A representative for 7-Eleven made a plea Monday night for a break on a $4,000 fine for killing a historic tree at a construction site in The Villages.
Last year, Lady Lake commissioners voted 3-2 to save the historic tree. The developer of the 7-Eleven on the Historic Side of The Villages had to rework the plan for a car wash to accommodate the tree.
Despite the commission’s directive that the tree be spared, the tree was mauled during the demolition process.
Jessie Heiny, P.E. of Florida Engineering and Surveying appeared before the Lady Lake Commission on Monday night and said a mistake was made when the demolition plans were given to the contractor. She said the updated plans – providing for the tree to be saved – were not given to the demolition contractor. Heiny claimed the mistake “was not deliberate.”
Commissioner Ed Freeman, who watched from the nearby CVS Pharmacy parking lot on the day the tree was destroyed, wasn’t buying that explanation. He insinuated that the tree was an inconvenience and the 7-Eleven developer wanted it out of the way.
Mayor James Rietz also appeared doubtful of the engineer’s explanation of the tree’s removal.
“My constituents wanted the tree to stay,” said Rietz, who represents Ward 5 on the Historic Side of The Villages.
The commission was poised to impose a $4,000 fine for the tree’s removal – and require a replacement tree.
However, the landscape architect for the 7-Eleven project, John Olters of Michael Pape & Associates, nearly inspired howls from commissioners when he pleaded for leniency on the fine, due to the expense of the replacement tree.
He claimed a replacement tree would cost anywhere from $1,900 to $14,000 and it would be an unfair burden on the 7-Eleven construction budget.
The mayor was not sympathetic.
“$4,000 would be a drop in the bucket for this project,” he said.
Commissioner Freeman chimed in, calling the fine “chump change” for an enormous corporation like 7-Eleven.
However, Olters, a certified arborist, stressed that the smaller tree, a 6-inch live oak, would have a better chance of survival than a 14-inch live oak which would cost $14,000. The tree will be surrounded by concrete, limiting opportunity for its roots to grow.
Commissioner Ruth Kussard called on her fellow commissioners to step back from the emotion of the situation and pursue the sensible path. She sensed that commissioners wanted to inflict the maximum pain on the 7-Eleven project by ordering the most expensive replacement tree, even if the larger tree had a lesser chance of survival.
“You want to plant a tree that has a chance of surviving,” she said.
Commissioner Paul Hannan made a motion for the $4,000 fine and the $1,900 six-inch caliper live oak. It passed 4-1 with the mayor as the lone dissenter. He had wanted the stiffer tree replacement.