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Progress destroys the canopy of Jasmine Drive

I think we need to start using qualifiers like "so-called'' or "supposed'' when we talk about the county's canopy road protection ordinance, because from what I can see, it's a complete sham.

The latest case in point is Jasmine Drive, just east of Brooksville, a quiet lane formerly shaded by overhanging limbs, which is basically how the 1988 law defines canopy roads.

The ordinance put Jasmine in the select company of eight other Hernando streets or highways "that are characterized by rows of trees … of sufficient height, density and crown spread to create natural canopy coverage over the road corridor, and that preserve and maintain the historic natural beauty and ambiance of Hernando County.''

See? It really happened. For one moment, 21 years ago, our County Commission at least pretended to appreciate such a high-minded notion that appearance could add to Hernando's appeal. Maybe even its long-term value.

But now, if you drive north on Jasmine from State Road 50, you'll see that very little is being preserved and maintained: not beauty; not ambiance; definitely not trees.

Just beyond the Wesleyan Church, a traffic barrier marks the beginning of a widening and rerouting project. The half-mile stretch of road to the north used to almost burrow into a tunnel of green.

"Looking up, you were going to see little or no sky,'' said Charles Gawron, 38, who lives east of Jasmine and brought this destruction to my attention.

Now, the road opens up to a space as wide as a shopping center parking lot. Limbs and stumps of the trees that once formed the canopy are piled high on either side of the road.

"That doesn't look too protected to me,'' Gawron said.

Of course, there are reasons for all this.

Jasmine is designated as a collector road and needs to be built to that standard, said County Engineer Charles Mixson. Also, the work is being paid for by impact fees that can only be used in the part of the county where they are collected.

The project, costing about $1.25 million, will add shoulders, reroute the north tip of Jasmine so it meets up with McIntyre Road at Mondon Hill Road, and raise the roadbed as much as 3 feet, which is what required the clearing on either side of the most densely wooded stretch.

"This is a safety improvement and a capacity improvement,'' Mixson said. The County Commission gave final approval for the widening in March. And that's the way the ordinance works, Mixson said. If the commission okays an improvement project, the canopy can come down.

That sounds reasonable, until you consider that the ordinance includes many other, thinner justifications for clearing away canopies, such as last year's installation of utility lines on Griffin Road.

And until you consider, as Gawron told me, that there's rarely more than a couple of cars on Jasmine.

And that, though Mixson says the road is prone to flooding, the road has been under water only twice in the past 25 years.

Then you realize we're probably cutting down canopies when we don't need to. Because, really, Jasmine works just fine the way it is.

And there would be no justification at all for this project if the county and city of Brooksville hadn't approved so many foolish, unnecessary subdivisions on nearby rural land.

These haven't been built yet, which almost goes without saying these days. The county has no idea when they will be built, and therefore no idea when they will need a wider, higher, drier Jasmine Drive.

That, I admit, puts the commission in a tough spot.

Not that I feel sorry for them. Because the lesson here is one that never seems to sink in with elected officials: Bad development decisions lead to more bad development decisions, sometimes years down the line. For example, approval for development on the 433-acre site of Majestic Oaks originally passed in 1988, the same year as the canopy road ordinance that it is helping to undermine.

Another lesson the commission should take from this and probably won't: Destroying canopy roads deserves more thought. I'd like to see these decisions come back to the commission every time, and always as a separate agenda item with a separate vote.

Because these roads are precious, part of the county's "historic natural beauty,'' as the ordinance says. And history, of course, takes time. Mixson said saplings planted along the side of the road and limbs from trees deeper in the forest will form a new canopy "in a few years.''

I doubt it. I expect, when I drive down Jasmine, to be able to see sky for the rest of my life.

Progress destroys the canopy of Jasmine Drive 07/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 10:02am]
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