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The Villages
Friday, May 24, 2024

Residents speak up for trees to be cut down for new rec center

Residents are speaking up for two trees that are to be cut down for to make room for a new recreation center in The Villages.

The Amenity Authority Committee has committed to a $20 million project to tear down the Paradise Recreation Center and replace it with a brand-new facility.

However, the proposal has to clear a hurdle with the Town of Lady Lake, which has strict rules regarding trees and prides itself on its longstanding Tree City USA status.

Residents of the Historic Side of The Villages spoke up for the trees during Monday night’s meeting of the Planning and Zoning Board.

The trees in question are a 36-inch Live Oak tree and a 52-inch Laurel Oak tree. The plans calls for the removal of other trees, but The Villages must obtain a variance from the Town of Lady Lake to cut down the Live Oak and the Laurel Oak.

Permission is being sought for the removal of this tree, at right, to make room for the new Paradise Recreation Center
Permission is being sought for the removal of this tree, at right, to make room for the new Paradise Recreation Center.

The Villages District Manager Kenny Blocker contends the removal of the historic trees “is necessary because the trees are located within areas that will cause building foundation and structural column issues during the construction process, potentially hindering the longevity of the structural integrity of the new building.” One of the trees is located near the site of the new recreation center. The other is located where the new swimming pool will be built.

That explanation had Historic Side resident Margo Brewer scratching her head.

“The rationale to take a tree down because it’s going to ‘impact’ the building doesn’t make sense. The tree was there already,” she said.

James Wronka, who also lives on the Historic Side, questioned the “common sense” of the whole project.

A rendering of the proposed $20 million Paradise Recreation Center
A rendering of the proposed $20 million Paradise Recreation Center.

“They are building this bigger building ‘for our benefit’ and cutting down our trees,” Wronka said. “They will be demolishing a swimming pool that we love.”

He owns two homes on the Historic Side of The Villages, his home and a second property where his elderly mother from Wisconsin spends the winters.

He said he has invited members of the AAC to come out and watch as the chainsaws are revved up and the trees are cut down.

“These trees were planted before Harold Schwartz was born,” Wronka added.

He quoted legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell.

“You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,” Wronka said. “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

Even Mayor Ed Freeman questioned the removal of the trees.

“If they had used a little imagination, they could have saved all of these trees,” the mayor said.

The arborist working for The Villages admitted the 36-inch Live Oak tree is a 5 on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the healthiest and 1 being the unhealthiest. She claimed the Laurel Oak is a 3.

Randy Wilkerson, a construction manager working for The Villages District Government, said it was impossible to save all of the trees at the site.

“We increased the building by 10,000 square feet,” he said.

The planning and zoning board voted 3-1 in favor of the variance for the removal of the trees with the fifth member recusing himself from the vote. The tree removal will be forwarded to the full commission. The planning and zoning board acts in an advisory capacity and the commission is not bound by its vote.

Earlier this year, the Lady Lake Commission bucked Walmart and would not grant its tree removal request.

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