Willow Heights residents worry that a Measure 37 claim could put large tree preserve at risk
by: Christina Lent, Willow Heights neighbors Barbara Rose, Jeanette Howell and Valerie Vernon stand in a tree preserve they hope to protect. Trees in the grove tower 120 to 140 feet. The homeowners association maintains the preserve that could be threatened if property to the north is developed without a tree protection plan and buffer zone.

Willow Heights neighbors are concerned about the future of their tree preserve.

With a recent City Council decision to grant a Measure 37 waiver of land-use regulations on a neighboring property backing up to the preserve, the fate of the significant grove of trees now hangs in the balance.

The council voted April 2 to deny Davis and Karen Williams' claim for $962,920 in compensation for zoning regulations that they claimed devalued their property at 6675 S.W. 155th Ave.

Instead, the council supported a motion to waive use restrictions of the current Beaverton Development Code and apply use restrictions contained in the Washington County Development Code that were in effect on March 14, 1986, when the Williams purchased their property.

The waiver means that when the Williams submit a land-use application to develop a subdivision on their property, the city will not apply any regulations enacted after March 14, 1986, that restrict the use of the land, including Tree Code protections for areas designated by the city as significant groves.

'Our only hope going forward is that Mr. Williams will honor the 25-foot buffer by leaving the trees and not developing in that buffer zone in order to protect the preserve that borders his land,' said Valerie Vernon, president of the Willow Heights Homeowners Association.

'All we can do is hope he respects his neighbors and the tree preserve, and not do any development that would cause damage to the trees. We're not against development, we just want our preserve to be protected.'

'Our rights?'

Vernon and other Willow Heights neighbors shared their concerns and frustrations with the council during a public hearing for the Williams' Measure 37 claim.

The Williams' property is within a significant grove that the city had identified in October 1996 when the Willow Heights neighborhood was being developed.

The city's code outlines protections and mitigation provisions for significant groves within Beaverton.

When the Willow Heights homes were built, the project's developer Roger Edwards preserved a 35-foot-deep heavily wooded area along its western and northern borders.

At the time, the city required that a homeowner's association be established and deeded the tree preserve to the association.

'Our annual dues exist entirely to care for this preserve - insurance, arborists, tree care, state fees, office costs,' Vernon said. 'We're required to maintain the preserve.'

The fact that there are no tree protection provisions in the 1986 county code disturbs neighbors.

'If the Williams develop their property, as they have indicated they would by removing the trees and developing roads close to our northern property line, they will be cutting the roots of our trees which share a network of roots with their trees,' Vernon said.

The root damage will weaken the trees that tower as high as 135 to 140 feet, creating a greater likelihood that they will fall during a heavy windstorm and die.

'I feel discouraged and abandoned,' said Barbara Rose, a past president of the association. 'I'm angry.

'Where are our rights as neighbors? Who's looking out for the rights of the surrounding property owners that will be infringed upon should all the restrictions be lifted?'

Turning its back

Although the council said it was sympathetic to the neighbors' plight, city officials said their hands were tied by the constraints of Measure 37.

'This is the first clear demonstration in the community of the complete unfairness of Measure 37,' said Council President Dennis Doyle. 'It does not take into account the surrounding neighborhoods that were developed at a certain standard set by code.

'This clearly demonstrates the major flaw of Measure 37.'

He said his huge frustration with the law was that it prohibited the city from having a chance to work for reasonable development.

'Measure 37 protects what people can do on their own property, but it doesn't protect the surrounding property owners,' added Councilor Catherine Arnold. 'That is the bias of Measure 37.'

Oregonians are now forced to live with those flaws while state legislators consider alterations to Measure 37, she said.

In the meantime, Willow Heights neighbors are considering plans to join other groups working to overturn or amend the land-use measure.

'By not denying the claim, I feel like the city turned its back on our homeowners association and the people who live next to the tree preserve,' Vernon said. 'This is just not fair.'

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