Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Stumped by Ybor City tree loss? Tampa explains beautification project

TAMPA

The 102 trees chopped down along the sidewalks of Ybor City, leaving behind tall stumps and astonished merchants, are part of a broader project to take down diseased and problem trees.

Tampa city officials acknowledged Tuesday their landscaping project could have gone smoother in the historic district had they done a better job of informing merchants, residents, chamber executives and City Council members.

The Ybor Community Development Corp., a city redevelopment agency, knew about the project "a long time ago," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Tuesday.

But the word didn't spread much further than that.

"I was not happy this morning," Buckhorn said, the day an article in the Tampa Bay Times quoted community members confused and outraged over the removal.

On Friday, Ybor merchants watched work crews from city contractor ValleyCrest Tree Care Services roll into the square-mile business district of old cigar factories, lofts, nightclubs and restaurants and chop down tree after tree — leaving stumps and barren blocks for thousands of tourists and nighttime patrons to stare at all weekend. A brief city announcement about the project on Friday seemed to reach few.

On Tuesday, city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said the removal was part of a 376-tree, $422,000 replacement program in Ybor and downtown that began near Old City Hall before last month's Republican National Convention. Trees selected for removal included those diseased as well as some that interfered with power lines, buckled or obstructed sidewalks and pushed up brick walkways or historic paths.

"Essentially, they have become an annual maintenance issue, especially in more urban areas where the right of way and sidewalks are tight," she said in a statement.

The trees cut down included oaks, elms and hollies planted in the 1980s when they were considered the best trees for an urban landscape, according to the city. Fifteen years ago, sphaeropsis gall, a fungal disease, began infecting Tampa's hollies, which started their decline. Most of the trees removed in Ybor were East Palatka hollies.

The tall stumps should be removed this week. In hindsight, Tampa Parks and Recreation director Greg Bayor said he wished the contractor had removed them the same day.

"It was a terrible look up and down the street," he said.

Ten-to-12-foot-tall crape myrtles, olive trees and palms — chosen because of their look and ability to provide some shade while staying out of pedestrian paths — will replace the old trees and other empty wells by Oct. 19.

"We are not replacing the full-grown trees with saplings," Glisson said.

The city decided to overhaul the trees all at once, using its Tree Trust Fund to pay for it. That fund collects money from developers who pay to remove trees, and fines for illegally cut trees.

Neither TECO Energy, which maintains the power lines, nor Tampa police, who oversee some district security cameras, urged the city to clear the trees, representatives of both agencies said.

Eric Schiller, owner of Gaspar's Grotto pub, welcomed the swap because trees outside his restaurant seemed "shot." But he understood the consternation.

"It's like pulling out a splinter," he said. "You know it's needed but when it finally happens it still hurts. But it was the right thing to do."

Not everyone remains pacified. Joe Chillura, a former City Council member and Hillsborough County commissioner, authored the city's 1972 tree ordinance, which protects trees from indiscriminate clearing. He read about the tree removal and looked up his ordinance again, only to learn the city was exempted in the 1980s.

He wondered why.

"Why shouldn't the government follow the rules of the governed?" he asked.

Times staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at [email protected], (813) 226-3368 or Twitter @justingeorge.

Comments

High school scoreboard for Feb. 22

Thursday’s scoreboardSoftballBoca Ciega 4, Pinellas Park 2Admiral Farragut 7, Northside Christian 1Boys tennisOsceola 7, Dixie Hollins 0Clearwater Central Cath. 4, Jesuit 3Girls tennisOsceola 7, Dixie Hollins 0Boys basketballClass 3A, region semifina...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputy ‘never went in’ during Parkland school shooting. There were other failures, too

Deputy ‘never went in’ during Parkland school shooting. There were other failures, too

Eight days after mass shooter Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward’s top cop on Thursday revealed a stunning series of failures by the sheriff’s department.A school campus cop heard the gunfire, rushed ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
A case for wild flamingos calling Florida their home

A case for wild flamingos calling Florida their home

In 2015, Conchy the flamingo showed up at Florida’s Naval Air Station Key West, and he wouldn’t leave. Normally, managers on the grounds lethally remove feathered troublemakers — it can be very dangerous with birds flying around million-dollar fighte...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Updated: 3 hours ago
Florida man yells ‘murderers!’ as he’s executed for slaying

Florida man yells ‘murderers!’ as he’s executed for slaying

Associated PressSTARKE — An inmate convicted of raping and killing a college student decades ago screamed and yelled "murderers!" three times, thrashing on a gurney as he was being put to death Thursday. The governor’s office said Eric Scott Branch, ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

After Parkland, another plea for rumor control: ‘This is not a joke’ (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor and the police chief came to Northeast High on Thursday to warn students about the dangers of circulating rumors of school safety threats on social media.While they were there, one of those unfounded rumors popped up on Fac...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Administrator Haley Loeun fired from CareerSource jobs centers

Administrator Haley Loeun fired from CareerSource jobs centers

Haley Loeun, a top aide to the embattled leader of the Pinellas and Hillsborough jobs boards, was fired Thursday from her $130,000-a-year position as business services director.Loeun came under criticism after the Tampa Bay Times reported that employ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
V.M. Ybor: That’s not cigar smoke you’re smelling

V.M. Ybor: That’s not cigar smoke you’re smelling

TAMPA — Across Interstate 4 from Ybor City’s nightlife, another part of the historic neighborhood has an odor less nostalgic — and much less pleasant — than cigar smoke and roasting coffee beans.V.M. Ybor, named after the Spaniard who founded the cit...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

Mattis expected to back allowing transgender troops to stay in the military

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to propose to President Donald Trump that transgender members of the U.S. military be allowed to continue serving despite the president’s call last summer for a ban on all transgender service, acc...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

Sen. Marco Rubio faces tough audience at riveting CNN forum on gun violence

After an emotionally draining day that captured national attention — the massive rally in Tallahassee and a small, tearful gathering of survivors at the White House — CNN’s Wednesday night town hall on the Parkland shooting could have easily been ove...
Updated: 6 hours ago