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Tree protection dialogue takes hold

Neighborhood concern about development in the Lake Forest area won't prevent construction of 12 new homes on Frost Street but does signal some interest in protecting tree groves, now in line for additional safeguards.

In Lake Oswego, about 50 areas with natural resources were identified in 1998 while the city worked to comply with a state law to protect fish and habitat.

While a number of other lands were rezoned to comply with the law, the approximately 50 parcels were left out of protections because they either came to the process late or met some but not all of the requirements for state shields.

A city review of each of the sites is now pending and officials will consider local protections that could preserve trees and other resources when development occurs.

For neighbors of a development planned on Frost Street in the Lake Forest area, the upcoming review of the 50 parcels won't save a three-acre stand of trees they say buffers them from noise from I-5 and a nearby railyard. Instead, 72 trees will come out for a road and 12 homes planned there will eventually call for the removal of more.

Had the area been protected under the city's resource conservation zone, only half of the trees in the area could be removed. Neighbors are frustrated a review of the 1998 lands has not yet occurred. They believe the trees offer critical habitat to large population of squirrels, raccoons, deer, opossums, rabbits and foxes and should have been a priority.

'I think its unfortunate that a city that proclaims itself tree friendly would not take aggressive action to protect a large wooded area,' said Tom Maguire, a member of the board of directors of the Summerwood Homeowners Association, a development off Frost Street.

'It seems like somewhere along the line somebody made a decision not to take advantage of this opportunity,' Maguire said.

Denny Egner, a project manager in the planning department for the city of Lake Oswego, said the city's planned review hasn't been pressing because most of the lands considered involve wetlands and other features that would already preclude development.

He said city officials are still interested in reviewing wooded areas like the one on Frost Street and want to know where protections could have an impact. A new employee at city hall is now available to take on the task. Egner said the Lake Forest area could benefit from new zoning.

'Long deep lots with tree groves in back property lines represent a really important kind of forested resource in that neighborhood,' Egner said.

He said the city could rezone the lands with a RC, or resource conservation, designation.

'What that means is if the land were to be redeveloped it would go through the sensitive land section of the code,' he said. 'It allows development to happen but it changes the way development can occur.'

In wooded areas, the zoning would require developers to preserve half of the trees while building homes.

Neighbors of the Frost Street property are frustrated such protections were not in place before the three-acre lot in their area was planned for development. They say the clanging from freeway traffic and railyard is so extreme it has cracked chimneys, shifted cabinets and worked the nails from the walls of their homes. They believe the trees provide protection from the noise and worry noise will escalate when the trees come down.

Stoneridge Custom Develop-ment, which builds luxury homes, was recently given approval for a 12-lot subdivision on the site. The company plans to build single-family homes with detached garages priced in the $450,000 to $600,000 range. Development plans so far call for trees around the perimeter and fencing.

John Tercek, a spokesman for the company said the Frost Street lot has 435 trees on it and that, if protections were in place, about 215 would be required to stand.

'I can't tell you whether it would have changed the development on this particular site that drastically because it's still 12 houses on three acres,' rather than more dense development, he said.

While demand for housing is high in Lake Oswego, he said it makes sense that city officials continue to leave some land available for new homes but was open to protections for areas that have public benefits.

Maguire said he was hopeful the city would take a more aggressive position to conserve trees.

'The Lake Grove area has been around for a long time and its character is fairly large lots with lots of trees. We don't want to look like A Avenue in downtown Lake Oswego,' Maguire said.

Without protections, he said, city code allows too much room for new developments to remove trees, which is likely to erode that character if it continues.