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Landmark trees in danger on Oatfield

Once more the march toward meeting maximum density quotas in unincorporated Clackamas County wins the day!

Case in point: development of an Oatfield Road property at its intersection with Pinehurst Avenue. The four giant sequoias pictured here are 140-145 Feet tall and 6 feet in diameter measured at 54" from their much broader bases- yet Clackamas County planners failed to note the row of century old trees as "significant natural features" of the site.

Neither did the planners indicate that a recent "lot line adjustment" separated the century-old trees from the house pictured here, transferring them to an adjoining lot slated for development. Believing the trees to be unaffected, citizen comment from neighbors and the local planning organization (Oak Grove Community Council) was effectively shut down.

Meanwhile, these healthy redwoods are part of a grove of 17 giant sequoias planted within little more than a block of the residence of early nurseryman John Broetje and family starting in the 1880s. Over the years the trees have been well documented in popular magazines and Clackamas County histories. Today, they are part of the single Clackamas County tour of notable trees listed in the book, Trees of Greater Portland, by Elizabeth Dimon and Phyllis Reynolds.

With an approved site plan in hand, the ball is now entirely in the developer's court. Left unchanged, the results of County errors and oversights may shear virtually all existing natural growth from the .91 acre site, introducing in its place four outsized buildings that contain 11 rental units plus parking for 22 cars in a largely a single family residential neighborhood. At the same time, loss of the sequoias will erase part of the County's living history and forever change neighborhood character and livability.

Oak Grove's rate of density is already more than that of Portland or Gresham -- and in Clackamas County, where it occupies less than three square miles (2.92), Oak Grove is more densely settled than near neighbors Milwaukie, Jennings Lodge, Lake Oswego, Oregon City, Clackamas and Happy Valley. Clearly, the more often mature tree are sacrificed to maximize profits for developers, the more that density will climb. For Oak Grove, Clackamas County holds the keys.

While County Commissioners have recently taken first steps to establish a county-wide Heritage Tree Program, residents of fast-urbanizing Oak Grove deserve the same attention to drafting a Tree Protection Ordinance that puts actual teeth- "shalls" and "musts"- in lofty principles set out in the Clackamas County Comprehensive Plan.**

The results would require planners and developers alike to show greater respect for the impact of development on the history, life quality and natural settings flagged for infill. The results would also acknowledge the responsibility of future residents to contribute their fair share to the neighborhood character and natural setting- in much the same way that foresighted predecessors have done for those who live here now.

Until then, planners who hold the fate of neighborhoods in their hands should at least visit the sites before they stamp "recommended for approval" on site design reviews. Otherwise, they might miss a sturdy 140 foot sequoia that cannot be replaced in the lifetime of our grandchildren's grandchildren.