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Median beautification returning to its roots

Grass and small trees will grace Spring Hill Drive medians after an alternative plan fizzles.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2002

Grass and small trees will grace Spring Hill Drive medians after an alternative plan fizzles.

SPRING HILL -- When Allstate Insurance agent Bill Veres put up money to sponsor the beautification of a median in front of his office on Spring Hill Drive, he thought his company was buying lush greenery.

But every day as he drives to work, Veres sees what other sponsors of the median beautification program also see: weeds, dead brown plants and disappointment.

In fact, Veres says the medians look worse now than when the project began. And in the middle of it is a sign that proudly proclaims Allstate's support for the debacle.

"If it was my choice right now, I don't want to sponsor something as ugly as it is right now," Veres said.

In an effort to breathe new life into the project, county officials and community leaders are trying to take a new course. Officials intend to abandon a miserable effort to grow ground-covering Asiatic jasmine in the medians and return to the original plan for Floratam grass dotted with small trees such as holly and crape myrtle.

Steve Whitaker, assistant director of the county's Public Works Department, says that if all goes well, the medians between Pinehurst Drive near U.S. 19 and Deltona Boulevard will resemble the medians on south Mariner Boulevard, near Seven Hills.

And he hopes that will be the reality by the end of the year.

Most people involved in the project say it won't happen soon enough.

Residents entering Spring Hill Drive from U.S. 19 encounter a lush and colorfully adorned entrance around the Spring Hill waterfall. That area, and a median just behind it, are maintained by the Spring Hill Garden Club.

Causing all the consternation are the next five medians along Spring Hill Drive.

They were to be the first revived under a program that would transform all 29 medians between Pinehurst and Deltona Boulevard through the combined efforts of the Spring Hill Civic (now Community) Association, local businesses and county government.

The County Commission agreed to buy the grass sod. The community association lined up business sponsors to cover the maintenance costs, and Challenger Irrigation agreed to design and install the sprinkler systems.

Things seemed to go awry when the county changed the game plan. In the midst of a drought, there were concerns that it might seem environmentally insensitive to put in sod that would require a heap of watering to get established.

The decision was to go with the Asiatic jasmine, a plant that, as it turns out, needs water, too, not to mention regular weeding, until it gets established.

From there, things got murky. Some say the county failed to put enough water on the jasmine, to provide enough pest control to kill the weeds or to properly maintain the irrigation system.

Whitaker, whose Public Works Department inherited the project from the county's Parks and Recreation Department, said a broken irrigation system played a part, but that a horticultural expert also indicated there was a chemical imbalance in the soil.

Whatever the case, most of the jasmine is dead and -- by everyone's agreement -- the first five medians in the beautification effort are in a dismal state. Spring Hill residents are not pleased. And Ki Hill, the community association's president, says the same goes for the sponsors -- Allstate, Challenger, Exit Realty Shoppe, the St. Petersburg Times, Action Title Services and Advanced Air Conditioning.

"They are all (driving) by them and seeing that they have sponsored a 20-foot wide weed bin," Hill said. "They've been upset about it, and I have been upset about it."

But Hill is now upbeat about the project's getting back to its roots. And Whitaker is content that mowing grass will make be easier than weeding a plant bed.

Next, Whitaker says, he must count the costs of the returning to the original plan, inform the County Commission and get the work going again. "The reality is that nobody is happy with what's out there, and we have to do something," he said.

Despite the difficulties, some sponsors said they intend to stick with the project.

Robert Pruitt, co-owner of Challenger Irrigation, said his company already has put $6,000 in labor and machinery into installing sprinklers in the first five medians. All he asks is that, in the future, his company be allowed to maintain the irrigation systems -- a task the county has assumed to date.

Further, Pruitt says Challenger is still willing to design and install the irrigation system for the 24 other medians yet to be revitalized.

"We're there just to support them, and we will continue to be an active partner in their efforts," Pruitt said.

-- Robert King covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to

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