By Angeliea Carson
Naples is internationally known for its refined aesthetics and beautiful natural resources.
When you say "Naples,'' people think of the mahogany tree-lined Gordon Drive and stately royal palms that line the U.S. 41 East.
Trees are a vital part of the community and make this county stand head and shoulders above other places.
Trees provide shade to parking lots, scale to large-sized buildings, and create visual definition to ordinary sites. The aesthetic appeal that trees bring to a community is immeasurable.
Within a subtropical climate, Collier County is blessed with abundant rainfall, plentiful sunshine and an almost frost-free environment. Many of us seek out the "shady spot" to park our cars on the asphalt at shopping center's parking lots.
Collier County developed a comprehensive landscape code prior to its urbanization. As a result, code required most commercial developments to have buffers, islands and trees in their plan. Now, 20-plus years later, commercial sites have mature trees that add to the aesthetic beauty of the area.
A misguided trend has begun to rear its ugly head throughout the county. Many absentee commercial real estate landlords leasing property to banks, shopping centers, plazas and restaurants rip out beautiful, mature shade trees.
Are landlords betraying the public trust by trying to skirt the law, ignoring code and destroying the aesthetic fabric of Naples? Is the county allowing this to happen by ignoring the code that it is sworn to uphold?
A prime example is the Riverchase Shopping Center at U.S. 41 and Immokalee Road. Nestled against the natural setting of the upscale Collier's Reserve community, Riverchase is known for its simple but classy architecture, lush landscaping, and extensive shady tree canopy that is an oasis in the urban property.
One of the Riverchase tenants is Publix. This successful anchor and other retail stores in this center are visible from the street. The marquee directs customers into the center. With that said, why cut down the stately oak trees, sabal palms and other vegetation for better visibility?
After the decimation, the Naples Daily News along with Publix heard a multitude of complaints, and one concerned county commissioner investigated the issue and found that the county planners permitted the removal of the trees!
The county landscape code describes an overall picture required for completion of property development. The intent of the code is to provide shade and canopy to parking areas for obvious reasons. The details of the code require the planting of canopy trees and proper maintenance thereof. Trees are required to be planted in islands so that a canopy of trees eventually forms in the parking lot.
If you visited Riverchase today, the loss of the trees will shock you. What formerly was a welcoming, mature tree-filled parking lot is now planted with bald cypress trees, meant for swampy conditions. Additionally, slash pine trees were planted that offer very little shade.
Also, they were planted in the high/dry areas of the site and coincidentally in the height of a drought. Many of the trees are dead because of hurried completion deadline and are now an eyesore.
It is the time for leadership to arise. Enough is enough. The people live here because of Naples natural beauty and want to keep it that way. It is the benchmark of this community.
Do we want our area to resemble other places in Florida? Or do we want to maintain the asthetic and environmental integrity Naples is known for.
In order to keep a high-quality community, we must enforce the code that has been in existence for many years. Let's not become a "cookie cutter" community and enforce proper judgment.
Hacking down trees for better visibility is not a sound decision. And I don't speak for myself in saying that. In the end, what a community really comes down to is its people and its soul. This issue is a big part of that soul.
We need "re-leaf'' in Naples! I propose we take action immediately by calling our county commissioners at 239-252-8097. Demand that the "descaping" and "landscraping" stop!
Let's also consider a boycott to the shopping centers that are a part of this devastation. We are the community and the trees are part of us! Put the trees back and we will be back.
Carson, a 30-year resident of Naples, volunteers on cultural and environmental issues. She is outreach coordinator for the Florida Coastline Organization, a non-profit environmental watchdog group.