By Richard Harris
Last month the St. Augustine City Commission voted to make Sevilla Street permanently one-way. Stipulations in the vote required elimination of street parking, as well as the eight live oak trees that border the western side of the street.
Flagler College President William T. Abare, Jr., asked the city to consider the safety of students crossing the street, as well as increased foot traffic once the student center and Crisp-Ellert Art Gallery are completed, when he proposed that the street become one way at the March 26 city commission meeting.
The street has been operating as a one-way route, from north to south, temporarily while the student center is constructed. The college’s proposal called for the removal of street parking as well as eight live oak trees that line the western side of the street.
Abare planned to replace the existing trees, which are leaning “dangerously” over the street, with 11 new 300-gallon, 22-foot live oak trees.
Larry Smith, an arborist speaking on behalf of the college said the existing trees had been allotted an insufficient growing area and have subsequently suffered, posing a “severe liability issue.”
Although the existing trees are in varying conditions, the college offered to pay the $33,000 bill for 11 new trees, which would replace the eight existing trees spanning the western side of the street from Proctor Library to the student center.
The commission agreed on the replacement of the trees with the reassigning of the street. However, four days following the decision, Commissioner George Gardner, who voted for the tree removal, announced the commission would readdress the issue concerning the replacement of the live oaks.
Gardner said the decision to remove the trees was made without public input, and the phone calls and e-mails he received were proof that the public had reservations about their removal.
The decision made by the commission did not require public input, but Gardner said it went against the current commission’s goal of obtaining the opinion of constituents prior to all major decisions.
“Our tree canopy is one of our greatest community assets,” Gardner said. “I have seen some studies done on the trees previously, indicating that there’s still life left in them.”
Gardner plans to call for a reconsideration of the vote at the next city commission meeting on April 23. At that time, a majority vote of the commissioners is required to reconsider the previous vote. Consideration would only be given to the issue of removing the trees, he said. Public input may then only be granted if the majority of commissioners vote to allow the hearing.
“I voted originally for removal of the trees. I have second thoughts on that now,” he said, although he was uncertain whether he would change his vote.
Gardner said Abare has agreed to suspend all plans to remove the trees until after the next meeting. In the original vote, only Vice Mayor Don Crichlow voted against making the street one way with the stipulation of the tree removal.