Gateway Sun

Roads are expensive.

In this case they’re so expensive they may even cost our community some of its Royal Palm trees.

An NBC-2 news report on their 5:30pm telecast last night profiled several upset Stoneybrook residents who shared how the “majestic” palm trees were part of what sold them on Gateway. Kathleen Flaherty and Kathleen Shriver spoke for us all when they made the point on the TV news segment that everyone who drives by those palm trees can’t help but admire them.

The NBC-2 story was a result of ongoing efforts by a group of Gateway residents who are fighting to keep the Royal Palm trees on Gateway Boulevard from being cut down. (And kudos to them, because getting the media involved certainly won’t hurt.)

In case you’re unfamiliar with the back-story, here’s what’s happening: WCI, the main developer in Gateway, is formulating its exit plan from this community. As part of its strategy the company needs to get rid of it’s ownership stake (and financial obligations) of Gateway Boulevard, Griffin Drive and Commerce Lakes Drive West. In all, WCI owns a total of 77% of those roads. The other 23% – including some or all of the section of Gateway Boulevard where the palm trees are located – is owned by the Gateway Services Community Development District. The GSCDD considered taking over full ownership of the three roads in question, but instead the district and WCI approached Lee County about accepting the roads as part of its traffic network. Lee County agreed but they’ve declared that the Royal Palms that separate the north and southbound lanes on Gateway Boulevard are a safety hazard – so they want them gone.

The GSCDD told NBC-2 that all but nine of the Royal Palm trees will have to be removed. They will be completely cut down since they’re too big to move elsewhere.

Of course, the fact they’re so big is what makes them so awesome.

It appears as though the same residents who got NBC-2 involved plan on applying direct pressure on the GSCDD as well. The next meeting of the Board of Supervisors is on April 2, 2015 and magically… the issues surrounding the Royal Palm trees happen to be on the agenda.

The residents will at least have their opportunity to be heard.

It may or may not be too late to back out on the deal with Lee County, but either way it’s difficult to envision the Supervisors changing their minds on this. They’ve always seemed very pleased and even relieved that Lee County has accepted the ownership and financial responsibility for those roadways.

And despite the recent attention from the media and residents about the Royal Palms being removed, we must point out that none of this is a surprise to the Supervisors.

The minutes of the February 11, 2014 meeting of the Road Turnover Committee had the following statement:

GSCDD will need to determine if the royal palms trees on Gateway Blvd. at Stoneybrook are to be removed and / or relocated and where and this work needs to be completed prior to the pavement reconstruction and as separate work by others. [Paul Wingard] – mentioned that the County may remove the trees at no cost.

So the Supervisors have known about this possibility for at least a year and simply saw the Royal Palms as a casualty of turning the roads over to the county. Will they really change their minds now just because NBC-2 showed up and some residents will undoubtedly blast them at the next board meeting?

For the Supervisors, they’re already tasked with trying to navigate Gateway through this very difficult financial period – and adding the cost of the roads won’t help matters in the short term or the long term.

But for the residents it will feel as though Gateway is losing a piece of its identity with those Royal Palm trees gone.

We urge each of the Supervisors to take a moment and drive by the Royal Palms on Gateway Boulevard, and just look at them, before heading to the GSCDD board meeting this Thursday.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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