The Stone Oak Property Owners Association, partnering with other agencies, saved five crepe myrtles and two yaupon hollies on a traffic median at U.S. 281 North and Stone Oak Parkway. In addition to a monument welcoming folks to Stone Oak, the trees were targeted for elimination. Courtesy photos

The Stone Oak Property Owners Association dug deep to save several stately trees threatened by a massive U.S. 281 North expansion project.

Instead of letting the five crepe myrtles and two yaupon hollies face destruction, the POA relocated them.

“Stone Oak is known for beautiful trees,” said association Property Manager Meg Lorente. “Trees keep property values up. People move here for that. You don’t see beautiful traffic islands all over San Antonio like you do in Stone Oak.”

In late spring, the Texas Department of Transportation informed the POA about construction crews needing to modify the traffic median at Stone Oak Parkway and 281.

Foliage at the intersection and a monument welcoming motorists to Stone Oak would be eliminated.

“They called us and asked us if we wanted to move any of the trees on that traffic island,” said John Kiser, vice president of the POA board and an Aesthetics Committee member. The highway department gave the group a few weeks to decide.

Initiated last year, the $190 million 281 upgrade will add two freeway lanes each way, plus one high-occupancy vehicle lane in each direction, which includes VIA Metropolitan Transit buses, while also maintaining three existing lanes as frontage roads, according to TxDOT.

The project is scheduled to finish in about two-and-a-half years.

Currently, construction crews are building the frontage roads on both sides of 281, which is why the median at Stone Oak Parkway had to be changed, TxDOT said.

While San Antonio owns all traffic islands in the city, the POA maintains 82 of the medians within its boundaries, providing landscaping and upkeep.

Before determining to save the vegetation, the Aesthetics Committee researched whether the trees could be repositioned without harm.

POA President Joe Silman said conserving trees and preserving their canopies is a priority for the neighborhoods that make up sprawling Stone Oak.

“There were 14 trees at that median,” Silman said. “We did a cost-benefit analysis before we decided. We had to take into account the condition of the trees before moving them.”

The crepe myrtles date back to the far North Side subdivision’s early days, planted about 35 years ago, according to Kiser.

Certified arborist Todd Miller, as well as tree surgeon Scott Lambaria and his team at Oak Island Gardens, assisted the POA. Once relocation was OK’d, a nearby traffic median further up the parkway was picked as a good spot.

The POA maintenance team excavated the trees’ root balls to ready them for removal May 30.

“These crepe myrtles were 35 feet tall, the root balls were 22 to 23 inches; they were massive,” Kiser said. “Once we started digging, we found out why we are called Stone Oak for a reason. When we dug holes, the ground was almost all stone.”

Once the root balls were exposed, the association rented a crane to lift the five crepe myrtles and move them to their second home at a cost of about $34,000.

They were transplanted from Stone Oak Parkway traffic island 38 to traffic island 37.

Kiser said the initiative was a group effort, including the POA maintenance team; Pete Garza of VRX Inc., the prime provider on the 281 expansion; and TxDOT.

“From my perspective, you can’t do projects like this without the right people,” Kiser said. “You can spend a lot of money doing the tree transplants, but if you don’t have the people to take care of the trees, it won’t matter.”

Silman said the association will also be looking into reconstructing and relocating the iconic Stone Oak signage.

“They destroyed our monument when they narrowed the median, so we will build a new monument,” Silman added.

A timeline is pending, officials said.

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