Rod Senior, a member of the Board of Supervisors of the Gateway Services Community Development District, has provided a submission in regards to the Royal Palm tree issue.
One of the things we found most helpful in it was that it presents a better timeline than anything previously published by the larger news media outlets or our website. Whether you want the trees to stay or be relocated, you will probably learn something by reading this.
But first we are compelled to take care of a small, relevant order of business.
The Gateway Sun would like to point two things about our April 9, 2015 article titled “NEW PLAN: Rod Senior building support to relocate Royal Palm trees”.
1) Senior was not consulted, sourced, or made aware of the April 9 article before it was published. This is not a case of us giving Senior two opportunities to voice his opinion. (In fact Senior is probably still wondering how we got the information.)
2) In our April 9 piece we cite a cost of approximately $85,000 to relocate the 38 palms. In today’s submission from Senior you will notice the cost has dropped to $45,600 ($1200 per tree). Our $85,000 figure was obtained on or before April 9 and while we have not asked him to, I’m sure Senior would verify that – at the time – that was the cost that was being discussed.
Here is Senior’s submission, in full and unedited:
Rod Senior April 14, 2015
In 2007, ownership of the northern section of Gateway Boulevard, including the Royal Palms, was transferred from Stoneybrook Master HOA (then controlled by developer Lennar) to Gateway Services Community Development District (GSCDD).
In 2012, GSCDD created a Road Turnover Committee (RTC) to evaluate the pros and cons of turning over its sections of Gateway’s roadways to Lee County. The RTC produced a White Paper that made it clear that GSCDD should not be in the business of owning public roads that it does not control. Future capital and maintenance cost for these roads is $19 million. Gateway residents should be relieved of this cost burden by GSCDD transferring road ownership to Lee County.
The RTC White Paper made it clear that the 47 Royal Palms at the north end of Gateway Boulevard are required to be removed from the median before Lee County will accept the roads because they are considered to be a safety concern by Lee County DOT. In August 2013, the RTC presented its findings at a Gateway town hall meeting. The residents at that meeting, and the results of a community-wide email survey, supported the road turnover. In September 2013, the GSCDD board voted unanimously to proceed forward with turning over the roads on the express understanding that the subject Royal Palms need to be removed. In 2014, an Interlocal Agreement was agreed between GSCDD and Lee County which the Board of County Commissioners ratified in November 2014. That is a handshake deal that relies on the goodwill of both parties to be upheld through the road upgrade process.
Lee County DOT has recently allowed the first 9 Royal Palms on the medians nearest to SR82 to stay. GSCDD staff now needs direction from the board on whether to have the remaining 38 Royal Palms relocated or cut down. Leaving them in situ is not an option. That decision will be based on relative costs and environmental concerns.
Royal Palms are valuable. O’Donnell’s Landscape Services, Inc. advises that similar trees of this size cost $2500 each to buy, transport and install. The cost of relocating the Royal Palms is $1200 each. I think that the GSCDD board should carefully evaluate this option. Other key factors that come into play are the likely survival rate after relocation, and the cost of making good any damage to the curbing and irrigation pipes incurred in excavating the root ball. O’Donnell estimates such damage repair at $7000. By comparison, the cost of flush cut and stump grinding the trees is $550 per tree. Road closure for either option would be one week.
Both Mainscape and O’Donnell indicate a very high survival rate (~ 90%) if the relocated trees are carefully excavated, relocated, and well irrigated for the first few months. Relocation in the rainy season would make sense. There are sufficient funds available in the 2015 GSCDD capital budget to cover either option (i.e. cut down or relocate) as part of the road upgrade project work needed before turnover.
At its 4/7/15 meeting, the Board of Lee County Commissioners restated its intent to uphold its agreement to take ownership and maintenance of the roads from GSCDD, which involves the requirement to remove 38 Royal Palms from the median. The County Board also expressed its pleasure that efforts were being made locally to see if a case could be made to save the trees rather than cutting them down. I think the Commissioners genuinely want to preserve the environment where possible and I believe that GSCDD should also. We should do what we can to respect our beautiful City of Palms.
I was elected on the platform of enhancing Gateway’s landscaping. The board has supported my efforts so far by creating a Landscape Advisory Committee (LAC) to improve the quality of landscaping along Gateway’s roadways. Landscaping is one component of GSCDD’s budget that, if spent wisely, provides a visual return to Gateway taxpayers and enhances property values. The LAC is in the process of creating a Landscape Vision and Master Plan for our community. I will encourage the LAC to act urgently on recommending the installation of some frangible, colorful shrubs or trees to enhance the medians once the Royal Palms have been removed.
End of submission from Senior.