Downtown Trees FAQ

Published on March 22, 2023

Downtown corner with Harry's

Downtown Gainesville is home to hundreds of shade trees but a few oaks with overgrown roots have led to complaints about uneven sidewalks in the city’s center.

On Thursday, March 23, Gainesville city commissioners, seated as the General Policy Committee, will hear from City of Gainesville staff about the trees and related infrastructure maintenance issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which downtown trees have become problem trees?

There are two shumard oak trees and two live oak trees in the public rights of way along SE 1st Ave. and SE 1st St. that have damaged the adjacent sidewalks, curbs and roadways. This damage creates some accessibility issues for people using the sidewalks.

Live oak tree downtown with sidewalk damage
Shumard oak tree downtown with sidewalk and roadway damage
Shumard oak tree downtown with sidewalk and road damage
Shumard oak tree downtown with sidewalk and road damage

Does this mean the city is changing its position on trees?

No, it does not. The City of Gainesville is committed to a sustainable community for the future, including the maintenance of a healthy tree canopy through an effective ongoing urban forestation program.

Will this mark a change in the way the city removes problem trees and could this mean removing trees at places like the Thomas Center?

No, it will not. This issue only involves trees that create hazards and are growing in the right of way. Trees growing on City land are regulated by Chapter 30 of the Code of Ordinances; the land development code. This code does not apply to public rights of way. Trees growing in the rights of way are governed by Chapter 23 of the Code of Ordinances; streets, sidewalks and other public places.

What is the best possible outcome?

The best possible outcome is a financially prudent solution that would restore the safety and accessibility of these affected city sidewalks for all neighbors while preserving the character of downtown Gainesville.

Which of these trees would be removed?

There are 20 trees on this block and the city is investigating removing four of them. There are two shumard oak trees and two live oak trees in the public rights of way along SE 1st Ave. and SE 1st St. that have damaged the adjacent sidewalks, curbs and roadways. 

Which options do not involve removing the problem trees and how much would they cost?

One option is to replace angle parking along SE 1st Avenue with parallel parking. This would reduce the number of parking spaces but preserve the Live Oaks. The sidewalk would be relocated between the new spaces and the trees. The existing storm water system would need to be modified. This option is anticipated to cost approximately $500,000 to complete the work on both SE 1st Avenue and SE 1st Street.

A second option is to modify the outdoor cafes at four downtown businesses where the trees are narrowing sidewalk access. This would require the City to work with business owners, at their expense, to significantly alter the exterior features of their buildings. This could impact historic structures. For instance, the building that currently houses Harry’s was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1994. It was previously home to the Cox Furniture Store. It has been known as the Simonson Opera House, Edwards Opera House and New Baird Theater.

Historical Baird Theater

Could the city simply remove these problem trees and plant younger trees?

Yes. The Public Works Department estimates a total cost of approximately $10,000 to remove all four of the trees. The Tree Mitigation Fund would provide money to plant new trees. This money comes from construction projects. When heritage trees are removed during building or construction in the city limits, monies are paid into the Tree Mitigation Fund as required by the land development code ordinance. 

What if nothing is done?

Live oaks are supported by a massive and wide root system that can extend to twice the breadth of their canopy. The roots can threaten the stability of building foundations and cause damage to essential underground infrastructure. The roots also create problems for the adjacent streets and roads. There already is visible damage to the roadways, curbs and sidewalks. Leaving the trees in place will cause future deterioration and complicate city efforts for a safer downtown sidewalk system.

Which variety of oak would the City consider planting instead?

Bluff oak Quercus austrina Bluff oaks are native to the Southern U.S. The tree variety is well-suited for planting in parking lots or along streets and boulevards where there is plenty of space for crown development. The bluff oak has attractively uniform, upright branches. It is easy to prune and grows at a moderately fast rate. Bluff oaks are high-quality shade trees in compliance with the city’s land development code.

More about the bluff oak from IFAS

Photo by Doug Goldman, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons




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