The event would have been unexceptional but for the fact that the developer failed get a city permit to remove the trees. Six of the 14 largest trees, known as heritage trees, were chopped down: two Italian stones, two red gums and two Monterey pines.
Since then the land, across the street from four homes on Knox Lane, has been mostly barren – little more than dirt, weeds and signs reading “No trespassing, no dumping, violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“This has left a neighborhood adjacent to this with quite a blighted condition,” said Councilwoman Pat Anderson at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “The description was it was like a bomb had hit it and they were gone. I’m sure it’s been difficult for the neighbors.”
The council was discussing the trees in connection with Discovery Builders’ request to build 34 houses on that land. The council agreed to rezone the property to allow up to 2.3 houses per acre, but it postponed taking action on the developer’s request to subdivide the land and remove the remaining eight heritage trees.
The deforestation of Knox Lane without city approval was not an intentional act, according to Jackie Seeno, representing Discovery Builders. “We had a miscommunication,” she told the council. “It was a terrible disconnect in our office between our land development department and the guys out in the field. There were a number of trees that were removed before we obtained those permits.”
She said the company would comply with a requirement to pay to the city the appraised value of the heritage trees. She also proposed planting an extra tree on each of the 34 lots in Cedarwood Estates, providing three trees on most lots and four trees on corner lots for a total of 95 trees.
Anderson said she appreciates the offer to add an extra tree to the lots and that she understands how a communication problem can happen. But she’s also interested in more punitive measures as a warning to developers. “I’m not trying to be overzealous on this, but at the same time I want to send a message that this can’t happen ever again,” she said.
An arborist will provide an estimate of the value of the six heritage trees that were removed, a figure that City Manager Bryan Montgomery estimated would be less than $25,000. City Attorney Bill Galstan said that city officials could fine Discovery Builders up to three times the value of the trees.
Anderson said she would like the money to go into a special city fund “to deal with landscaping issues that come before us. They are always sensitive and expensive (issues to deal with).”
Councilman Kevin Romick wants to make sure that planting the new trees is one of the first things that happens after the site is graded for the new houses. “There has to be a message sent out there to make sure this doesn’t happen again by any developer,” he said. “That they think twice, three times, four times before they start tearing trees down.”
It’s unlikely that Knox Lane will be greening any time soon, however. Seeno said it would be at least two years, and possibly three, before grading begins, depending on the state of the housing market.
While the site might be a blighted, bombed-out eyesore to some, the people living on Knox Lane would prefer it to remain as it is rather than have 34 houses built all around them. Several residents told the council that they prefer their semi-rural ambience, which they believe the new housing will destroy, along with hurting their property value.
They asked that a sound wall be put up to block the view of the development. But that idea was nixed by city officials, who said a wall would invite graffiti and become a maintenance problem as well as create a closed-in feel to the new development.
The neighbors are also concerned about the additional traffic and parking on their street by the new residents. Councilman Jim Frazier suggested prohibiting street parking, but Mayor Carol Rios countered that people should be allowed to park in front of their own homes.
Those and other development issues are likely to be further discussed and decided upon at the council’s Aug. 11 meeting.