City agency and department heads failed Thursday to resolve Tampa City Council members' concerns about why a contractor chopped down 102 trees in the historic cigar factory district.
City parks officials halted replanting trees until the public could weigh in Oct. 16 before the Barrio Latino Commission, which oversees Ybor City architectural changes.
The trees became a thorn in the administration's side Sept. 21, when city contractor ValleyCrest Tree Care Services sawed scores of live oak and holly trees on Ybor sidewalks, leaving behind 4-foot stumps and confused merchants.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who pledged to plant 1,000 trees a year, now has residents, business owners and council members wondering how many healthy, harmless trees the city took out under a tree inspection survey that council member Lisa Montelione called "sketchy."
Parks director Greg Bayor told council members that the $110,000 project had been in the works for several months and was supposed to start before the Republican National Convention but the contractor got delayed. All the removed trees, he said, were difficult to maintain, diseased, aging or causing buckled sidewalks and grates.
Tree experts documented each tree's problems, he said, giving council members a stack of photos and reports. Council members said they saw photos of several healthy-looking trees in "good" condition with questionable or missing reasons for removal.
"The survey that was done by whoever did take these notes and reported back ... whether these trees needed to be cut down or replaced or not seems to be kind of sketchy," Montelione said. "There's no consistency."
Council members also questioned the city's proposed replacement trees. Palms provide no shade, they said. There was a question about whether olive trees would attract rats. (No, said a city official, because they're ornamental olive trees that don't drop fruit.) Crape myrtles have flowers that blanket sidewalks and cars and also require constant trimming.
"Since we didn't seem to be doing maintenance before," Montelione said, "how are we going to keep up with maintenance going forward and how expensive is that maintenance going to be for those crape myrtles?"
The landscaping choices need to be justified, council member Mary Mulhern told Bayor.
"I don't see crape myrtles as a solution to maintenance," she said.
Mulhern also questioned the source of $40,800 of the $110,000 project cost devoted to cutting down the trees: a tree trust fund usually associated with planting them. Fees developers pay to remove trees and fines for illegally cut trees feed the fund.
Council member Frank Reddick, who represents Ybor City, wondered why many merchants and neighborhood officials weren't told about the project.
"There was a lack of communication for this to happen and for this to blow up the way it did in the community," he said. "It put us in a bad position where we're sitting up here getting calls on what's going on and we have no clue, no idea, that this is taking place."
Vince Pardo, manager of the Ybor Community Development Corp., a city redevelopment and revitalization agency that worked with parks officials on the project, said news of the work was on the front page of his group's newsletter, which is widely circulated among businesses. He said it was also discussed in several monthly meetings.
"We have an excellent communication system," he said. "From my standpoint, there isn't a community that's more informed than Ybor."
Among those who have said they had no advance notice included the leader of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, a neighborhood association leader and the president of the GaYBOR District Coalition.
With many lingering questions, council members told staff to come back Nov. 1 with more specifics.
Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at [email protected], (813) 226-3368 or Twitter @justingeorge.