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Photo by Colin Reid
Andy Carlson and Chuck Rawls say the street isn’t properly maintained.
Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 31, 2014 3 years ago

VIDEO: North Palm businesses seek action on flooding

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Businesses along the west side of a stretch of North Palm Avenue are looking for a reprieve from constant flooding, and the city believes removing palm trees is part of the solution.

A cabbage palm grove on the street consisting of 26 trees has been slated for removal for two years, though the city has yet to follow through with the plan. Because the trees are located on land higher than the sidewalk, the adjacent storefronts have to contend with flooding issues. People in the area said a change is in order because the conditions have been unmanageable for some time.

“I’ve been here in this shop for 38 years,” said Charles Rawls, a barber at The Man Hairstyling. “Every time we have a rain — little rain, big rain, it doesn’t matter — our sidewalk gets flooded.”

“This whole thing becomes an river,” said Andy Carlson, an agent at Arne Carlson Insurance. “The issue is the drainage and the protection of our property, so that folks are able to get to the businesses without difficulty.”

The proposed removal of the trees — and subsequent relandscaping of the area — is scheduled for discussion at an Aug. 18 City Commission meeting. The plan, originally generated by the Downtown Improvement District, has caused concern among some residents interesting in preserving the trees, according to a city document.

John Moran, operations manager of the Downtown Improvement District, said the new design was originally conceived of and approved because businesses wanted to create a more inviting environment for patrons. Under the current proposal, widened sidewalks and a smaller combination of flowering trees and palm trees would replace the existing palm grove.

Moran compared the situation on the west side of Palm to the other side of the street, which includes more recently updated landscaping designed for enhanced walkability.

“You’ve got this side looking like it’s pedestrian friendly, and the other side looking like suburbia,” Moran said.

Rawls and Carlson both said the city has neglected the area of Palm Avenue in recent years. Rawls said the palm trees in question have failed to be trimmed in more than three years, and that rats frequently nest in the trees. He added that the uneven ground on which the trees sit is a hazard to his customers.

Even though commissioners approved the landscaping project design and funding in May 2012, the palm grove remains untouched — which Rawls said speaks to the city’s lack of attentiveness in the area.

“It’s been on the schedule, it’s been taken off the schedule, it’s been put on the schedule and taken off,” Rawls said. “It’s just a yo-yo.”

The men said that dog waste frequently builds up within the large grassy area in front of their businesses — which, when combined with the flooding problems, becomes its own issue. Carlson said the businesses began to pay to mow the area themselves as the city has failed to provide an adequate level of service.

Although he wants the flooding issue to be addressed, Carlson also wants the trees to be preserved in some form. The palm trees were placed on Palm Avenue in 1983, after they were removed from in front of Bay Plaza on Gulfstream Avenue. Carlson said some consideration should be given to the tree’s history, and suggested the city might be able to find a more appropriate home for them once they’re removed.

“There’s some history to this particular block of land, and this particular block of Palm Avenue and Gulfstream,” Carlson said. “If we could preserve that somehow in a park kind of setting that had proper drainage, that would be terrific.”

A document provided by the city says that three options will be presented for commissioners to consider (see sidebar).

Whatever route the commission decides to take, both Rawls and Carlson stressed the importance of the city addressing an area that they feel has been ignored.

“We need some help here, and the city has been glossing over it,” Rawls said. “I’m kind of tired of it.”

Palm Avenue Options
As the city considers what to do with Palm Avenue landscaping it has three options:

+ Maintain the proposed project to redesign and relandscape the area, moving the palm trees off-site to prolong their life.
Address drainage issues while maintaining the current design of the sidewalk, either by temporarily removing and returning the palm trees or by planting new palm trees in lieu of the approved design.
Cancel the proposed project.

Contact David Conway at [email protected].

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