlington Park Neighborhood Association
Past President – Arlington Park Neighborhood Association
Pink Floyd Grand Oak Tree
Letter to Sarasota Herald Tribune Monday 17 January
OPINION: Save our precious trees in Sarasota
In our neighborhood of Arlington Park, we have watched with little recourse as developers tear down beautiful, tall trees to make room for more homes. Neighbors, arborists, environmentalists and our city staff stand by helplessly, some turning a blind eye, as money for cleared lots and million–dollar houses takes precedence over simple trees – some of which have been here for a century or more.
Just east of Floyd Street and Shade Avenue in Sarasota, a majestic Grand Oak tree estimated to be well over 200 years old may soon be lost. Today it stands tall and spreads wide over two lots with a pink ribbon around its base – and a tree permit waiting in the wings so that a developer can have it taken down.
This tree, affectionately called “Pink Floyd” by the locals, has been an icon in this neighborhood. Several of its siblings on the same property also have pink ribbons around them. The property is currently under contract, and it will be potentially divided into five individual lots – Pink Floyd spans over two of those lots.
Our state laws won’t protect it. Our city and county laws can’t protect it. Yet I wonder: At what point do sacred trees deserve our voice and our protection?
These trees are home to a multitude of living things; several species, including owls, hawks, raccoons, squirrels and birds, depend on oak trees for food sources and protection. But these trees support more than just wildlife – they also are home to epiphytes (air plants) and many beneficial insects.
Sadly these precious trees are quickly dwindling in Sarasota to make way for more development. You don’t have to go far to see large swaths of land clear cut with no thought of preservation. This drive to continually prioritize high-dollar homes and developments over the needs of the community – and the planet – seems both short-sighted and disastrous.
Just imagine Pink Floyd as a tiny sapling more than 200 years ago when Indians lived and fished in the area – and when European settlers began to make their way here from other places. Just imagine how this tree began to gradually grow with time, providing shade and witness to those who would call this place home.
Should it survive so many years just to be cut down to the ground for a house – a simple house that will stand on the hallowed ground that this tree currently resides on?
But now imagine if we were to save this ancient tree, and allow it to offer shade, comfort and more for generations to follow. Imagine grandparents telling their grandchildren stories about the tree, and looking up to see birds nesting and creatures thriving in it.
Unfortunately, Sarasota does not have a great track record for saving its historical legacy. But I believe it’s not too late: We the citizens of Sarasota and Sarasota County must say that enough is enough; otherwise, money, greed and “progress for the sake of progress” will be the downfall of this area.
We must make our voices heard.
Currently, state law strips local governments of their ability to easily protect these assets. But couldn’t money be raised to buy the lots? Couldn’t the city of Sarasota step in and create a protected park, even if the owner-to-be were willing to sell? Couldn’t that same owner come to the realization that there is more than one solution to building on that property?
Given our current state of affairs regarding the protection of these heritage trees, saving them may rely on the benevolence of the owner/developer, the creativity of an architect who can work with the trees and the willingness of the city to show that it cares what happens to them.
Mary Boutieller is a former assistant chief of the Sarasota County Fire Department. She is a founding member of the group Preserve Arlington Park.