A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Great Indian Beach Palm Massacre of 2012

There are two types of neighborhoods in Sarasota: the most recent is the type where everyone belongs to (and pays money to) an association and the norms and expectations of all the neighbors are codified.

These neighborhoods offer fairly predictable appearance and people can buy a home without worrying that an eccentric neighbor is going to get all creative and populate their front lawn with with stereotyped gnomes, sombrero-wearing Mexicans languishing under concrete cactus and dutiful diminutive black jockeys holding yard lights.

Then there is the older type neighborhood, where you don't have to join (or pay) the association and the norms and expectations are not written down and not enforced. Homes in these neighborhoods can vary considerably and it is there can be tensions among neighbors regarding what is appropriate. Neighbors take their cues from other neighbors and infer what the range of acceptable behavior is. New residents typically temper their visions of their new property with principles garnered by observation of the surrounding homes. I'm talking about neighborhoods like IBSSA. 

The following observations are not personal, because I have no idea who owns the property south of Indian Beach, the site where, on Friday January 20th, 2012, the great palm massacre took place.

Now, according to the City this vegetable genocide is all above board and sanctioned and makes perfect sense.

It is, after all, private property and the trees that were removed will (are projected to) be offset by new trees and all this is outlined in a landscape plan prepared by a professional landscape architect. The palms (mostly cabbage palms) were not dug up so they could be repositioned because this site is an important archaeological site and digging the trees would disturb the site.

But I, for one, challenge this narrative.

1) If this is such an important archaeological site, why are we building a private residence on it? Furthermore many of those trees (including the native palms) may have been there when Fort Armistead was established in 1840 to deal with the local Indians. So the trees are actually part of the historic/archaeological record just as much as any mouldering bones or eroding pot shards. To claim that one is respecting local heritage and then removing most of the trees is disingenuous.

2) Unless they are planting seeds, the new trees called for will involve digging site-disturbing holes, just as relocating the old trees would have.

3) I believe it is a polite fiction to say trees can be replaced. You can replace a light bulb, a TV set, or Uniroyal Tiger Paw GTZ All Season tire. But you cannot replace a living tree anymore than a family that loses a child can "replace" the child by adopting another, or a new puppy can "replace" a faithful hound of 15 years. Living things can sort of take the place of a previous living entity, but they cannot replace because they will never be the same as what preceded them. 

4) I also bristle at the implicit finding that if Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Schmo want to remove trees they have to argue and wheedle with the city, but if one is  able to afford a landscape architect then the city rolls over and approves mass killing. This certainly seems like a double standard. 

5) I would like to assume that moving into a neighborhood like ours is motivated in part by wanting to be part of the neighborhood, that rather than an private enclave or bastion with no neighbor contact, that new residents would want to be accepted by those who live around them. But this is not always the case, particularly along the bayfront, which has drawn the wealthy and powerful for over a century. But even John Ringling and Powel Crosley, whose wealth and power in their day almost certainly eclipsed that of the new owners of 916 Indian Beach, had the decency and forbearance to leave some of the native palms.

We all understand that you have to break eggs to make omelets and siting a house on a lot, (particularly a small, constrained lot) may involve removing trees. Thoreau did to build his cabin as did Jesse Colin Young (see Ridgetop lyrics). 

But when you have a gigantic lot populated with native trees saturated with both natural and cultural history, I think it all comes down to respect:

• Respecting the people that came before
• Respecting the current neighborhood
• Respecting those that will live here in the future.