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DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - May 15, 2009

Danville commission puts Tree Ordinance on hold

Discussion continues on coast redwoods

by Geoff Gillette

What at first appeared to be an open and shut hearing over removing coast redwoods from Danville's protected species list turned into an hour-long debate over the enforcement of the town's preservation ordinance and whether removing trees from the list was indeed the right course of action.

During their Tuesday meeting, members of the Town Planning Commission looked at a proposed amendment to Danville's Tree Preservation Ordinance which, among other things, would have taken the redwoods off the protected list, giving residents unlimited power to remove the trees without a permit.

The issue gained notoriety in late March when Chris and Jill Beeman appealed the denial of their request to remove a redwood tree from the property line of their home. The Beemans argued that the tree interfered with their reasonable use of their property and created a health issue for Jill Beeman by cutting off the sunlight to the couple's home through much of the year.

At their March 31 meeting, commissioners ruled against the couple again. However, they suggested that the tree ordinance needed to be amended to allow for more leeway in cases such as these. The Beemans were directed to appeal their case to the Town Council.

They did so, appearing at an April council meeting and speaking during the public comment period. Council members agreed that the issue needed to be addressed and directed staff to amend the Tree Preservation Ordinance to remove coast redwoods.

During their meeting Tuesday, May 12, commissioners got their first look at the amended ordinance and at first blush it appeared that it would be passed. Principal Planner David Crompton outlined the amendment and gave some history of the non-indigenous tree's introduction in Danville.

Crompton said that from 1985–2005, 38 percent of the town's current housing population was built. During that time coast redwoods were very popular trees and were planted.

Now, many homeowners are finding that the redwoods were placed in locations inappropriate for such large trees. In the past 12 months, of the 74 tree removal requests the town received, 33 were coast redwoods. Crompton further explained that of those 33, the town was only able to issue a ruling in favor of 17.

This led commissioners into a discussion of the efficacy of the Tree Removal Ordinance and whether taking the tree off the protected list was the best move.

"It'd be nice if we had some flexibility in findings if the tree was too close to the house and it's causing some issues," said Commission Robert Storer. "We don't have that right now, but since we're examining this maybe this is the forum for that discussion."

Resident Linda Stolow spoke out against the removal of the redwoods from the list, saying that it is the wrong direction for the Commission to take. "I'm very concerned because when you start allowing trees to be taken off protection you get architects starting to look at taking trees out," she said.

Stolow pointed to the ongoing planning of the new veteran's hall and the early landscaping designs, one of which would call for removal of the trees surrounding the historic structure. She went on to criticize the Planning Commission for its refusal to allow the Beeman's to remove a tree on their own property, then in the same meeting approve the removal of 97 trees from the Weber property.

"What kind of protection is that?" she questioned.

Jill Beeman also attended the session and spoke in favor of taking the trees off the list. Beeman pointed out that even if taken off the list, older trees would remain protected since any tree with a 36-inch diameter is automatically protected as a heritage tree. She also stated that approving the amendment would not result in open season on redwoods.

"It costs like $2,500 to get the tree down. I know in my neighborhood we're the only ones doing it. I don't think even 5 percent of those trees are going to go down," she stated.

Once the public hearing closed, commissioners discussed the issue with Crompton, asking if there was a way to leave the redwoods on the protected species list, while allowing for more leniency in the enforcement of the ordinance.

"I think what we're missing here in this ordinance is good common sense," said Storer. "We should be allowed to go to a site, take a look, then come back here and give our good common sense about the tree." He then added, "I know it's council's wishes to just pull that tree from the list but I don't think that's a good idea."

Crompton explained that the ordinance requires objective standards, and crafting an ordinance that would allow for judgment calls on the part of the commission would require it to be subjective. He suggested creating a special category for redwoods, enabling homeowners to remove trees of less than a 24-inch diameter and requiring a permit for those between 24 and 36 inches.

Chairman Bob Nichols said that would solve the problem but only in the short term. He proposed holding off on making a decision while staff looks at the ordinance again with an eye toward giving the Commission the flexibility it needs to properly deal with requests of this nature in regards to all of the protected species.

After more than an hour of discussion, Commissioners voted to send the ordinance back to staff for further review with no set date for it to come back. Nichols said they are hopeful that the planning staff will be able to come up with a better plan than just taking the tree off the protected list.

"What we're looking for is for David (Crompton) to come back with some guidelines that are appropriate for tree removal," said Nichols, "and we're looking for flexibility so we can make judgments when we think someone has presented a good case for removal of a tree."

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