UF plans to raze nearly 200 trees for unneeded parking lot

by Savanna Green, The UF Understory Protectors

In December, after receiving dozens of comments in opposition, the UF Lakes, Vegetation, and Landscaping Committee (LVLC) postponed a vote on approval of a disastrous plan to cut down 182 large trees. 

The  trees, just west of campus (north of Hull Road, west of SW 34 St.) would be eliminated to expand a parking lot for the UF Health Ortho Building by a few dozen spaces — part of a bigger plan to expand the building into its existing parking lot. 

The LVLC at that time asked for alternatives to be considered (including to look at constructing the lot on nearby open fields instead of a forest), and for staff to show the true need for so many spaces when the current parking lot usually had 40 or more empty spaces on any given day. 

However, UF staff never completed the requested parking study, and instead rammed through “approval” at a poorly attended January 4, LVLC meeting, when many committee members (and the public) were still on vacation. At that time, even with “improved” mitigation (meaning planting a few more trees), the plan would create a deficit of 261 trees according to UF’s own tree replacement calculations, which they may or may not even offset through a small payoff into a shady and non-transparent “mitigation fund.”

But this ecologically destructive plan still had to get approval from at least one more committee, UF’s Parking and Transportation Committee (PATC), so it was put on their February meeting’s agenda. At that meeting, several members rightfully questioned the design and need for so much extra parking in an area where UF should be encouraging more public transit or alternative transportation, like bicycling. They also commented that removal of more trees will make walking or biking that much more brutal in the summer, and objected that this proposal seems to be ignoring UF’s goals, policies, and strategic plan. 

Also, this item on the PATC agenda was only listed as a “Discussion” item, so the committee seemed ready to punt it back to staff without approval.  

However, in a sneaky move which likely violated Florida’s Sunshine Law, UF staffer Linda Dixon insisted that the PATC vote on the item that day. Eventually, after a heated debate among committee members (with no public comment allowed), the committee voted 3-to-3 (with some members seemingly abstaining), but disappointingly, the tie was broken by the Chair to approve the plan, citing the “inevitability” of the project, even if they objected. 

The three PATC members who voted in opposition should be heralded for their courage, but even though the approval might have been illegitimately done, UF has no plans to bring it back for another approval to these committees.

Therefore, the only way to stop this project is to reach out directly to either the UF Student Government, Faculty Senate, the UF Ortho Institute, or UF Board of Trustees to demand the project’s plans to destroy a small forest not be approved. Even at the committee meetings, UF staff stated that there really is no need for this extra parking now, only possibly in the future, and by that time many better alternatives could be found.

Please, let’s help find these better solutions, and help protect Gainesville’s trees. Thank you!

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