County leaders and citizens at standstill over median landscaping on U.S. 41

LUTZ, Fla. - The lyrics "should I stay or should I go now" by The Clash seem to be fitting for the fight over trees and landscaping lining a seven miles stretch of U.S. 41.

Even though a meeting was held January 24 between community members who want to keep almost 90 trees and cash-strapped county officials who cannot afford upkeep, the decision of what to do with the landscaping is at a standstill.

The medians, with crepe myrtle trees and shrubs, run from the Florida/Nebraska Avenues apex to the Pasco County line.  The landscaping was planted in 1998 when the Florida Department of Transportation widened U.S. 41.  Originally, the state took over the price of upkeep.

However, when funds got tight, FDOT made a deal with Hillsborough County officials to take over maintenance.  County officials then worked with a third party landscape company for four years to maintain the mediums.  The landscaper did the work for free.  Not too long ago, the landscaper stopped the upkeep.

County officials say they cannot afford to maintain the medians and want to turn control back over to FDOT.   FDOT will only take over the obligation if landscaping guidelines they have established are followed which calls for trees and shrubs to be removed and sod to be planted in their place.

"All you have to do is do your job," an upset Lutz resident told officials.  "Keep everything that is there.  Further beautify it and everyone is happy."

More than 100 community members showed up at Thursday night's meeting.  Most showed opposition to any tree removal.

County officials, however, asked residents for more time to figure out what is to become of the trees.  They hoped to find alternate solutions at the meeting.

"What we want to do tonight is understand the maintenance agreements with have with the department of transportation and provide a status of the project as to where it currently is," Hillsborough County Director of Public Information Service Willie Puz told attendees.

Community members became upset when pink ribbons and orange spray paint began showing up on trees.  The pink ribbon signifies trees that can stay.  The spray paint was put on trees that are to be removed.

Unrest among residents ultimately stalled removal and led to Thursday night's meeting.

A point of contention for many in attendance are findings reported by and FDOT arborist who claims most of the crepe myrtle trees in the medians are at the end of their lifespan.

"I want a county arborist to inspect every tree, every landscaping, to see which is damaged and needs to be replaced," demanded a female resident in opposition to the tree removal.

In the end, county officials asked residents for more time to come up with an alternative solution.  Some businesses along the stretch in question have suggested collecting funds to pay for upkeep.

"We all want to come to an agreement, we know that," Puz said.

Community residents are now challenging county officials, according to Puz, to hold another community meeting and to have FDOT officials there.

No date or time has been set for that meeting.

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