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City partners with homeowners to remove problematic pear trees

by: SUBMITTED FILE PHOTO Ornamental pear trees in the River Heights area of the Willamette neighborhood caused $4,000 of damage last fall to John Curalli’s car on Alicia Court.

The city of West Linn has reached an agreement with property owners in the River Heights area to remove and replace problematic pear trees.

Officials last fall moved to uproot the trees, which were planted in the neighborhood's medians long ago and have been dropping limbs and damaging private property in recent years.

Though city rules require adjacent property owners to pay for street tree maintenance, the city is helping with the costs of the project because of public safety concerns.

The city council approved the arrangement Monday night. In the end, property owners will pay a large portion - about $30,000 - of the total tab, which parks director Ken Worcester estimated at $75,000 for both removal and replacement.

The city has about $10,000 from its insurance company to help cover its costs.

So far, about two-thirds of 129 homeowners affected have signed on to the plan. The rest are on their own for the work, Worcester said.

The city plans to complete sidewalk upgrades for homeowners who participate in the partnership and to complete the work in the next month.

City staff members have said the River Heights pear trees are of the Callery variety, and many of those are the Callery cultivar Bradford pear.

West Linn planted hundreds of these trees in the River Heights area in the 1990s, when Callery pear was considered by many to be an ideal urban street tree. However, the species' branching habits have proven they aren't a good fit for the area's sidewalk strips, according to the city.

Other places have experienced similar problems. Callery pear trees' susceptibility to storms led an Illinois city to ban them in the public right of way, according to a 2005 University of Illinois Extension service article.

Different cultivars of Callery pear have different branching habits, but they have one thing in common: weak limbs, according to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension in New Jersey, which found that as Callery pear trees approach 15 to 20 years in age, branches often crack and snap in winter storms.

Other cities have attempted to trim down the presence of Callery pear trees in public spaces because newer varieties - created in an attempt to deal with the problematic branching patterns - are crowding out native plants. As a result, Callery pear is listed as an invasive plant species by some agencies in the eastern United States.