Unexpected opposition to tree proposal

Andrea Stetson
A tree-lined path at Mackle Park. Marco Island.

You might think an initiative led by horticultural experts to plant trees on Marco Island without a cost to the city or taxpayers would be quickly embraced and approved, but it took more than an hour of debating by experts, the public and City Council members before it was finally unanimously approved.

More:A community divided as short-term rental vote nears

David Leaser, of the Beautification Advisory Committee, proposed the 10,000 Trees in 10 years initiative. He’s working with experts at the Naples Botanical Gardens to identify the right trees to be planted in the right places and the correct way to maintain them. The plan is to have people adopt a tree or adopt a street of trees to foot the bill for the tree, its planting and five years of maintenance.

“The problem on the island is tree density is really low,” Leaser began. “The average coastal city in Florida has more than three times the tree coverage of Marco Island.”

Many of Marco islands arterials and surface streets are barren. Leaser displayed two photos: the barre Chestnut Court and the tree lined Fairlawn Court.

“There is no coordinated plan on the island for planting trees,” Leaser stressed.

His plan would identify areas, collect funds from the tree sponsors and coordinate the correct foliage in the right places. That includes parks and mediums as well as swales. The plan is to start a one year pilot program to plant 1,000 trees. Naples Botanical Gardens experts would also develop an education program for the community on the right type of trees.

More:City Council election candidate qualifying period

“It’s smart landscaping, smart installation,” said Ryan Gallagher, director of operations for the Naples Botanical Gardens.

“We want the right trees in the right spots. We will develop a plan for that,” added Chad Washburn, Director of Conservation and Education at the botanical gardens.

But some councilors were not convinced.

Richard Blonna was concerned about citizen’s rights and water flow.

“I certainly don’t want a tree in a swale in front of my house,” he said about what some citizens might feel.

Leaser said most people do want trees and they will get to select from a list of approved ones.

“Studies show recommendations of planting trees in swales to help with water flow and absorbsion,” he explained. “It doesn’t obstruct at all with the right tree.”

Chairman Erik Brechnitz worried about the work it would create.

“It will take a lot more staff time,” he stressed. “I think it is a well thought out program my only concern is that we don’t put more burdens on the staff.”

Councilwoman Becky Irwin was a staunch supporter.

“Anyone now can plant a tree in their swale any time,” she said. “What you are trying to do is to help citizens find trees that have a better chance of succeeding and will look better. We have a unique environment that we need to take care of. Really this is not foisting something on to the residents. It is providing a vehicle that could benefit the island. The city is putting trees in all the time and what they are providing is some expertise.”

Residents addressed council members in support of the plan.

Ralph Rohena says his neighborhood looks barren with people taking down trees and even partially cutting trees.

“One neighbor didn’t like the leaves of a tree on its property so he cut half the tree down,” Rohena described. “This project is so badly in need. Every single day we are out driving and trees are going down. If you walk under the trees on a hot summer day, it is like air conditioning over there.”

“I find it excellent and well thought out,” added Doug Portman. “I can see how plants can enhance the property. The shade on Bald Eagle makes it one of the most enjoyable places to go for a walk or a bike ride. Wouldn’t it be great if other places were like that. It will enhance the experience of those who want to enjoy the outdoors.”