Keep the Park in Winter Park
Guest Columnist – Bob Bendick
The “Greenspace Connectivity” article published here is a useful continuation of the discussion in our community about the need to update Winter Park’s ten-year-old Parks and Recreation Plan.
While there remains some uncertainty about the exact questions to be answered by a plan update, it has been encouraging to see the support among elected officials and others for continuing investment in parks and open space in Winter Park.
WP Vision Focuses on Parks & Greenspace
A number of the recommendations of the 2008 plan have been implemented. This, in itself, demonstrates the value of park planning, and this progress provides a good base for additional improvement. Careful stewardship of our parks reflects the views of the great majority of Winter Park residents, as expressed through the city’s recent Visioning Process. The Vision plan recommends:
• Investing in a sustainable future that encourages and supports lifelong learning, healthy living and a daily connectivity to the natural world.
• Enhancing walking, biking and recreational activities through a connected and integrated network of open space.
• Fostering sustainable public and private parks and open spaces using state of the art practices and techniques.
Revise Parks Plan to Address Today’s Needs
So why is a revision of the city’s parks and recreation plan a practical and useful step toward achieving the elements of our shared community vision? First, a revised plan would reflect the preferences of today’s Winter Park’s residents. For example, activities such as lacrosse and paddle boarding hardly existed here ten years ago, but now have grown to become popular uses of our parks.
Reduce Cost and Conflict
A carefully wrought plan would provide a much-needed cohesive framework for making decisions about expanding, adding or modifying individual parks. The decision-making process would become more cost-effective and the City would realize a reduction in the lost time and conflict that results from ad-hoc decision-making.
A thoughtfully revised plan would reduce duplication of facilities and activities, thus improving the delivery of recreational services to the people of Winter Park. It might also introduce innovative ways for private citizens to contribute to the natural and scenic character of our city.
Introduce Updated Management & Maintenance Practices
An updated plan would introduce state-of-the art techniques for management and maintenance of park facilities. A specific, achievable menu of desired projects would enable the City to take advantage of strategic opportunities for implementing the plan through public infrastructure programs, private donations and amenities in commercial and residential development projects.
Connect Our Parks
An updated plan would show how our parks can be connected with walkways and bikeways to provide a green framework for the city’s future. Connectivity among our parks would enhance opportunities for outdoor recreation for citizens of all ages while affording opportunities for safe, non-motorized transportation. We can achieve all this through coordination with the City’s bicycle and walkway planning.
No Need to Re-invent the Wheel
The city’s 2008 parks plan is a sound, useful document. There is no need to start over or to undertake a lengthy and complex planning process. We can take a practical, creative approach to discover ways to further enhance and connect our city’s natural assets of parks, lakes, private open space, walkways and bikeways.
Such an effort is well worth the investment of time and money. Having a clear, overarching vision of the city’s specific open space needs and priorities will save us in the long run, and will encourage the partnerships and creative ideas that are central to park planning and management in today’s world.
We owe it to the next generation to keep the park in Winter Park.
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Green Space Connectivity
A City In Search of a Unified Parks Plan
Among the drawers, shelves and stacks of notebooks, leaflets and books storing visions, plans and master plans sits the Winter Park Parks & Recreation Master Plan. As that plan nears the age of 10 – it was last updated in 2008 — Commissioners, staff and citizens have concluded the time has come to give it some much-needed attention.
Many of the national statistics used to support the 2008 plan date from 1999. In 2008, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), upon which we now base much of our data, did not exist. According to GIS data, since 2008 the City has added 50 acres of parkland – some of it under water, but most of it visible to the naked eye.
In addition, some significant developments have occurred in the past 10 years that do not appear in the 2008 plan – projects in Mead Botanical Garden and plans for the new library-event center in MLK Park, for example.
Parks Plan Needs Life Support
Solid reasons exist to resuscitate the plan. Both the City’s Comprehensive Plan and the Vision Plan require the City have a current Parks & Recreation Master Plan. Actually, Comp Plan Policy 6-2.5.4 states the plan should be updated every five years. Second, the City must have a current Parks & Recreation Master Plan in order to retain accreditation under the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).
There’s Talk, but No Action Yet
Toward that end, the Commission took up the question of updating the Parks & Recreation Master Plan at their August 28 meeting, with the stipulation that they intended to take no action at that meeting.
