Grand Oak Graveyard – Selby wants to cut down 111 mature trees, including 5 Grand Oaks

Grand Oak Graveyard – Selby wants to cut down 111 mature trees, including 5 Grand Oaks

Cathy Antunes
Cathy Antunes

We Sarasotans love our trees and green space. Citizens often find it necessary to remind much beloved organizations of these community values. Hordes of people came out to a recent City Commission meeting to protect Payne Park from ceding any parkland for the cherished Sarasota Orchestra and their proposed concert hall.

Likewise, City residents find themselves contending with a Selby Gardens proposal that threatens trees. Selby Gardens proposes to erect a 75-foot garage topped with a 10,000-square-foot restaurant event venue at the corner of U.S. 41(Mound St) and Orange Avenue. The Selby proposal requires the City to approve a significant zoning change. Prepare for the hordes again!

One hundred and eleven mature trees could be on the chopping block if the proposed Selby garage/event venue is approved. Yes, you read that right. Our local botanical garden would be able to kill 111 mature tress—five of them are grand oaks—if the City Commission approves their requested zoning change. “Wait!” you say, “I thought grand oaks are protected!” How can it be that Selby Gardens can kill so many trees, and five grand oaks?

Now when confronted with these estimates, Selby officials said that not their plan. They said approximately 40 percent of the total 315 existing trees and palms within Phase One of the Master Plan (all located on the east side of Palm Avenue) were observed to be in fair or poor health as determined by an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist. Selby leaders say their first responsibility is to protect public safety, so trees found with structural defects are proposed to be removed.

Furthermore, there are 21 Live Oaks within the area of Phase One with an estimated diameter at breast height of 24 inches or greater, meaning city codes defines that as ‘Grand Trees’. Of these 21, seven trees will be impacted by the project, Selby officials said. Five trees will be removed, including three that are in poor health, and two will be relocated.

But you’d think a botanical garden would be invested in protecting these trees. You’d think a botanical garden would be looking to expand their gardens around these mighty oaks. Nope. Not yet, anyway.

Selby Garden’s license to kill five grand oaks and over 100 other trees lies In the fine print of the City of Sarasota’s Tree Ordinance, Section VII-318, “Exempt Trees.” Line (4) of this section states “Trees grown in institutional botanical gardens” are exempt from the protection of the City’s Tree Ordinance. This tree ordinance was written in 2002, before many of our current staff were at the City. Presumably, it was assumed Selby Gardens would go beyond what is required by law to preserve trees, that the organization could be trusted with that responsibility, that Selby’s trees didn’t require City oversight.

Well, it’s 2019 now, and if the Selby proposal is approved, we’ll be saying “Buh-bye grand oaks!” Buh-bye birds, and shade, and the carbon sequestration provided by these mighty oaks.

How about a reassessment of this plan?

Instead of putting trees in the wood chip pile, how about creating a plan which expands the Selby’s gardens to the full footprint of the site? Instead of those oaks currently shade cars, how about creating more ponds and footpaths and flower beds? Keep parking spots onsite for the disabled, and create a drop off point for others? Partner with local business to create an offsite parking garage a short walk away. Has the potential revenue stream from a garage and rooftop event venue distracted Selby trustees from Marie Selby’s expressed goal—to create a public garden? Because what’s been proposed looks more like a event venue for Sarasota’s elite, not to mention a grand oak graveyard.