The following is an email from Joe Mikulka, President of the Stoneybrook at Gateway Master HOA.
It was sent on Friday, April 10, 2015. It is being published unedited and with Mikulka’s permission.
The topic of the email is the Royal Palm tree relocation plan/debate. The 47 palm trees (whose future are in doubt) are all at the north end of Gateway Boulevard near Stoneybrook.
I am sure you know this issue has come up because of the desire to turn Gateway Blvd over to Lee County. Most residents are in favor of turning over the road. I am one of them. This is true as long as the deal makes sense. When residents in Gateway were asked about the turnover it was presented as being an obvious decision. No mention of removing the Palm Trees was made. The plan was in the early phase with many issues to be resolved through negotiations with the Lee County DOT. It was not until later that many of us became aware that the trees might have to go. Moving them was a suggestion. That was eventually ruled out because of cost. Cutting them would be cheaper. Even though they would then have to be disposed of. No small cost. There has been no discussion about the moving of the trees for many months, until now.
It has always been the preference of the Stoneybrook HOA Board that the Palm Trees be left in place. This is apparently the opinion of the residents of the Villages at Stoneybrook, too. Some of our Board members have been in contact with members from the Villages. [They are a separate community]. The argument has been that the Palm Trees are a safety hazard by being there. In fact they warn motorists of the upcoming turns, especially at night when the head lights reflect off the trees. They also prevent cars from crossing over into oncoming traffic. This is where the really serious accidents can occur. As the net difference in speed goes up the energy dissipated at impact goes up exponentially. At this time there is no plan in place to do anything about this increased hazard. There is a good chance that nothing will even be planted in the median for up to a year. The landscaping committee for all of Gateway is just getting formed. If there are any head on collisions, I fear that there will be a call to install a guard rail. At whose cost and how ugly will that be? The most serious accident in the history of this section of road of which I am aware, was when a teenager lost control and hit the stressed reinforced concrete light pole. When that was pointed out, the DOT now says the light poles have to be moved! At what cost and guess who gets to pay? For all we know that light pole may have saved the life of someone coming in the opposite direction.
This issue is being portrayed by some as an HOA v Gateway District issue. That is a Red Herring. Those of us in the Northern End of Gateway may be more aware of how the trees protect you from oncoming traffic but almost everyone we have spoken to that lives in Gateway is shocked that the District is willing to take these trees down. So many untrue statements have been made that the residents are confused. The premise upon which the DOT wants the trees removed is because they are too close to the edge of the road. This has existed for over 10 years. The road has been recognized by Lee County as a public road and LCSO has patrolled it during that time. As heavily as it is travelled, it is amazing how few accidents have occurred involving the trees. It is just a few. Not the many that some have reported. Most scars on the trees are low and from lawn mowers.
The problem is NOT THE TREES. I have said this repeatedly. The problem is that the median is too narrow. Removing the trees will not change that. It will increase the probability that some innocent mom with her kids in the car might be struck by a drunken driver that crosses over the low narrow median! If the median were wider we would not be talking about the trees. There would be no demand to take them down. It is that simple.
So let’s see if I can make this clear. We are being forced by Lee County to remove the trees because of a rule that was passed after the trees were installed. Supposedly this will make the road safer? I do not think so. Save the money that will be spent to remove the trees. Save the money that will be spent to move the light poles. No one knows how much that is going to be? Save the money to replant the entire median not to mention the possibility of an ugly barrier being necessary.
I believe that any objective person that drives on this road and takes the time to note how the trees define the curves, will come to the conclusion that cutting them down is not going to make it safer. The same unsafe median will still be there if we do this. Isn’t this a waste of money?
What is needed is for Gateway Residents and the Supervisors to convince the County Commissioners to approve an amendment to the agreement to turn over the roads. All it takes is a change order to be issued. Several have recently been done by the DOT. Exceptions can be made. Our own Commissioner has been fighting against us! Remember that at the next election.
A serious accident occurred earlier this week when a Driver apparently under the influence crashed into a tree on the side of the road South of the Seven Eleven in Gateway. Does this mean that the Lee County DOT will want all the trees on Gateway Boulevard to be removed! I sure hope not. But it makes about as much sense.
It is time for the adults in the community to stand up and say enough is enough. Use some common sense and do the right thing. If we want to make the road safer then spend the money to widen the median when we pave it. Or better yet, just leave it alone.
Note that I did not mention esthetics. That is the reason that the other trees to the South were grandfathered in. Are the palm Trees any less beautiful?
Master Board Member
End of email from Mikulka.