At the outset, it’s important to know three factors which could stand in the way of a speedy conclusion to this effort. First, with the recent retirement of former Parks & Recreation Director John Holland, no Parks & Rec director is in place to guide the update process. According to City Manager Randy Knight, the search for a new director has not yet begun.
As of August 28, there is no money in the FY 2018 budget for a plan update, although that could change. Finally, the scope of work is vague and the proposed schedule, which exceeds 12 months, is not set to commence until March 2018.
What Do We Know About WP Parks?
According to the 2016 Comprehensive Plan, Winter Park boasts 346 acres of publicly owned park, open space and conservation lands. There is no distinction between active park space, for instance the Farmer’s Market and Azalea Lane tennis courts, and passive green space like Central Park or Mead Botanical Garden.
Of the 346 total acres, 27.58 acres comprise 36 ‘mini-parks.’ Some mini-parks provide peaceful sightlines onto small gardens or lakes, while others are little more than a park bench in a roadway median.
Howell Creek Conservation Land to be Added
In addition to the existing inventory, the City is in the process of purchasing 55.57 acres of conservation land along the Howell Creek Basin. The properties were appraised at $166,000. The agreed-upon purchase price plus commissions will come to $304,500. Approximately half this amount will come from a grant from the State of Florida. The remainder will likely come from the Parks Impact Fee Fund, which currently has a balance of more than $1 million.
The package deal includes seven separate parcels. Of these 55+ acres, two parcels totaling 12.23 combined acres are within Maitland City limits, and 7.71 acres are submerged.
Maitland Gets a Piece of the Park
According to minutes of the August 14, 2017 Commission meeting, staff plans “to work with the City of Maitland on a joint planning agreement to transfer the one piece of property that is in their city limits and adjacent to our park into [Winter Park] city limits and to transfer ownership of the other parcel to Maitland.”
Once this wetlands area has been reclaimed, invasive plants will be replaced with native species. The City plans to create a recreation area that will feature boardwalks, nature trails and a kayaking “blue way.”
Questions Remain — How Do We Anticipate Future Costs of Park Ownership?
Parks & Recreation accounts for approximately 15 percent of the City’s budget. To date, more money has been devoted to parks acquisition. As our parks age, however, the lifecycle costs of ownership and maintenance increases. Is the City prepared to create a Parks & Recreation Master Plan that accurately reflects these costs so we can anticipate out-year budget requirements – and budget for them?
How to Develop Connectivity Between the Park Spaces?
In their August 28 report to the Commission, staff highlighted the need for connectivity between our existing parks and green space. Their recommendation was endorsed by Commissioner Greg Seidel, who cited the need to weave in GIS data points to evaluate feasibility and to accelerate the connectivity portion of the Parks & Recreation Master Plan.
Should We Distinguish Passive Park vs. Active Park?
As urban sprawl presses on our borders, our active parks and passive green space frequently find themselves in the same footprint and in direct competition with one another. The resulting frustration for any visitor is that neither the active nor the passive functions can be adequately realized.
Charley Williams’s ‘Official Quiet Zones’
Elected officials, City staff and Winter Park residents are embarking on a difficult task – one that will take time to complete. In the meantime, Winter Park resident Charley Williams offered the following thoughts that might form a context and a way to think about these issues. In this spirit, we share his musings with you.
Charley Says . . .
Leash your dog
Take your bike for a walk.
Enjoy the garden.
Leave the flowers on their stalks.
Take a deep breath
. . . .and take one again.
Smell the dirt and
The scent of the air after the rain.
Sit on a bench, relax, listen.
Remove your sunglasses.
Feel the shade.
Close your eyes – smile, feel your thoughts fade.
Watch the clouds.
Enjoy the sunset.
What bird call was that?
Are the owls waking up?
Come tonight for a meteor shower.
Bring your blanket to lie on.
Feel our natural rhythms
In the low light of our park after dark.
Charley Williams has lived in Winter Park and Central Florida for over 25 years. When it comes to sports and rec, he’s proud to say he still has good knees.
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City Tree Preservation Board Jumps the Gun
Saves Developer $12,375
Several weeks ago, in the thick of election season, Winter Park’s Tree Preservation Board delivered its own October Surprise.
