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

Friday, July 11, 2014

City Staff Recommends Re-thinking Palm Tree Removal

Friday July 11

Tim Litchet, Director of Neighborhood and Development Services for the City of Sarasota, announced today that the City is putting the plans to remove 26 palm trees from the 1262-1274 block of North Palm Avenue on hold pending direction from the City Commission. The full text of the announcement appears below. 

While no explanation was provided for the time out, it was becoming apparent that earlier efforts to solicit input from city residents regarding the tree removal and new landscaping failed to attract the attention of many who would prefer to see the palms remain. In addition, new information regarding the historic status of some of the trees was overlooked earlier in the decision process.

"Mr. Miller, this email comes to verify our conversation this morning where I informed you that I had met with Marlon Brown, and he has directed that staff bring the Palm Avenue palm tree issue to the City Commission on August 18th to review the status of the project and to get any further direction from the City Commission that they may wish for staff to consider.  Staff will prepare an agenda item that will suggest options including building the project as approved, not building the project,  redesigning  the project to save as many of the palm trees as possible while doing our best to improve drainage, and/or delaying the project until we have newly adopted code standards to work with related to the efforts of the Urban Design Studio.  I will provide you a copy of that agenda item in advance of the meeting."

As noted in the announcement above, today's decision does not mean that the trees will be saved, only that the impending plans to remove them will be considered by the City Commission and that the trees are not immediately threatened. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fascinating Facts about the Palm Ave 26

Truth is Stranger (and more interesting) than Fiction

When I first went to my first Downtown Improvement District meeting on June 25th, I was told what seemed to be the official DID narrative about the palms in front of the 1262-1274 block of Palm Avenue. The palms, I was informed, were all "dumped" there in 1983 when Bay Plaza was built. Mr. Kauffman, a DID board member is certainly entitled to his opinion of the cabbage palms (and he has made it quite clear he hates them), but, to quote Senator Moynihan, he is not entitled to his own facts.

His denigrating verb choice (dumped) suggests they were pushed off a truck and somehow grew into more or less vertical trees. That didn't happen. Someone went to the trouble and care to plant the Bay Plaza relocation trees there. He would have you believe there were no palms there previously and the palms at risk today have only been there a modest 31 years.

Cultural History is interesting, Natural History is interesting, but the intersection of the two is Fascinating!

I have been doing business in those storefronts continuously since 1975, and I didn't seem to recall a time when there were no palms there. The building was built in 1954, and it seemed unlikely there was just lawn between the storefronts to the curb from 1954 until 1983. So I drove out to the Sarasota History Center and looked at their beautiful 1957 aerial photograph of downtown. That picture was taken on March 10, 1957 and, lo and behold, it clearly shows a row of palm trees in front of that block. Because the canopies are full in the photo, and because it takes transplanted palms a while to recover and grow a new dense canopy, I think the odds are excellent they were planted in 1954, when the building was built. 

Do I know for sure they are cabbage palms? Nope, can't prove it, but consider the state of the local nursery industry in 1954. True, there was Reasoner's, but the wide variety palms available today was not just there. The canopies are consistent with cabbage palms, and they are clearly not Royal or Cocoanut palms. So, having looked at aerial images of thousands of cabbage palms, I was pretty sure that in 1957 a row of probably 11(maybe 12) cabbage palms graced that block. 

This black and white photo from 1957 clearly shows a row of palms
(with a gap ) in front of the 1262-1274 block of Palm Avenue.
This is a view from the North, looking South.

What became of the palms that celebrated their semicentennial in 2007?

Seeing the 11 or 12 palms in the photo begged the question: what happened to them? I tried looking at the landscape architect's map to see if any lined up, but that seemed inconclusive. Then, this evening, July 9th, Julie and I went to look.


We arrived in the evening, after eating dinner on Lower Main in one of our favorite restaurants: Two Senior Eaters (Thezla is an attentive server). The first palm, the furthest east and closest to the building was hard to interpret, but then things became clear. Seven of the 57-year old palms are still there! And, of course, it is quite likely that they have been there 60 years. How do we know? Because they look completely different than the more recent Bay Plaza rescues. 

Four Distinct Differences

First of all, they are planted in a more or less straight line. Second, they are the palms closest to the storefronts. Third, they are a completely different diameter than the more recent palms (much smaller), and fourth, most show a swelling where the trunk suddenly gets wider. 

That's where natural history and cultural history collide. The skinnier 57 year-old trees came from a locale with relatively poor growing conditions. When they got transplanted to Palm Avenue, the conditions were more to their liking, and the trunks got beefier. Go see for yourself. The Bay Plaza palms were coming from a block away, almost undoubtedly the same soil -- and their trunk diameter consequently doesn't show that variation.

A living natural/cultural history lesson. 

So right there, on little 'ol Palm Ave., are 26 palm trees attempting to teach us about our city's history. And some of them have been there for probably 60 years (unarguably 57).  Go check them out - you'll enjoy telling your friends or children about how the two batches of trees tell some of the story of Sarasota.

Better Hurry.

But you had best hurry, because the City of Sarasota is planning to remove every single one of them in just a month or two. Every 31-year old tree, and every 60-year old tree, and they will be replaced with two hollies, two Tabebuias, and eight Thrinax palms. And when they are gone, you'll be able to tell your friends and children how Palm Avenue used to have Palm stories. 


If you are wondering why all these trees will be removed, the answer is simple. So that side of the street will match the side of the street next to the parking garage.

So that side of the street will match the side of the street next to the parking garage.