Decades-old banyan tree hacked up in Fort Myers without permit

Reporter: Ashley French Writer: Hans Morgenstern
Published: Updated:

A tree probably decades old has been left in bits, as crews working on an empty lot in Fort Myers were forced to stop because they were apparently working without a permit.

The remains of a once majestic banyan tree that provided shade to drivers and even pedestrians on the other side of Michigan Avenue lay strewn pell-mell on the lot before Seaboard Street Wednesday afternoon.

Bits of the old banyan on Michigan Avenue. CREDIT: WNK News

Girthy tree limbs and trunks lay scattered on the earth of the lot, which crews have left gauged. In the craters left by the crews, fine wisps of root systems twitch in the wind.

A small paper sign with a red banner that said “STOP WORK” can now be seen planted in front of what was left of the tree.

The sign from the City of Fort Myers noted that the work was begun without a construction permit.

The Stop Work warning from the city. CREDIT: WINK News

A landscaping crew was witnessed there over a period of several days the week prior, using chainsaws and a cherrypicker to take apart the tree.

What the banyan on Michigan Street looked like before crews began tearing it down. CREDIT: Google Earth.

At one point, workers redirected traffic off Michigan, a block over, as tree limbs spilled into the street.

Crew members have not been seen at the site since Thursday or maybe Friday.

Only a few blocks to the east stands a similar-sized banyan, next to the Fort Myers Cemetery, where the sidewalk was constructed around that tree.

Fort Myers is also home to what is said to be the second-largest banyan tree in the world at the winter home and laboratory of Thomas Edison.

Harvey Firestone, the famous rubber magnate, brought it to the famous inventor as a gift from India.

The banyan, whose scientific name is ficus benghalensis is not native to Florida and is believed to originate in Bengal, India.

According to the University of Florida, these trees grow quickly and wide, killing a host tree and can cause damage to infrastructure. They also provide an array of habitats for animals.

Downtown Fort Myers is well known for its banyan trees, and there is a massive one by the Old Lee County Courthouse.

This is a city that may be popularly known for its palm trees, but at its heart, the banyan makes a mighty statement.

Who may have been responsible for the massacre of this tree remains unclear for now, but it stands as a tragic testament to the voracious appetite for growth in Southwest Florida.

We asked viewers what they think about the pace of development in Southwest Florida. Here are some of the responses we received.

“Our sweet town has terrible growing pains. I left Miami 50 years ago because of this, and I hope I don’t have to do that here. The infrastructure is not keeping up with the growth. It is all very disturbing,” said Cindy.

A banyan tree by Fort Myers Cemetary. CREDIT: WINK News

“I think it is disgusting and sad how little respect there is for our environment. When will humans learn that we do NOT own the planet? We are the guests? Whoever cut this tree should be in jail,” said Johanne Madsen.

“They are over-developing it without keeping up with the infrastructure to support the influx of residents. It is losing all the greenery and open spaces needed to keep temperatures down and give shelter to wildlife,” said Deb.

“They need to slow down and stop destroying the natural habitat areas that are still left. It’s all about greed and making fast money without any consideration for the future while overloading the infrastructure,” said D.

“Time to go up, not out and destroy what made it wonderful. I lived there in ’70s to mid ’90s. I don’t like what I saw last October.  Sadly not the beautiful place I grew up in,” said Tammy.

The city staff is reviewing clearing the permit for the address where this tree stands on Michigan Avenue.

The permit was submitted on Wednesday and is currently being reviewed.

Christ LLC New Hope Faith Temple of Jesus is the property owner of this area.

Until then, this is how the tree is going to stay.

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