The board had proposed significant changes to the city’s Tree Preservation Ordinance earlier this year, and had been waiting for months – through hearings, workshops and citizen testimony — for the changes to be finally approved.
But then, in early October something happened that tested the board’s willingness to wait for final Commission approval of the ordinance changes: A local developer filed an appeal, hoping to overturn a $12,375 tree removal fee required by the city’s current ordinance — an appeal that mirrored the Tree Board’s own desire to significantly reduce tree fees and replanting standards.
Tree Board Overturns Current Preservation Standards in Appeal Case
The developer’s appeal was heard by the Tree Board on October 18. On that day, in less than thirty minutes, the Tree Board overturned provisions of the city’s current tree ordinance and instead, voted to substitute their own proposed ordinance changes — just 3½ weeks before the City Commission would have an opportunity to vote on the changes. While discussing their motion to waive the fee and the standards mandated by the city’s current ordinance, the board cited provisions of its own proposed ordinance changes in reaching their decision.[Video]
City Claim re Historic Trees that “We’re Not Allowing Removal” Proves False
Nine days before the Tree Board appeal hearing, the city sponsored a Tree Ordinance Workshop where citizens debated the board’s proposed changes in anticipation of upcoming Commission hearings on the matter. At least two members of the Tree Board attended the October 9 workshop. These members and many city residents witnessed George Wiggins, head of the WP Building Department, offer a strongly worded assurance to citizens who might question the intent of the proposed changes:
“There’s an extremely important point here that I cannot over-emphasize. When you’re looking at a historic tree . . . we [city staff] have never issued a permit to remove a historic tree . . . So when you see these drastic differences [between the proposed ordinance and the current ordinance] I’m not sure that it matters much, because we’re not allowing the removal. “
However, documents obtained by the Voice reveal that two weeks before the workshop, Mr. Wiggins’ Code Enforcement department approved a permit application to do just that – remove a healthy live oak – a 39” diameter heritage tree; The same tree that would later be at issue in the October 18 Tree Board appeal.
WPV contacted Mr. Wiggins, asking him to clarify the timing of the permit approval. He commented that his workshop statement “. . . was based on info I received from our arborist that must have pre-dated that permit. In addition it would be impossible to build the new home with the location of the tree in the middle of the lot.”
Historic Live Oak Blocks Developer Plan to Build New Home 3x Size of Current Home
Public records obtained by the Voice show that once the tree removal permit was approved, the permit applicant, Rex-Tibbs Construction Company, filed an appeal on October 4 asking the city to waive payment of a $12,375.00 fee into the Tree Fund. The fee Rex-Tibbs was hoping to avoid is owed by property owners when they receive a permit to remove a large, healthy tree. (Fees are not owed when a sick or declining tree is removed.) The staff report prepared for the appeal hearing defines the city’s requirement in this case:
“As a Historic Tree, the compensation requirement becomes 3” of replacement to 1” removed or replanting of one 4.5” minimum caliper shade tree and compensation of $110.00 per inch not replanted. Assuming the minimum was replanted, this leaves a balance of 112.5” and a balance due of $12,375.00.”
Other documents obtained by the Voice include a Purchase Contract for the residential property on which the oak stands – a lot in an established neighborhood on Rockwood Way in south Winter Park. In an apparent bid to develop an investment property, Rex-Tibbs Construction is contracted as the sole buyer of the Rockwood property. The property contract is scheduled to close in mid-November.
Rex-Tibbs submitted building plans to the city indicating that they intend to replace the existing 1600 sq. ft. home on the lot with a new two-story 4,500 sq. ft. home. The new building footprint covers the spot now occupied by the historic oak. Winter Park Voice contacted Donney Rex and requested comment and/or clarification of the information obtained in our Public Records Request. As of press time, Mr. Rex did not respond to our request for comment.
During the appeal hearing in front of the Tree Preservation Board, the city’s arborist, Alan Lee, conceded that the size of the historic tree’s canopy creates significant difficulty for construction of a new home on the lot. However, Mr. Lee also pointed out that the historic oak is physically and structurally “in good shape,” adding that he expected the historic oak to live “another hundred years or more.” [Video of Full Hearing]
Did City Miss Opportunity to Replace Ailing Trees on Winter Park Road?
