Citizen appeals to save a palm grove on North Palm Avenue swayed Sarasota city commissioners, who voted to put a two-year-old plan to redesign the streetscape on hold Monday.
Originally approved in May 2012 by the City Commission, a North Palm Avenue streetscape improvement project included plans to replace a 26-tree palm grove with a smaller mixture of palm and flowering trees. The Downtown Improvement District, which originally conceived of the project, sought to improve the walkability of the area and mirror the landscaping on the other side of the street.
Businesses adjacent to the palm grove said the current landscaping contributes to a host of issues. Most notably, they said, the sidewalk floods even during light rains. City staff said the flooding issues are caused because the palm grove sits on a higher grade than the sidewalk.
The project has been put on hold since October 2013, as the city did not want to interfere with new or planned developments in the area. Recently, the city has received complaints about the proposed relandscaping from citizens who believe the palm trees — some of which date back to the 1920s — have a historical value and should be preserved.
Several attendees at Monday’s commission meeting spoke in defense of the trees. Jono Miller, an environmental activist who has led the charge to protect the palm grove, said the trees lent a unique character to the city. He acknowledged that the flooding issues needed to be addressed, but said the palms didn’t have to be sacrificed in the process.
The commission unanimously voted to delay the project for three months so staff can look into the feasibility of preserving some or all of the trees while also addressing the flooding. Before the vote, commissioners cited the historic value of the trees and the possibility that the streetscape would need additional improvements if adjacent properties were redeveloped in the near future.
Also at Monday’s commission meeting:
+ The city agreed to sell commercial space at the forthcoming State Street parking garage to the highest bidders. The roughly 13,885 square feet of retail space on the ground level of the garage will go to WMR Consulting for $1.77 million. Commercial real estate firm Hembree and Associates was the high bidder for the 5,041-square-foot, mixed-use “pad site,” submitting a price of $688,000.
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