Chris and Jill Beeman filed a request, along with their neighbors Brian and Kelly Davis, to have the tree removed due to its size and the fact that it blocks out the sunlight to their yard. Planning staff denied the request, based on the fact that the tree is a town-protected species.
The Beemans brought their appeal to the Planning Commission at its March 31 meeting. They have lived in their home on Gatetree Court for 16 years and the tree predates them by more than a decade. The tree in question is located just across their property line, blocking out all the sunlight to their yard.
For Jill Beeman, the issue is one of health and safety, she said.
"I've had three large trees fall in my life time and this tree is only going to get bigger. Redwoods never stop growing, they're the largest living organisms on earth," she explained.
Another issue is the loss of sunlight to her yard and home.
"If these trees block your winter sun, it's all day every day. And if there's five of them together, they block your views and your neighbor's views," she said.
Beeman said the issue has generated a great deal of emotional upset for her and she does not feel that the town is right in keeping them from taking the tree down.
"Some people like shade ... not everyone does," she stated. "We've read a lot about vitamin D and how important it is in the winter months to work in the sunlight."
Commissioners heard from the Beemans and other supporters during a public hearing and then discussed the issue further themselves. Chairman Bob Nichols asked staff members for their take on the appeal and whether the town has any leeway in allowing the removal of a protected tree.
Assistant Planner Corinne Horn told the commission that while she applauded the efforts of the Davis and Beeman families to work together in getting the situation resolved, there was really not much the town could do in allowing the removal.
"It comes back to the sunlight issue and we haven't used that as a finding yet," she explained.
Commissioners clearly wanted to support the effort by the Beemans but could not see a reason for relaxing the town's ordinance.
"This is my least favorite place to be," said Commissioner Lynne Overcashier. "I absolutely agree with the applicant in wanting to have control over my property."
Overcashier suggested that the commission should recommend that the Town Council reexamine the tree ordinance with an eye toward loosening the restrictions to some degree.
Commissioner Robert Storer wasn't certain that would be enough to allow for the removal in this case.
"That's a little difficult looking at a tree that's perfectly straight, that's grown exactly as it should grow," said Storer.
Commissioner Paul Radich disagreed that there was nothing they could do.
"Isn't part of what we do here is grant variances to the ordinance? I don't see any objections from the neighbors," he said.
Chairman Bob Nichols explained that in order for them to grant a variance from the ordinance they have to have a finding that justifies bending the rules.
"It can't be arbitrary," he said. "If we can't make findings that allow us to overturn the ordinance, we have to allow the ordinance to trump the situation."
Commissioners discussed the matter for a few moments more, and then unanimously approved the denial.
Afterward they directed staff to talk to the Town Council about rethinking the ordinance and advised the Beemans that they had 10 days to file an appeal to the council.
Chris Beeman said they are going to push ahead with their request.
"We will definitely be filing within the next few days," he said. "The thing I think this group didn't realize is that one of the findings they could make is that it interfered with our reasonable usage of the property."
The couple expressed confidence that they would get a better reception from the Town Council and are looking forward to their chance to discuss the matter at an upcoming council meeting.