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Some infill projects fell trees in Woodstock

by: BECKY LUENING - At left, the now-gone grove of mature Douglas Fir trees - as they looked before they were felled to make room for a new house on an infill lot on the edge of the Woodstock neighborhood. At right, the trees on the lot are gone, although some remain on property behind the lot.A defining feature of Woodstock has long been regal stands of Douglas Firs that pepper the neighborhood, as well as areas to the east. Clusters of six or eight trees can be seen from blocks away. These small groves provide shade, bird habitat, environmental benefits, and pleasure for surrounding neighbors. However, at least a few of these signature trees – some over one hundred years old – are being felled to allow infill developers to squeeze more houses into Inner Southeast.

One recent example occurred at S.E. 60th and Insley Street at the boundary between Woodstock and the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood. Chainsaws ripped and roared for eight hours, as six healthy, mature conifers were felled in one day. The new home being built there will cover a good portion of the site.

Alarmed at the felling of the trees, people in the neighborhood gathered to talk and mourn the loss as evening settled in.

“Those trees were of great benefit to the neighborhood in many ways,” commented Laura Nappi, who lives a few houses away from the lot. “We know that property values rise with mature trees – and that they soak up storm water, are a great benefit for birds and other wildlife, and provide important shade and improve air quality. Wow, what a shame! Now all of those benefits as well as that aesthetic, good feeling from that grove are gone.”

Shocked, several concerned neighbors began searching for information about the city tree code. They discovered that the City of Portland has been hard at work for several years to simplify and clarify rules to help protect and preserve trees; but the neighbors were disappointed to learn that trees on lots less than 5,000 square feet in size are exempt from the tree preservation standards.

An e-mail from Morgan Tracy, a Portland City Planner at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, explained: “The city currently does not require tree preservation on most development sites; and while the new code will address tree preservation in the future, the situation for the lot at S.E. 60th and Insley would still not be subject to tree preservation requirements, as it will be exempt from the new rules due to the size of the lot.”

The history of the Citywide Tree Project began in 2007 when, responding to community concerns that tree regulations were overly complex and confusing, the Portland City Council directed the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to lead a multi-bureau effort to review tree regulations. The resulting Citywide Tree Project is “intended to create a clear, consistent regulatory framework for Portland’s trees, improve customer service, and enhance the City’s urban forest.”

City Planner Tracy said that the implementation of the new tree code requirements had been scheduled to go into effect in February of this year, after the City Council adopted the Citywide Tree Project in April 2011.

However, he says the Council has since voted twice to delay implementation of the new tree code, with the latest effective date being January of 2015. The most recent delay was attributed to budget cuts at the Bureau of Development Services and Portland Parks & Recreation. (Portland Parks & Recreation oversees the Urban Forestry Division and the Bureau of Development Services issues permits for new development).

“Our hope was that this [project] would go into effect sooner,” remarked Tracy.

Those who have worked hard on this project hold out some hope that the new tree code, including enhanced customer service – one point of contact for people who have concerns and questions – will help protect some trees beginning January of 2015, if funding is approved.

Roberta Jortner, Senior Environmental Planner for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Manager of the Citywide Tree Project, informed THE BEE that City Council has directed the Bureau of Development Services and Parks & Recreation to provide a progress report and proposal for funding the Citywide Tree Project in mid-December of this year.

The question at that time will be: In this somewhat tortuous balance between policies of housing density and tree preservation, will the City prioritize funding to make it possible to actually implement the new tree preservation standards that were adopted in April of 2011?

For more information on tree regulations in the Citywide Tree Project go online to: HYPERLINK "www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/treeproject" www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/treeproject. For information on attending a hearing visit: www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=26979. This web page provides links to current council agenda and how to testify at council.

And for information about the hearings and/or customer service, contact Mieke Kennan by e-mail at: HYPERLINK "mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. – or phone 503/823-5779.