Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

WRONG PLACE at the WRONG TIME

Old growth tree on the outskirts of West Linn is in the...
by: Jaime Valdez, 
Annette O’Neill stands beside a Douglas fir on the southwest corner of her property that violates the sight distance for a neighboring driveway. The tree will be cut down.

In a few weeks, Annette O'Neill's 'gorgeous giant' will be killed. The decades-old Douglas fir on the corner of her family's property along Southwest Borland Road between West Linn and Tualatin will be cut down.

'We feel trespassed,' said O'Neill as she sat at her kitchen table in a house she, her husband John and their family have called home for 20 years.

After five whirlwind months of letters from lawyers, appeals to Clackamas County and finally a hearings officer's decision, the O'Neills have finally accepted that their large Douglas fir must be removed.

Still, O'Neill is shocked by the events that led to the decision to remove her tree.

Clackamas County civil engineering associate Robert Hixson said he and other county staff feel for the O'Neills. The situation could even be described as 'unfair,' he said.

The tree is a violation of Clackamas County's code on road-use impediments.

And though the tree was undoubtedly rooted in the earth and its thick trunk grown long before the neighboring driveway was constructed in the late 1940s, by today's standards the tree is in the wrong place.

O'Neill blames the tree's ultimate demise on development plans by the neighboring private school, Arbor School of Arts and Sciences. The tree is a violation of the sight-distance requirements for the school's main driveway.

Without the tree's removal, the school cannot obtain its conditional-use permits for improvements to existing structures on its 20 acres of land. But in reality, with or without the school's plans to improve its facilities, the tree would still have to come down, Hixson said.

In Clackamas County, hundreds and maybe even thousands of driveways do not meet sight-distance requirements, Hixson said. What was built and OKed just 10 or 15 years ago might not pass today's standards, he added.

But even with so many violations, the county's engineering staff deals with them on a case-by-case basis, only dedicating time to correcting dangerous driveways when they come to the attention of the county, as with permit requests.

The Arbor School has offered and plans to pay for the removal the Douglas fir and six other pine trees on the O'Neills' property, all of which have been identified as violations of the county's sight-distance requirements.

Hixson said the tree removal is ultimately the financial responsibility of the O'Neills. Had Arbor School officials not offered to pay for the trees to be cut down, the O'Neills would have had to pay for them. The school has even offered to replant and pay for landscaping to the portions of the O'Neills' disturbed property.

But to the O'Neills, who operate a Christmas tree farm on their 6.3-acre property, the latter gestures are hardly comforting. The O'Neills had originally objected to the removal of their tree on the grounds that it was simply unfair.

'These are our trees, and we don't think it's fair,' O'Neill said.

Later the couple suggested that the school could build a new driveway using the additional property to the west that the school had obtained over the years. Their suggested solution was not considered.

'In light of this fact, this issue of the simple removal of seven trees, and the O'Neills' objection and offered solution, seems a tempest in a teapot,' wrote Arbor School Director Katherine Hawkins in an Oct. 10 letter to hearings officer Anne Corcoran Briggs. Hawkins did not return calls or an e-mail asking for a comment for this story.

Hawkins' response to the O'Neills' concerns about their own property, noise issues and other solutions incited the O'Neills enough that they thought about filing an appeal with the Land Use Board of Appeals. But with a $15,000 price tag attached to the fight, the O'Neills have decided not to appeal.

The O'Neills' concerns are squelched slightly by the fact that Borland Road will be widened sometime in the future, a project that would wipe out the trees anyway.

Borland Road is listed on the county's 20-year Capital Improvements Plan to be widened to four lanes with left-turn lanes built where needed on the stretch of road that runs from Southwest 65th Avenue to Stafford Road. The Borland Road project has actually been identified as a project called 'near term,' meaning it's recognized as something that is needed, but the project has no funding.

But had the Douglas fir been removed for a county project, O'Neill said she could have understood that.

'I hate to see the tree go, but I understand,' O'Neill said. 'This road is just a ticking timer.'

Instead, her nearly 100-year-old tree will be cut down to accommodate a driveway that was built long after the tree was planted, a driveway that according to Hixson likely has always been in violation of sight-distance requirements

'(The Arbor School driveway) has been a problem for a long time, and the problem is just now getting taken care of,' Hixson said.