WELLEN PARK — “Imagine great oaks as great neighbors.”
That website pitch positioning the yet developed Downtown Wellen Park business district is more than hype. Project developers are spending nearly $1 million to save 26 mature live oak trees, to move them to select spots as the project unfolds starting next spring.
Wellen Park is the rebadged West Villages. Downtown Wellen Park will become its retail business hub.
The largest four trees inside the perimeter — one with a 96-inch diameter and well over 100 years old — will flank the entryway to the project, a welcoming canopy of green that will provide a “sense of place,” said Rick Severance, Wellen Park president, “that doesn’t feel brand new.”
The other trees get sprinkled around the development that will include an 80-acre lake, restaurants, shops, concert and festival areas, a food-truck park, splash pad and a kid play area, according to plans showcased on the website. The first phase should open by 2022, Severance said.
While saving trees isn’t huge news, the cost is. Canadian billionaire Peter Gilgan, whose Mattamy Homes is the principal builder at Wellen Park, was presented with the idea of salvaging mature trees on the property. He was immediately onboard.
“It is the right thing to do,” Severance said. “He (Gilgan) was excited.”
The high cost is due to careful root pruning and preparing each tree for transplanting. It will take up to 24 months to complete the moves.
The trees in their new home get festooned in lights, which will be “kind of awe-inspiring,” Severance added.
“It’s a wonderful effort,” said North Port’s Alice White, founder of People for Trees, an environmental group. “It would be great if (residential) properties in the city had that same benefit. It shows the value of trees.”