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Sidewalks compromise criticized

By Staff | Sep 4, 2015

The City Council passed a compromise plan in the Sands Boulevard sidewalk controversy this week.

But some residents are still far from pleased.

Cecilia Cutcher, a resident on Palm Tree Boulevard, sympathizes with Sands residents as her neighborhood, with its tree-lined streets, is about to be faced with the same issue.

The compromise passed 6-2 at the city council meeting Monday night, with Rana Erbrick and Lenny Nesta casting the dissenting votes, saying the residents shouldn’t have planted trees in the right-of-way in the first place.

According to the proposal drawn up by City Manager John Szerlag, the 70 palm trees planted in the city right-of-way will still have to be moved, but closer to the street instead of onto private property.

The sidewalks would be installed one foot closer to the private properties, which would give the trees a six-foot planting area instead of five feet, for the trees.

The trees would have to be relocated at the property owners’ expense, which could run as much as $1,000 per tree. The city will remove the trees at no cost for those residents who do not want to (or cannot) relocate the trees.

Proponents of the compromise called it a win/win.

“The idea they won’t have to destroy their trees, rather move them between the sidewalk and the road, allows the trees to remain. They planted them in the right-of-way, they knew that,” Councilmember Richard Leon said. “We have sidewalks and can keep the beauty of the palm trees.”

“If they want to keep the trees, they can move them and keep the trees,” Donnell said. “I don’t see how anybody loses.”

Chuck Liptak, who lives on Sands, said he was happy Szerlag came to their defense and that the compromise was better than nothing, but having to spend $1,200 to move his tree one foot is not a fun thing to think about.

“Am I happy that I get to save my palms, you bet. But they had better get someone out and stake exactly where these palms are going because it’s the last time I’m moving them,” Liptak said. “I feel bad for my neighbors who live out of the country. The project starts in Octobers and when they return, their palms will be missing.”

Palm Tree Boulevard is also scheduled to get sidewalks in the not-too-distant future. Cutcher said the grant money to build the sidewalks on Sands and on her street would be better spent elsewhere.

“They’re going to do the same thing here, and they want it done by January. These sidewalks are being put in places where there aren’t any major roads,” Cutcher said.

Cutcher said Palm Tree is a residential community that some people use as a shortcut to get to Country Club. As with Sands, there is a bike path already on the road, which Cutcher said is sufficient for walkers.

Cutcher also has large palms near the street on her yard, as do many neighbors. Many of these trees cannot be transplanted and will be destroyed. Therefore, many residents are against the sidewalks, she said.

According to Cutcher, the residents have not had a say in whether they want the sidewalks.

The problem is that the money for the Sands project came from a $760,000 FDOT grant, which is location specific. The Palm Tree sidewalk comes from a $964,669 grant.

City spokesperson Connie Barron said if they don’t build the sidewalks on the approved locations, the city could not only lose that money, but jeopardize the city’s ability to get future grant money.

“I say, ‘Too bad, so sad.’ It’s still a government by the people. Not by the council or by state funding. I don’t have a car, so I go to the library off the Gleason,” Cutcher said. “There are no sidewalks from the bus stop to the library. There have also been other areas where children have been hurt walking home from school because of no sidewalks.”

Barron said citizens affected have had the opportunity to speak out, as well as had the opportunity to educate themselves on the city’s five-year sidewalk plan on the city website.

Barron said the city can go the extra mile to spread the word.

“Can we always do more as far as getting the word out and let those in the impacted areas know? Yes. We will probably talk about that,” Barron said. “They have opportunities, but we can add more.”

Those who want to know more about the sidewalk plan can go to the city website, capecoral.net , into the Public Works department where the map is.

Barron said more about the plan will be in the city newsletter.