SEMINOLE — The Bay Pines Mobile Home Park once was notable for the big oak trees that shaded the acreage.
But no more.
Most of the 422 oaks, other trees and vegetation have been razed to make way for apartments, the vanguard of the mixed residential and commercial development planned for the site.
The dismay was instant and vocal. Dave Kandz, conservation chair of the St. Petersburg Audubon Society, sent the city of Seminole an email protesting the "wanton destruction" at the park.
"The scale of destruction . . . is unfathomable," Kandz wrote. "It is already done and it is like an environmental holocaust completed overnight without the slightest ability to intervene."
Kandz said the loss of the oaks was even worse than the razing of pine trees by a previous developer on the site.
Kandz's sentiments were echoed in an email to Pinellas County commissioners by a St. Petersburg resident.
"I am writing you to voice my displeasure at the holocaust style of destruction of every last massive live oak remaining (after) the mass destruction of the coastal longleaf pines several years ago at the site of the former Bay Pines Mobile Home Park. To add insult to injury (it is) the height of songbird nesting season," Bruce Turley wrote.
Turley added, "I remember reading about the developer/buyer of the failed development and property after the economic bust of the last several years, but I do not remember reading that the plan would call for this level of environmental disregard. This is a very visible and significant acreage in the heart of Pinellas County that has been allowed to be laid to waste as a moonscape."
Mark Ely, head of development for the city of Seminole, where the park is located, said the tree cutting was not reckless. The cutting was done only after both the city and the developer, Kitson & Partners, had hired arborists to examine every tree on the approximately 60 acres.
Only 48 of the 422 oaks were in good health, Ely said. The rest were "dead and dying, or diseased."
Of the healthy trees, 32 had to be taken down because of grading, stormwater and other government regulation requirements. That leaves 16 oaks on the property, 10005 Bay Pines Blvd., across from the Bay Pines VA Medical Center.
The city is also making Kitson do several things. One is contributing $163,072 to Seminole's tree/landscape mitigation fund to reforest other areas within the city.
Ely said Kitson is also required to replace the trees and install landscaping. The number of replacement trees is uncertain — the city is requiring Kitson to provide 2,207 inches of replacement trees measured in cumulative diameter. If Kitson chooses to use trees with a 4-inch diameter, the company will plant 550 trees back. If the company plants trees with a 5-inch circumference, there will be 440 trees.
"We're just talking about tree replacement not requirements for landscaping," Ely said. "Those will be oak trees unless they can convince us there is some better method out there to reforest property. Many, many oak trees will be replaced."
The result, he said, will be a new landscape that will be "far superior than the existing, older, compromised canopy (of trees) that is on the site."
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.