During the hearing, board members learned that the property on Rockwood is very close to Winter Park Road — a few hundred yards from the spot where the city pruned deep v-cuts into multiple oak trees along the roadway. City officials have stated that the trees were pruned this way due to the declining health of the trees.
Current city code would have allowed Rex-Tibbs to plant or possibly even “donate” multiple trees as a way to significantly reduce the fee they owed the city. A review of the Rockwood Way documents does not show evidence of any alternative building plans or off-site tree replacement strategies requested by the city or offered by the builder.
At the Tree Preservation Board hearing, Donney Rex of Rex-Tibbs construction presented his case to the board members, noting that he has planted many trees during his years as a home builder. Mr. Rex was not opposed to planting a few replacement trees on the property, but did ask the board to waive the $12,375.00 fee. Options including modifying the building plan and/or applying for setback variances to enable the home to be moved away from the tree were not discussed at the hearing. Board members and the city arborist agreed with the builder that the historic tree would have to be removed to enable the proposed new home to be built, as currently designed, inside the current setback envelope.
Board Members Explain Decision/Rejection of Current City Code
Soon after Mr. Rex finished his presentation, board member Richard Simpson made a motion to waive the entire fee. Mr. Simpson’s rationale for approval appeared to be largely based on the more lenient Tree Preservation Ordinance provisions his board has recommended to the City Commission. Simpson explained
“I know that the City Commission has not adopted our proposals to revise the tree code, but . . . if we adopted the proposed code — notwithstanding that it hasn’t been approved yet by the City Commission — and approved this with a two tree replacement requirement, we’d be consistent, at least, with the amendments to the code that we [proposed earlier this year].“
Simpson’s motion was quickly seconded by board member Christine Menkin. Just before the board voted, board chair Woody Woodall assured the board members that he had attended the October 9 Tree Ordinance workshop and observed that “There was really only one person that dramatically opposed our [proposed changes].”
Immediately following Mr. Woodall’s comment, city staff recorded a board vote of “All in Favor” to waive the $12,375.00 fee and require Rex-Tibbs to replace the 39” diameter live oak with two 4.5” trees.
Related Tree Workshop Videos:
Winter Park Voice requested comments from all Tree Preservation Board members who were present at the hearing, including Anthony Gray, Phil Eschbach, Woody Woodall, Christine Menkin and John Simpson. As of press time, we did not receive any comment on the proceedings, except from John Simpson, who commented via email to the Voice,
“I have no comment regarding the actions taken at the October 18 meeting. The video and minutes speak for themselves. As I am not the chairman of the TPB, it is not my place to speak for the Board.
Regarding the Board’s proposed changes to the ordinance, I suggest that you seek comment from Pete Weldon as he was the member primarily responsible for the proposed changes. As you know, these changes were discussed and revised at several Board meetings and were then adopted by the Board and sent to the City Commission for consideration. I voted in favor of these proposed changes, but recognize that others may have different views and priorities. My intent was to encourage the retention and planting of trees within the City while reducing the financial hardship imposed on property owners seeking to improve or enhance their homes.”
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Commission Yields to Citizen Concerns: Schedules Tree Preservation Workshops: Schedules Tree Preservation Workshop
|At their September 10 meeting, City Commissioners agreed to put off a vote on Tree Preservation Ordinance changes until a citizen workshop could be convened.
The panel acknowledged receiving critical letters from citizens concerned about the proposed changes. The discussion opened old fault lines on the Commission — with the Mayor hinting that citizens had been stirred up by misleading information.
Halfway through the discussion, some members of the panel became visibly agitated as they described citizen resistance to proposed policies. Despite the occasionally contentious exchange, the Mayor and Commissioners did ultimately reach consensus that a public forum would benefit the community. City Manager Randy Knight was asked to schedule a workshop on proposed Tree Preservation Ordinance changes.
UPDATE: Public Meeting on proposed Tree Ordinance changes will be held Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 6 pm at City Hall.
>> Watch video of the discussion by clicking on the image above.
On Monday, September 17, Phil Eschbach, a member of the city’s Tree Preservation Board, joined a group of Winter Park residents in a meeting with Randy Knight. The group discussed setting up a workshop, scheduled for October 9, that will give city residents an opportunity to learn more about the city’s proposed changes to the Tree Preservation Ordinance.
