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Tualatin woman works to save tree

Phase one of Tualatin's tree-preservation amendments focues on single-family development
by: Jaime Valdez, TIMBER? — Jeanette Chaffee, of Tualatin, wants to save the 80-foot Douglas fir located just across the street from her Orchard Hills home along Southwest Sagert Street. The tree is slated for removal to make way for a dentist’s office.

TUALATIN - Tualatin's first phase of changes to tree regulations may not be what at least one Tualatin resident was hoping for.

The first phase of amendments is slated for a public hearing before City Council Monday night. And while the new language lays down strict guidelines for tree removal fines and permits, the one thing it doesn't touch on is tree removal for commercial development. That, says Community Development Director Doug Rux, will be tackled in the second phase of amendments.

But for Jeanette Chaffee, the second phase will likely come too late.

Chaffee has never worked so hard to save a tree. Well actually, she's never really tried to save any tree before. But collecting more than 70 signatures from her neighbors in the Orchard Hills Townhomes condominium complex and hounding the city staff, Chaffee has been looking for a safeguard for an 80-foot Douglas fir that sits on the corner of Southwest Sagert Street and Southwest 72nd Avenue.

'When I'm upstairs (in my home), that tree is all I see,' Chaffee said.

Orchard Hills residents were given notice a few months ago about a possible development planned for the corner lot just across the street from the neighborhood. The lot is less than half an acre in size and is part of the Sagert Office Park subdivision.

Owner Michael Negru has plans to erect a two-story, 9,032-square-foot commercial office building on the land which is slated to be used as a dentist's office.

Chaffee opposes the development for multiple reasons including traffic, close proximity to a school - Grace Community Church's Community Christian School - and, of course, the removal of a 45- to 50-year-old tree.

The tree can't be considered a heritage tree by the city's standards. Architects on the project already worked to save another smaller tree on the corner of the property. But according to Chaffee, she couldn't get Negru to change the design of the building to spare the 80-foot tree. Chaffee said Negru suggested she hold a fund-raiser to pay for a new architectural design of the building designed to save the tree. But Chaffee declined. She didn't think it was her place to raise money for a building design, she said. Negru refused to comment about his proposed development and the tree issue.

Chaffee pulled out all the stops to save the tree. They all failed. On Nov. 20 city staff issued an architectural review approval with conditions. Rux said Chaffee can now appeal the approval to the Architectural Review Board.

Chaffee said her last hope was a retroactive tree ordinance that could stop the tree removal. But that's not what she'll get with the first phase of the amended tree regulations.

The first amendments touch on tree-removal permits for developers of single-family homes and establishing a maximum fine of $500 for each tree removed without permission. But one aspect the amendments do not touch on is tree removal for commercial development, a topic that is supposed to be tackled by advisory committees in the second phase of amendments to the city's tree regulations, Rux said.

Discussion on amending the city's tree regulations began more than one year ago. City Council members asked that the city's park advisory and planning advisory committees undertake a two-phase review of the city's tree preservation regulations. The ultimate goal is to increase Tualatin's overall tree canopy.

The first phase will be presented Monday night at the City Council meeting. The initial phase encompasses simple changes to existing regulations that are expected to be implemented immediately. According to the background summary for the issue, phase two of the amendments are expected to be completed sometime next year and could include a variety of more complex protection measures and incentives.

But for right now, trees standing in the way of commercial development don't stand a chance. Chaffee said she plans to attend the City Council meeting to voice her opposition to the development and hopefully get some support through tree regulation amendments.

Last month, Chaffee looked over with envy at the giant trees across the street. She stared up at the towering trees that shade the Grace Community Church property and then looked back toward the much shorter tree standing in the middle of the Sagert Street and 72nd Avenue corner lot.

'Let's hope that corporate greed does not win,' Chaffee said. 'Let's hope that even if (the owner) doesn't care, the city cares.'