The fate of the 47 Royal Palm trees at the north end of Gateway Boulevard has finally, formally and officially been decided.

At the May 14, 2015 meeting of the Board of Supervisors of the Gateway Services Community Development District, three different plans were presented to the board for consideration.

Each of the plans had two things in common: 1) they all called for the 9 trees that were closest to SR-82 to remain where they are; and 2) every plan determined that 1 specific palm tree needed to be cut down because it’s too close to utility lines to safely be moved.

That left the future of 37 trees to be decided.

“Plan A” was to simply cut down them down. This would be the quickest solution and would have the least amount of impact on area traffic.

However, cutting down the trees was not given any serious consideration at the meeting and nobody stepped forth to speak in favor of that plan. It was the approach initially favored by Chairman William Guy, but he said he had reconsidered his position over the past few weeks.

The Landscape Advisory Committee came up with “Plan B”, which would have seen 14 trees re-located to Griffin Drive, 11 trees moved to the Gateway Commons Pool area, and 12 trees re-located to the Sherman Soccer Complex. The idea was to make a statement that when you saw the majestic Royal Palms you knew that you were entering Gateway or at a Gateway-owned facility.

Paul Wingard stated the Landscaping Advisory Committee’s case: “When you look at where to potentially re-locate [the trees], having been involved with Lee County’s landscaping program for a long time – one of the first things we did in deciding whether or not a road was to get landscaping, or how it was to be done, was to look at [the county’s] long range plan. We’re talking about 25 or 30 year planning horizon. If a road was going to be widened within that planning horizon, landscaping was not put in such that it would be impacted by that future widening. Because 10 or 12 or 15 or 20 years down the road was when the landscaping really looks good.”

Lee County Department of Transportation officials have advised the GSCDD that Gateway Boulevard will be widened in 10 to 15 years. So Wingard’s concern is that if you put the trees along Gateway Boulevard and invest heavily in other types of landscaping – by the time it all starts looking its best it will all have to destroyed to accommodate the widening of the road.

But that logic didn’t deter Supervisor Rod Senior.

Senior addressed Wingard, saying, “I think I know the answer [to the question I’m about to ask]. I’ve been to your committee meetings and I think you’re doing a great job in terms of getting this design charet for the whole landscape plan and vision, and I’m sure that you fully intend to get full resident consultation on that before any money is spent. And that’s the right approach. But what I observed on this particular situation is you just said you just spent half an hour on it, putting together this plan. I’m assuming there’s no resident consultation. No consensus being built for your proposal. Is that correct?”

Senior is right, we suppose.

The Landscape Advisory Committee did not build community consensus for their plan.

But it was an odd criticism for Senior to make, since Senior did not build any community consensus for his favored plan either.

And that plan – “Plan C” – which was primarily developed by Senior and District Engineer Danny Nelson, would see the 37 trees all removed from the median and re-located north toward SR-82, lining each side of Gateway Boulevard.

Senior’s plan was just published five days ago on the GSCDD website (and as of the beginning of today’s board meeting it had been downloaded a whopping 22 times, many of whom were likely the Supervisors and staff) so how many of Gateway’s residents could have possibly been consulted?

Yes, Senior had some flags planted and invited some people to look at them.

And we’re sure Senior probably also emailed some people he knows. But that’s really only a consensus among Senior’s sphere of influence. It hardly qualifies as a Gateway “community consensus”.

At least not to the point where he was entitled to wag his finger at Wingard for not building more support.

In the end, and no doubt heavily influenced by the passion of Stoneybrook residents, Senior was not to be denied. He worked the meeting room in convincing fashion, at one point going so far as to handing out the resume of Senior’s preferred tree expert, Al O’Donnell, who apparently backs up Senior’s position. (Based on research by the Sun, O’Donnell does seem to have a great deal of credibility on community-wide landscaping issues.)

The table was set for Senior.

Guy had already made it crystal clear he just wanted a resolution and was apparently just going to vote with the majority. Vice-Chairman Margaret Fineberg, who was extremely vocal about not moving the trees back when television stations were following this story, was relatively inactive on the issue at today’s meeting and now seemed to support Senior’s plan. Supervisor Gary Neubauer had a few doubts about Senior’s plan but gained he no traction with any of the objections or alternatives that he raised. Neubauer posed a handful of good questions, trying to combine the best of elements from Plan B and Plan C but he was shot down at every turn. Supervisor Pam Gill seemed to recognize what was going on and looked visibly troubled by when it came time to vote on the motion.

But vote they did, and it passed 5-0.

Gill by far took the longest amount of time to vote, and by then it was already 4-0.

So beginning in June 2015, thirty-seven of the Royal Palm Trees will be removed from the median, moved slightly north toward SR-82 and placed on both sides of Gateway Boulevard.

And in 10 to 15 years, the trees will have to be moved all over again.

Let’s hope when road widening begins in the year 2027 that Gateway will be fortunate enough to once again have a Supervisor who’s smarter than everybody else.

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

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