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Will the oldest oak in Pinellas be preserved forever? Safety Harbor voters will decide

A majestic oak behind a black wrought-iron fence
Carl Lisciandrello
/
WUSF
Safety Harbor residents will vote on a charter amendment that will decide whether to preserve the Baranoff Oak in perpetuity.

The Baranoff Oak is said to be between 300 to 500 years old. A vote would preserve the tree and the park it sits on.

If there was ever a symbol of the struggle to balance preserving what makes Florida, Florida, and surging growth, it's a majestic oak in the heart of Safety Harbor.

On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to preserve the tree, and the park it sits on, forever.

The tree is known as the Baranoff Oak, thought to be the oldest in Pinellas County. It's estimated the tree is between 300 and 500 years old.

Sign describing a majestic oak on a wrought-iron fence with the tree in the background
Carl Lisciandrello
/
WUSF
The Baranoff Oak, and the park it sits on, were named after Salem Baranoff, a Safety Harbor backer and the man who donated the land for the town's library.

The tree, and the park it sits on, were named after Salem Baranoff, a Safety Harbor backer who donated the land for the town's library.

The city already owns the park.

But preservationists like former Safety Harbor Commissioner Andy Zodrow helped place Charter Amendment 4 on ballot to preserve the tree and park in perpetuity.

"There's so much growth going on right now that if we can just protect any small areas like that, a pocket park with a beautiful old oak tree," Zodrow said, "that was the intent."

Mayor Joe Ayoub says the tree is pretty much protected now.

"To me, putting it on the ballot to change the charter to keep it a city park in perpetuity is more of a formality because I can't imagine a circumstance where without this charter amendment the city would even consider selling it," Ayoub said.

The amendment comes as residents regularly comment on social media about the need for additional parking as the downtown area becomes more popular and development increases.

The city hosts the popular Third Friday event every month, in which Main Street is closed for pedestrian traffic and vendors line the roads with their goods.

And events like the Art and Seafood on the Waterfront event on Feb. 24 and 25, and a Sunday outdoor market, lure visitors to the downtown area.

Ayoub said Safety Harbor isn't really growing, with a population of 17,000 to 18,000. And there's not much room left for more growth.

Ayoub says downtown parking problems are a result of growing interest in event in the city.

"The only time that there's really a parking problem is when there is a very popular event, so it's maybe a couple of times a month is when there's a parking issue," Ayoub said. "But there's a lot of spots in the city that people just may not be aware of.

"And plus, sometimes when you're coming to a very popular destination, you may have to walk several blocks and you may not be able to park right next to the establishment or place that you're trying to go."

Plaque on brick wall at entrance to park with a majestic oak in the background
Carl Lisciandrello
/
WUSF
The Baranoff Oak, and the park it sits on, were named after Salem Baranoff, a Safety Harbor backer who donated land for the town's library.

I started my journalism career delivering the Toledo Blade newspaper on my bike.