In a statement to the Voice, Mr. Eschbach said he hopes “for a good turnout on Oct 9th because we want to make sure the public understands what this is all about and what the ramifications are. Also the important thing to get across is that after the hearings, the ordinance will be brought up for a vote later in October.” Mr. Eschbach tells the Voice that the October 9 meeting is scheduled for 6:00 pm, pending final confirmation from City Manager, Randy Knight.
Marc Hagle, past member of the Tree Preservation Board that wrote the current ordinance, has indicated to members of the citizen group that he will attend the workshop.
This article was updated on 9/19/12.
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Hagle: Fate of 100 Year Old Trees Worth Debating
|In an open letter to city officials and citizens of Winter Park, Marc Hagle sheds light on the original Tree Preservation Ordinance he helped write as chairman of the tree ordinance committee.
Mr. Hagle explains the costs and benefits that underlie the current ordinance and urges a more robust, citizen-involved debate before the ordinance is changed.
Hagle traces the history of Winter Park’s tree canopy — an effort sustained by generations of Winter Parkers to fulfill a vision of the city’s founders. That vision transformed a landscape dotted with native pines into the urban oak forest we live in today. The historic 19th century photo shown above (obtained from the Winter Park Historical Association website) shows the Winter Park/Orlando “Dinky Line” passing by the pine trees that dominated the landscape in the late 1800s.
This is the full text of Marc Hagle’s open letter to the city:
“Thank you to all who have volunteered their time for the benefit of Winter Park. It is through a combined effort and dialogue that a true and representative direction for the City is determined.
The tree preservation ordinance is one of those issues which requires an open and representative discussion. There are clearly two schools of thought, the property rights of our citizens and the historic rights of the City.
I am a real estate developer. As such, I am firmly in the camp of individual property rights. An owner should and must have the right to own, protect and develop his individual property as he wishes, of course within safety and other realistic guidelines. But what are these guidelines and what is their purpose?
Historically, City codes are based on the health, safety and welfare of it citizens and the public in general. How does this apply to the tree line within the City? To answer this question, one must understand the history behind the tree line in Winter Park.
Continued from Home Page… In the late 1800’s there were no oak trees in Winter Park. The trees consisted primarily of pines. The City leaders at that time started importing and planting the oak trees as we see them today. This process continued thru the early 1900’s. The City we enjoy today is a product of over 100 years of effort from our forefathers.
Property rights versus the rights of the community, this is today’s debate. The tree line in Winter Park is not a today phenomenon. It is a legacy passed down to us. It is part of the very soul of the City. It is not an asset which can be replaced in the short term, as it takes decades to develop a mature tree.
Does the history of the tree line and the time to replace it give rise to City intervention? Well of course it does and has by the history and agreed importance of the tree line and the very existence of the previous, existing and proposed tree codes. So now the only remaining question is the degree of intervention.
It costs approximately $110 per caliper inch to plant an oak tree. Once planted, a new oak tree must be heavily watered for its first year after planting. To hire a crew on a bulk basis to water newly planted trees costs over $5-700 per tree.
The Winter Park Live Oak Fund has planted over 750 trees in Winter Park in the last 5 years. The fund initially planted both 6 inch and 4 1/2 inch trees. In our first year we learned it was most economical to just plant the 4 1/2 inch tree. We also learned an oak tree of less than 4 1/2 inches had no short term impact on the tree line. By dropping to a 3 inch tree, we were not only compromising in diameter of the tree but most importantly the height and spread. Thus the Live Oak Fund, through trial and error, determined a 4 1/2 inch tree was the best for the City and still cost effective.
When I chaired the committee which wrote the existing tree ordinance, there was considerable debate as to personal versus public rights and a fair and equitable cost, if you will, as to the value of a tree to the City and the right to buy that value from the citizens of Winter Park. It by no means was a short debate. The existing fees were determined based on the size and historic nature of the tree to be removed and a comparison of those costs to ordinances written in the communities surrounding Winter Park. Further, one of the overriding considerations was the long term protection of the tree asset for the City. We did want to allow the property owner the flexibility required, but did not want to allow this flexibility without recognizing the actual replacement cost of such an asset.
