The route isn't complicated or treacherous. The good news about restoring downtown's shady street trees is that the solution is reasonably easy.
A net loss of 11 canopy street trees, 10 oaks and 1 Sycamore, in a small pedestrian area with increased cement understandably evokes emotion and doomsday alarms. However, a fix is readily available. Mount Dora City Council, along with its landscape architect, can choose to modify the plan by selecting viable canopy shade trees used in awarding-winning, narrow urban streetscapes to replant along the streets. These include a canopy mix of hardy, yet compact Skyclimber live oaks, Highrise live oaks, and mixing in a few deciduous trees like Winged Elms, Nutall Oaks, Shumard Red Oaks and Sand Oaks.
The Skyclimber and Highrise Live Oaks are cultivars specifically designed to fit in tight streetscape designs. They are much more wind, pest and disease resistant than Laurel Oaks and the Drake Elms the city installed on Highland Street a few years ago. "The Skyclimbers are more wind resistant than the Highrise because they genetically have a better root system. They have better wind resistance than Southern Live Oaks because Skyclimber's tops have much less drag in the wind", said Adam Cannon, the patent holder of the cultivar and owner of the mother plant in Brooksville. The Skyclimber cultivar was not readily available when Mount Dora's streetscape planning process began.
Highrise Live Oaks have been used in the recent downtown streetscape of Sanford, as well as downtown Winter Park fifteen years ago. Accordingly to Public Works Director, Rick Gierok, Eustis used Cathedral Live Oak cultivars in its 2010 streetscape to create the vibrant downtown aesthetic they envisioned.
Understory trees with a mature heights of 15-25 feet can also be mixed among the canopy trees where there are overhead utilities. Zone appropriate varieties include Weaver's White Flowering Dogwood, Japanese Blueberry, large single-trunk variety of Crepe Myrtle Trees, and others.
Prices vary for the shade trees according to size, type and demand. According to Southeastern Trees' current pricing, a 4" caliper deciduous Winged Elm costs $265, while the Skyclimber Live Oak cultivar is in high demand for urban landscapes and costs $500 for a 5" caliper. Mount Dora could install 4" caliper trees if funding is an issue. The 3-4" caliper trees catch up to the 6" trees within 3 years due to the stress on the larger trees, according to certified arborist and Winter Park's Urban Forestry Manager, Dru Dennison.
Funding the correction to the streetscape is also uncomplicated. The individual costs of the viable shade trees are significantly less than the individual date palms in the current approved plan. Remaining funds up to $120,000 are readily available via a budget amendment that is on Tuesday night's agenda for a new assistant city manager position. A portion of those funds can instead be allocated for the street trees, since the incoming city manager has not determined whether an assistant is needed.
Mount Dora's new city manager, Vince Pastue, has extensive city finance experience and will start the first week of June. Getting to know the specific needs of the town and its financial priorities can understandably take months. Therefore the decision of whether an assistant city manager position is needed in such a small town and what the appropriate salary is could be left to the incoming expert.
Future root damage to downtown's underground infrastructure, sidewalks and foundations will be mitigated because all new downtown trees will be installed with root barriers, according to acting city manager, Mark Reggentin, at the May 5th city council meeting. Those barriers are a commonly used and effective practice in streetscapes to drive the roots down instead of out. "Tree roots are lazy. Once a root hits an obstruction, they divert themselves", said Dennison, City of Winter Park's arborist.
The council can also vote on Tuesday night to adopt a timeline to replace a significant portion of the palm trees planted in the previous phases of construction with the appropriate shade trees.
The only remaining factor in this road map to a solution is whether the city council will demonstrate the leadership necessary to connect to its citizenry and implement its will. Other central Florida communities have succeeded in lining their downtown streets with shade, but it took the vision of city council. According to Michelle Neuner, Winter Park's Assistant City Manager, their award-winning streetscape was "a collaborative effort. The city and residents all had a shared vision of downtown and shade trees were a huge part of it." Mount Dora has it's own identity, however the example of how Winter Park's city government connects to its residents is a positive one.
The city council meeting will be held on May 19 at the Mount Dora Community Building at 520 N. Baker Street at 6pm. Each member of the public will be allowed up to three minutes to address the council with their views on this issue. Proponents of the shade trees have been encouraged to wear green.