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Mount Dora may palm off unwanted trees

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Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2015 6:00 am in the Daily Commercial

MOUNT DORA — After numerous Mount Dora residents expressed their objections to the planting of 21 sabal palms as part of the city’s streetscape project, city officials have decided to hold a workshop to discuss the option of replacing them with small canopy or ornamental trees.

City residents had objections to the palms because they stated it took away from the charm of the city, making it look more like South Florida.

“I still believe palms are the best choice,” Mount Dora Mayor Cathy Hoechst said. “However, the residents would like something other than palms. In order to have a compromise, we have agreed to this workshop to look at other choices.”

The city’s streetscape project involves replacing all the utilities, widening the sidewalks, adding parking and replacing landscaping to revitalize the downtown area.

Work on Phase 3 of the streetscape project is taking place on Fourth Avenue, from Alexander to Baker Street, and on Donnelly Street, from Fourth to Third Avenue.

Residents raised concerns about the issue in April after city officials removed laurel oaks downtown as part of the streetscape project.

However, Mount Dora officials said the 15 laurel oaks were removed because they posed safety hazards to residents. The trees are old, have become brittle, and more prone to decay and falling branches. This is not a decision that was made quickly, those officials added, saying the streetscape project dates back to 2009.

City officials were planning to replace the oak trees with 10 live oaks, 21 sabal palms, eight wild date palms, 11 crape myrtles, one Shumard oak, and 16 bottle brush trees.

Now, city officials are weighing planting small canopy or other ornamental trees instead of palm trees.

Michael Pape, the landscape architect for the streetscape project, said palm trees have been designated in areas where there is distance from buildings and limited space for tree roots.

“Everybody wants to see more oak trees in Mount Dora,” he said. “We just need to have the proper space to place them. They should be 12 to 15 feet away from buildings. In the places we are talking about there is very little room. We can’t plant a live oak where there isn’t enough room.”

The only way for the city to achieve more space to accommodate large shade trees “would be to eliminate parking spaces, put wire utilities underground and/or make major construction changes to the sidewalks and streets,” Pape added.

Josh Hemingway, a Mount Dora resident, said he did not understand why the city was replacing the large oak trees with palms.

“The charm of the town was those big old trees,” he said. “We want to replace them with shade trees but instead we are getting palm trees like it is southern Florida.”

While Hemingway said he understood the laurel oaks needed to be removed, he did not understand why they would be replaced with a palm or crape myrtle.

Chuck Lippi, board certified master arborist, said live oaks require 400 square feet of space.

“You need root space,” he said.

The Sabal palm is the most wind-resistant tree, Lippi added, saying, “It is very resilient and tolerant.”

Lippi said, in theory, the city could plant live oaks in those spots designated for palms, but they would not live very long.

“Why would you plant a tree that is only going to last for 30 years?” he said. “At some point it runs out of root space.”

John Tucker, another Mount Dora resident, said he is encouraged the City Council wants to revisit the issue.

“Now they could plant some ornamental trees and shade trees to make Mount Dora look like Mount Dora again,” he said.

The city workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 15.

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