The three categories of trees, protected, specimen and historic are representative of similar ordinances in other cities and recognizes the long time it takes for the growth of an oak tree. The replacement ratios of 1:1, 1.5:1 and 2:1 took the visual impact and replacement time into account.
So, should a property owner have the right to remove a 75 year old tree and replace it with 3 five year old trees? From a cost stand point the tree removed costs approximately $20-25,000 and the replacement would cost $990, not a fair trade. From an historic and visual perspective, trimming a deep V for power lines has less impact. We know how the public feels about the power line issue.
Again, I thank the tree preservation committee for their hard work and dedication to the City welfare. I do believe the debate should continue and the investment our ancestors have made in Winter Park protected.”
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Trees and Power: Undergrounding Coming Soon
|Will your neighborhood power lines be safely buried underground before next year’s hurricane season? After months of study, city engineers have the answer.
On August 13, Electric Department Director Jerry Warren released the results of a months-long study of Winter Park’s tree canopy. The electric department’s goal was to rank segments of the city’s power grid — street by street — to determine the order in which the city’s power lines will be placed underground. As explained in the study, “Staff identified 499 line segments (previously estimated to be 466) that have been assembled into 75 identified logical undergrounding projects. In accordance with the priority ranking methodology, adopted by the City Commission on June 11, those 75 projects have been ranked in order of priority.”
The ambitious $70 million undergrounding project — approved unanimously by the City Commission — could span fifteen to twenty years. Electric utility revenues will pay for the undergrounding, which is expected to cost the city close to $4 million annually.
Click the button below to see a prioritized master list of all 75 projects and a detailed explanation of the city’s ranking methodology. Readers can use computer keyboard search functions (ctrl F or cmd F) to find particular streets on the list.
Continued from Home Page… During the June 11 Commission meeting, when Director Warren introduced his ranking methodology, he purposely refrained from naming any particular neighborhood or street to keep commissioners focused more on the ranking formula and less on the political implications of which neighborhoods will be undergrounded first. This week, Warren named names — and, his release of the full list also highlights which streets are scheduled to have power lines buried in the first years of the project.
These are the streets proposed for undergrounding in 2013:
- E Lake Sue Ave, from Winter Park Rd. to Laurel Rd
- Forrest Rd, from E Lake Sue Ave to Fawsett Rd
- Laurel Rd, from Virginia Dr to Glenridge Way
- 1951 Forrest Rd
- 2161 Forrest Rd
- E Kings Way, from Forrest Rd to Winter Park Rd
- E Reading Way from Glencoe Rd to Winter Park Rd
- Glenridge Way from Forrest Rd to Winter Park Rd
- W Fawsett Rd from Fawsett Rd to E Fawsett Rd
- Winter Park Rd from Reading Way to Lake Sue Ave
- South of Lake Sue Ave, W Kings Way, Fawsett Rd, Englewood Rd, Glencoe Rd
- Greene Dr from Cady Way to Sherbrooke Rd
- Perth Ln from Cady Way to Loch Lomond Dr
- Summerfield Rd from Greene Rd to Ranger Bl
- Whitehall Dr from Lakemont Ave to Greene Rd
- Interlachen Ave from Swoope Ave to Lyman Ave
- Lyman Ave from Interlachen Ave to Knowles Ave
- Lyman Ave from PS 22 to Fairbanks Ave
- Moody Way
Director Warren is careful to point out that the priority of undergrounding projects can be affected by Public Works projects, unexpected conditions encountered in the field — and by priority changes dictated by the City Commission. So far, commissioners have not tinkered with the methodology, but questions have been raised about high-ranked streets that have already had trees significantly pruned, thereby reducing the likelihood of future power interruptions.
The city’s undergrounding priority ranking is based on several factors. The ranking methodology establishes a point system that uses data gathered by electric system personnel including arborists, linemen and system troubleshooters. Key ranking factors include:
Tree/power line conflicts — 40 points maximum (a line segment with more trees per mile is higher-ranked)
Visibility of overhead wires — 20 points maximum (high-traffic roads have priority over low-traffic neighborhood streets)
Type of power line — 20 points maximum (High-power lines — like 3-phase feeders — serving many people are ranked higher than low-power lines serving fewer people)
Reliability — 20 points maximum (a line segment with a history of power interruptions is higher-ranked)
City streets with a higher cumulative score are ranked higher and undergrounded sooner.
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