Putting Down Roots

This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared in the Ocala StarBanner. You can read the original story here: http://www.ocala.com/article/20060914/NEWS/209140379

CITY WALK DEVELOPMENT

Putting down roots

Tree pro helps protect 2 live oaks downtown

Ocala Old Oak from newspaper article

An Ocala Public Works Department crew spreads fresh soil, rich in micronutrients, under a large live oak tree near the parking lot of the Sprint building on Southeast Fort King Street on Wednesday. Arborists and the city were working to save two large oaks at the site of the planned City Walk, below.
PHOTOS BY BRUCE ACKERMAN/STAR-BANNER
By Christopher Curry
STAR-BANNER

Published: Thursday, September 14, 2006 at 6:30 a.m.

Last Modified: Thursday, September 14, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.

OCALA – For decades, a sprawling canopy of live oak trees has shaded the stretch of Southeast Fort King Street next to Ocala City Hall.
Right off that stretch of road, construction is slated to start on the first piece of downtown Ocala’s redevelopment, City Walk, a 40,000-square-foot open air retail and restaurant complex.

But before work begins on downtown’s future, the city wants to try to preserve some of its past – the two live oak trees that have stood for some 50 years along the north side of Fort King between Watula and Osceola avenues. The 250-space, three-story parking garage for City Walk is slated to be built as close as 18 to 20 feet from the trees. So, the city government is taking some extensive measures to protect the trees during construction.

Ocala’s tree preservation effort managed to land some expert help for free this week. Joe Samnik, an award-winning Pinellas County arborist with 37 years experience, volunteered to supervise city crews on site this week. Samnik arrived before 9 a.m. Tuesday. He was the last one to leave the site as afternoon rains started to fall. Armed with a laser pointer, he marched around like a field general and called out instructions to the crew of workers.

“Construction harms the trees by encroaching vertically into the canopy and horizontally into the root system,” Samnik said. “This truly is a great cooperative effort to save these trees.”

The preservation effort he described began with pruning limbs that stretch over the area of the Sprint building parking lot, where the garage will go. Next, crews took up the asphalt around the tree. They used an air knife to clear out asphalt, limestone and compacted dirt from around the roots. That machine blows highly compressed air instead of cutting with a blade, which could damage the roots. After that, a nutrients-rich soil mix of Samnik’s own concoction was put down around the trees.

“We’re basically re-potting the tree,” he said.

Samnik said the plan for today is to treat the two live oaks with a chemical compound designed to stop the top of a tree from growing, while strengthening the root system and making it more drought tolerant.
Samnik was in Ocala to work on a tree preservation plan for the residential development planned on Stolen Hours Farm. He said he already knew Mike Daniels, an Ocala city planner. Daniels enlisted Samnik’s help when he brought his plans for Stolen Hours to the Planning Department.

The city and City Walk developer Jorge Gutman held a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 31. At that time, construction was expected to start in two weeks. But the final site plan review has stretched longer than expected.
Assistant City Attorney Jimmy Gooding also said Gutman’s $1.5 million bid for all of the Sprint property needed for his construction plans technically did not meet the requirement of his contract with the city for phase two of his development. That second phase includes renovation of the Sprint building into condominiums and construction of townhouses along Watula Avenue.

The City Council is expected to vote whether to waive that requirement Tuesday. City officials now say construction should start in two more weeks.

Christopher Curry may be reached at chris.curry@
starbanner.com or 867-4115.

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