The city’s greenspace policy calls for canopy trees in public rights-of way, but the Lemon Avenue is proposing palms.
The royal palm is a stately, elegant, regal tree. It can soar to 90 feet in height and bears more than a dozen giant fronds, each twice as tall as a basketball player and weighing as much as an adolescent child.
The statuesque trees have long been featured as a symbol of Florida’s beaches, breezes and laid-back lifestyle. They’ve also been the traditional landscaping choice for upscale residences, like the waterfront mansions on Bird Key and St. Armands Circle or businesses that signify class and privilege, like the Ritz Carlton.
But are they the right choice for a “pedestrian mall” in Sarasota’s downtown core? And do they fit in with a greenspace policy that expressly states “canopy trees are preferred in the public right-of way”?
That’s a question residents have begun asking since learning at a December workshop that the city’s plan for the South Lemon Avenue Streetscape Project — located on Lemon Avenue between Main Street and Pineapple Avenue’s Paul Thorpe Jr. Park in the heart of downtown Sarasota — includes installing a number of royal palms. And that a northern extension of the project from Main to First Street recommends the removal of 27 “underperforming” live oak trees, which would be replaced by yet another variety of palm.
Is this, as the city’s policy dictates, “the right tree in the right place?”
“To me, that is the ultimate question,” says Patrick Gannon, president of the Downtown Sarasota Condo Association, which has launched a “Save Our Shade” campaign to pressure the city to rethink the project. “If the mantra is ‘the right tree in the right place,’ royal palms on a pedestrian thoroughfare is not the right place or the right tree.”
Not only do royal palms provide very little shade, Gannon says, their magnificent fronds — which are “self-shedding” and can weigh as much as 80 pounds — present a potential hazard to pedestrians. And the date palms city staff is recommending for the northern end of Lemon produce little shade and a plethora of sticky, messy fruit.
“The Comprehensive Plan talks about the benefits of canopy trees for shade, wastewater, walkability,” Gannon says. “If those are our goals, shouldn’t we be complying with them? I don’t think the city has conducted a proper analysis of the alternatives, and that’s what we would like them to do.”