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Ybor City panel approves Tampa's tree replacement plan

TAMPA — Trees will soon return to barren blocks of Ybor City after the district's architectural review commission approved a city plan to replace more than 100 trees cut down in late September.

The Barrio Latino Commission, a city entity, signed off Tuesday on the planting of up to 108 mostly crape myrtle and olive trees along sidewalks that line the 1-square-mile historic entertainment and business district. The city had delayed the project to seek the commission's approval as a nod toward transparency and cooperation after work crews chopped down 102 mostly diseased or problematic oaks and hollies on Sept. 21 without informing many merchants, residents and city officials.

"Our intent is to get back to work and get trees back in Ybor," Brad Suder, city planning, design and natural resources superintendent, told commissioners. "We really want to get back to work and get planting,"

Commissioners, made up of architects and business and neighborhood leaders, debated whether the city's replacement choices — generally slow-growing medium-sized species that wouldn't uproot sidewalks or disturb power lines, balconies or awnings — were appropriate for Ybor's narrow sidewalks. Fran Costantino, a commissioner and president of the East Ybor Historic & Civic Association, wondered about the carpets of flowers crape myrtles drop in the fall. Otherwise commissioners had few complaints.

They did, however, wonder whether the now-empty tree wells all over the district were in appropriate places or whether the city should come back with a "tree master plan" that would study whether wells obstructed walkers or created "visual clutter" next to Ybor's historic buildings.

"Let's step back," commissioner Ted Kempton said, "and decide whether some of these streets need wells at all."

Added Kenneth Cowart: "Trying to ram in a tree because we have a grate is not the answer."

But Suder said a comprehensive tree plan would be expensive, time-consuming and complicated because it would involve the input of many government entities and engineers.

That drew disappointment from Costantino, who felt the entire tree replacement plan should have been discussed with commissioners a year ago and not after-the-fact, leaving them with little power.

"It's the cart before the horse," she said.

The $110,000 Ybor project was part of a $422,000, 376-tree replacement project that included downtown and Ybor City and was planned before the Republican National Convention. With Tuesday's approval, officials said, the project could be complete in 30 days.

Justin George can be reached at jgeorge@tampabay.com, (813) 226-3368 or Twitter @justingeorge.

Ybor City panel approves Tampa's tree replacement plan 10/16/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 12:17am]
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