Belleair oaks may have to go

The oak trees on Ponce De Leon Boulevard form a canopy over the street. Once construction starts on this portion of the road the oaks will have to go.

BELLEAIR – Residents who live in the upcoming construction zone of Ponce/Poinsettia gathered in the town hall Oct. 18 to hear details about the project and how it will affect the vegetation on their streets.

What they heard wasn’t music to their ears.

They learned that all the oak trees and palm trees would have to go as construction to replace underground pipes and re-construction of the streets gets underway.

Town Manager J.P. Murphy opened the meeting by explaining the challenges the town faces in undertaking the construction. He asked for help from the 14 residents who showed up.

“This is not government shoving a plan down your throats,” he said. “We need to have this conversation so we can get some direction from you.”

Then he explained why the trees had to go.

Those on the easements between the curb and the sidewalk are trees which are planted above the underground utilities and the roots interfere with those utilities. Murphy said they have to be removed in order to replace the infrastructure but can’t be planted back to prevent the root problems in the future.

“There is just not enough room for re-planting those trees,” he said.

Then he explained why trees in the median on Ponce De Leon had to go.

“To fix our drainage problems we have to raise the center of the road and the medians by 4 inches,” he said. “If we were to put the extra soil around the trees that are already in place it would kill the trees, so we have to move them.”

He said improving the drainage is critical to the well-being of the roads.

“Water is the killer of roads,” he said. “It seeps under the asphalt and creates a bed of water. The drainage would add 50 years of life to the roads.”

Then Murphy explained one possible solution for replanting trees on the right of way, on the side of the streets. He called it a ‘bulb out’ and said they could re-construct the roadways by having areas where the easement juts out 7 feet into the road allowing trees to be planted in that area.

The residents clearly didn’t like that option complaining that the remaining road would be too narrow and not safe.

“Narrowing Ponce is a bad idea,” said one man.

Murphy looked relieved when those in attendance all agreed. He said taking the bulb-out off the board means that the project can go ahead right away with landscaping specifics to follow.

Then discussion about the landscaping began in earnest.

Several people asked about trying to save the oak trees that are there now. Construction supervisor Keith Bodeker said there was just no way to do that.

“If we cut into the root system of the oaks it will destabilize the tree,” he said. “They have to go; the finger roots of those trees get into the pipe joints and cause all kinds of problems.”

The idea of lifting the trees then laying them back down was a non-starter for Murphy.

“Lifting those trees only has a 30 percent success rate and it is very expensive,” he said.

Murphy then showed some drawings of various palm trees and crepe myrtles. The residents didn’t like what they saw.

“It is too clean, it looks like new, like a new community,” said resident Nancy Hartshorne. “I like living in an old community, it doesn’t blend with anything else in town.”

Another woman agreed.

“We want a more natural look,” she said. “We want to be in an old community, we want consistency.”

The conversation then went back around to having oak trees replace the ones that had to be removed. One man remarked that the room would have been crowded had people known what they would hear.

“If people knew there would be no oaks they would have been here,” he said.

“We can accommodate putting in oaks,” said Murphy. “They will have to be juvenile trees and it will be at least 12 years before they provide any sort of canopy.”

Those trees would be planted in areas where there are no utilities. Murphy told the residents that if they wanted oak trees in front of their homes they would have to be planted on their property. He said there could be grants to help the homeowners achieve that.

The residents agreed that was what they wanted, along with a mixture of sable palms.

The streets affected in this project are those who live on Ponce De Leon between Indian Rocks and Oleander, Osceola between Indian Rocks and Palmview, Oleander between Ponce and Palmetto, Palmview from Ponce to Pinellas, Pinellas from Osceola to Park and Poinsettia from Indian Rocks to Pinellas.

Work should begin early in the new year and it will take about a year to complete. Cost of this section is roughly $3 million.

It is all part of remaking the infrastructure in the entire town. Several streets have already been done with the final work stretching out until 2030.