NORTH NAPLES — Patrons of a North Naples shopping center who were outraged this summer when crews cut down mature shade trees as part of a landscape redesign will get some answers about that work later this month.
County staff is expected to report to the Collier County commissioners at their Jan. 22 meeting on how the landscape redesign at the Riverchase Plaza was approved and executed.
The work involved cutting down mature shade trees that were creating a safety hazard by blocking lights from shining into the parking lot at night. Crews also removed shrubs to increase visibility for drivers in the lot.
Developers then replanted 51 bald cypress trees, 45 slash pines, 16 hollies, 18 palm trees and thousands of containers of grasses and other ground cover.
In a public petition before commissioners Tuesday, Tom Graham, who lives in the Collier’s Reserve neighborhood to the east of the development, said he would like commissioners to review what happened with the landscaping to ensure that it does not happen again.
Graham told commissioners the original development, approved in 1992, showed 300 oak trees on the property, but current plans from the developer show no oak trees. According to county email records, the plans to remove the trees were reviewed and approved in 23 minutes, he said.
“This is not an insubstantial change,” he said. “You have to do something to rectify this situation or prevent it from happening again.”
Graham said it has become a regional concern.
There are similar plans for a change in landscaping at Kings Lake Square in East Naples, which also includes a redo of the center with a larger Publix. The plans for Kings Lake show 30 slash pines, 23 bald cypress, 21 royal palms, four Montgomery palms and 11 solitaire palms to replace 35 oak trees and 31 palms.
The project also calls for planting more than 1,000 shrubs and groundcover plants, according to county plans, which are still being reviewed for compliance with county codes.
Officials with Indianapolis-based Kite Realty Group, which owns both centers, have said the work in Kings Lake would improve safety at the center and spruce up the parking lot.
Commissioner Donna Fiala, who represents the district that includes Kings Lake, said she was aghast at what had been done in Riverchase.
“If you go to a Publix, everyone knows where they are anyway,” she said. “We need to address the shade trees for the convenience of the shoppers.”
But Commissioner Tim Nance said the land development code did not intend to provide for a park-like environment with its landscaping. Rather, he said, landscaping is meant to enhance a commercial area.
“Oak trees get 65 feet high and 100 feet wide. They are not a good tree for parking lots,” he said. “What a tree will look like at maturity is not what a tree looks like when it is planted.”
Hiller said she wanted several items addressed when staff brought the issue back later this month, including the question about “rubber stamping” the plans 23 minutes after they were received. Hiller said she also thought commissioners should review the landscaping plans for developments and urged a discussion between herself and staff as to how commissioners could address these issues.
“This is a significant issue that affects several districts,” she said. “What has happened has developed into a significant community issue.”
County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow disagreed, saying commissioners could ask the planning commission to review landscaping in the site development plans and that appeals could go through the commissioners.
Commissioner Fred Coyle said the board was taking the method of “shoot, get ready and aim.”
“Are they in compliance with existing codes?” he asked. “I don’t think we should create a committee until the meeting when staff can tell us if the developer violated current county standards. If they didn’t, it is a non-issue. If you don’t think it is adequate, change the code.”