FDOT hears concerns about proposed Overland Bridge landscaping

FDOT hears concerns about proposed Overland Bridge landscaping
Dave Crawley, principal landscape architect and group manager at AECOM, points to a portion of the Overland Bridge project map as visitors to the public meeting discuss the landscaping proposal.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) hosted an open house July 13 to gather feedback from the community for proposed landscaping of the Overland Bridge project. Conceptual landscape plans, including a proposed list of trees and shrubs, were available for review.

Dave Crawley, principal landscape architect and group manager at AECOM, was on hand to listen to concerns voiced by District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer; Senator Audrey Gibson; Alicia Grant, president of Scenic Jacksonville; Tom Larson, treasurer of Sierra Club Florida; Janet Stanko, Northeast Florida Group Chair of Sierra Club Florida, and by residents.

The landscaping project will include plantings of numerous species of trees and shrubs, irrigation and other incidental work relating to the overall landscape for the downtown Interstate 95 corridor. Near the southern end of the corridor is the entrance to St. Nicholas, a historic neighborhood which has borne the brunt of the project’s land acquisition, detours and other construction-related consequences.

Map of I-95 Overland Bridge landscape project indicates placement of ponds and landscape area, subject to change.

Map of I-95 Overland Bridge landscape project indicates placement of ponds and landscape area, subject to change.

“In the South Shores community, at a meeting two years ago we said that the most important thing is the visual entrance to St. Nicholas,” said Boyer. “I’m glad to see there’s no chain link fencing around Pond C, as I’m told, but I’m also concerned about the height of the berm so it doesn’t obstruct the view.”

A South Shores resident who wished to remain anonymous explicitly asked Crawley to replace the row of live oaks, holly and crape myrtles the community had purchased and installed 25 years ago, only to see most of them removed for the project.

“We spent our own money putting in those trees and we want to have them put back,” the resident said. She also asked for consideration that a fountain be installed in Pond C and lighting installed under the overpass near Barbara Avenue, however, Crawley noted his company’s responsibility is for landscaping only.

Grant, of Avondale, was not happy to see the list of trees includes Medjool date palms, which she called a “lollipop of green on a stick.”

“They’re making some progress with the landscaping around the ponds, but they still have not removed those Medjool palms along the roadways,” she said, noting Scenic Jacksonville has been talking with FDOT about landscaping for two years.

“You’ll not get any of the environmental benefits of temperature reduction and shade, air filtration, and water filtration from runoff into the pond, all of those aesthetics and environmental benefits from having native trees that are canopy and understory trees,” she said.

Grant and Larson said they want to see Live Oaks, Cathedral Oaks and other trees that produce shade.

“Someone had a vision of ‘big and bold’ and wanted to give tourists passing through our city an iconic Florida – South Florida – experience,” said Grant, speaking about former Florida Secretary of Transportation Ananth Prasad.

The proposed landscaping project was developed through FDOT District 2’s FDOTree program, a new initiative developed to promote communication and delivery of the FDOT’s Northeast Florida landscaping program. According to its 2011 guidelines, “palms are the state’s signature tree – what visitors and investors expect to see, what they pay to see.”

The guidelines also state palms “are the only type of trees that can feasibly and effectively be transplanted (and re-transplanted if need be) when mature.”

“This [group of palm trees] is not a natural form,” said Larson, pointing to an area along a sound wall. “If you go into the woods you’ll see a mix of palms, deciduous trees, understory trees; we ought to be trying to reflect that.”

Florida Senator Audrey Gibson also stopped in to view the plans and comment. She, too, did not agree with the proliferation of palm trees indicated in the plans.

“Every part of Florida is unique and while palm trees may be well received and play very well in South Florida, north Florida has its own uniqueness and we should be looking at what is indicative of north Florida in terms of our looks,” said Gibson. “When it comes to road projects, why do we have to be a cookie cutter state? There is no noise absorption with palm trees.”

Construction of the 2.3-mile project on I-95 began in January 2013 and is expected to be complete later this fall, however, landscape construction is not expected to start until summer 2019 and is not part of the $227 million Overland Bridge project budget.

To read FDOT’s landscape branding guidelines, go to residentnews.net and search for FDOT.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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