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Builder wins award for saving trees during construction

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 25, 2003

LITHIA - Development doesn't have to be deadly to trees.

Newland Communities, the company behind FishHawk Ranch, knows this; efforts to protect oaks and other foliage on the 3,000-acre property earned the developer an award from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

The foundation's Building With Trees Awards of Excellence program recognizes builders and developers who save trees during construction and land development.

Judging criteria include creativity in and attention to protecting and planting trees during planning, design, and construction; commitment to protection by having a tree professional on the development team; and inventorying existing trees and using that information to preserve trees.

"Historically, land developers would go out and just take out all the trees, bring out a lot of fill dirt and then bring trees into the neighborhood. The approach that we've taken has been very sensitive to the natural resources," says FishHawk project manager Rhonda Brewer.

Particularly beautiful trees become the focal points of medians, cul de sacs and entries to neighborhoods.

"We put the neighborhood in the trees. We don't put the trees in the neighborhood," Brewer says.

Thousands of live oaks, laurel oaks and other trees, many more than 100 years old and some with 4-foot-wide trunks, have been saved.

The result is a heavily wooded setting filled with mature trees and 18 miles of recreation trails that wind through neighborhoods. Residents can walk, run, bike, and skate on the trails. Plus they can learn about nature.

"Wehave installed signposts with pictures and information about significant plant and wildlife species along the entire trail system. We call this program Learn While You Burn and it's been very popular for our residents and people from the outside community who use it," Brewer says.

Before Newland brings in heavy construction machinery, workers trim branches to keep them from being knocked down by large trucks, and roots are clean cut to prevent fraying and to encourage root growth. The trees also get a dose of fertilizer to help them through the stress of construction.

"It works like spinach for Popeye," Brewer says.

Awards will be presented at the Arbor Day Foundation's National Building With Trees Conference in September.

- Janet Zink can be reached at 661-2441 or

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