Commission OKs amended tree ordinance | May 29, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - May 29, 2009

Commission OKs amended tree ordinance

Coast Redwoods chopped from protected list

by Geoff Gillette

After weeks of back and forth on the issue of trees and whether or not coast redwoods should be a protected species, members of the Danville Planning Commission approved an updated tree ordinance leaving the disputed tree off the list.

Commission members Tuesday night engaged in an at-times contentious discussion over the amendment brought forth by planner David Crompton. At their May 12 meeting, members declined to simply remove the redwood from the protected species list as directed by the Town Council, but instead directed Crompton and town staff to revamp the ordinance to allow the commission the flexibility to rule on the more complex tree requests.

The ordinance Crompton brought out at the meeting this week called for additional verbiage that would have allowed the commission to approve a tree removal request for such issues as sunlight and a danger to the property from "litter and debris" falling from the tree.

The added paragraph would allow staff to make findings based on reasonable use, the issue that was the linchpin at the center of the tree removal appeal filed by Jill and Chris Beeman. The Beeman's requested the removal of a coast redwood on their property line due to the fact that it cut off sunlight to their property through the majority of the day.

Town staff was unable to make a finding based on sunlight, so the appeal was denied and went on to the Town Council who asked the commission to simply take the tree off the protected list.

Some commission members felt the added language provided too great a degree of flexibility. Commissioner Robert Storer said that allowing a finding to be made based on debris falling from a tree could allow any homeowner to take down a tree.

"I think it would be tough to deal with an applicant who came in here and said my tree is dropping things and it's giving me a headache," he said.

Commissioner Lynn Overcashier supported the new language, explaining that a tree at her mother's home in Crow Canyon drops berries all the time on the driveway, and she has slipped on them.

"I think it's good to have that flexibility," she said.

The commission debated whether or not it was necessary to have the conditional findings in there. Storer said he felt that since the term "reasonable use" was in the finding and was the heart of the issue, the specific examples were unnecessary.

Commissioner Tiffany Atwood pointed out that reasonable use was not a finding which worked for the Beemans.

"That's why we added that," she said.

Storer maintained that having reasonable use as a finding on its own should be sufficient now that the issue has been brought under sharper focus by the discussion over the Beeman property.

Another bone of contention was whether or not to take the tree off the protected list. Storer initially was willing to allow the tree to be removed from the list, but asked that they come back to the ordinance in a year to see if there has been any abuse or problems caused by the amendment.

"We put a lot of time and effort into this document. I think we should come back and review it," he said.

He then cautioned his fellow commissioners to think in the long term about the ordinance and how it could be enforced by future commissioners, "In two years there could be seven different people here."

Overcashier objected to the idea of revisiting the issue in a year.

"I think it's a waste of time. To consider putting them back on there when we went to so much trouble to take them off seems inappropriate," she said.

When it seemed the commission had come to consensus on the amended ordinance, Commissioner Storer took everyone by surprise when he moved the amended ordinance, but directed that the redwood stay on the protected list. It was quickly seconded by Commissioner Paul Radich.

After being questioned by Chairman Bob Nichols, Storer said, "I thought we were going to keep them on there and give ourselves more flexibility."

Overcashier shot back, "This whole discussion this evening and the previous two discussions was to take the redwoods off the list completely. It doesn't have to do with practicality or discretion it has to do with safety. I strongly disagree with the motion."

Commissioners voted 5-2 against Storer's motion. The issue was then moved by Commissioner Renee Morgan with the trees off the list. Despite his misgivings, Storer and Radich reluctantly supported the motion and it was passed unanimously.