Earlier this week, the Vanguard reported that the developers of Paso Fino have a new proposal that would leave in place eight units while preserving the greenbelt and keeping the Canary Island pine trees on public land.
However, despite efforts by the developers to leave all the Canary pines in place on public lands, neighbors and at least one expert on trees object to the proposal.
Claudia Morain, a resident of Sargent Court, writes in a letter, “The proposal now before the council calls for a land swap, in which public land is traded for private land needed to create a bike path along Covell and bring a grove of towering, 60-year-old pines into public ownership.”
“But it is a poor exchange that gives up too much public land for too little private land. It does not afford the heritage trees the space that arborists say is needed to safeguard their long-term survival,” she writes.
Instead, she asks that the developers return to the “drawing board one last time to draft a plan more consistent with the city staff ‘s recommendation.” She states, “That recommendation, endorsed by the Planning Commission, fully protects the pines by respecting their drip lines and safeguarding their sensitive root zones.”
But the developers have already said that Plan D, which was put forward by city staff and the commission in October by a 3-2 vote, to ask the developers to consider the option that would allow for six homes, “was unworkable.”
Plan D would preserve the greenbelt, reduce the number of lots from eight to six, and preserve all nine Canary pine trees in public ownership.
Jason Taormino told the planning commission, as he told the Vanguard, that Plan D was unworkable. He told the planning commission, “What we see is you can’t build on three lots and one lot would have a house with no yard. It doesn’t work.”
In the meantime on January 23, Don Shor drafted a letter that was originally written as background for a meeting of Brett Lee and Rochelle Swanson with the homeowners and interested parties on January 6.
“My understanding from the proceedings of the Planning Commission was that the pines are to be protected on public land. I have been asked if the current design layout, which has eight houses on the site, gives adequate protection to the trees,” he writes. “My opinion is that the current layout has the homes too close to the trees and provides inadequate protection for their long-term health.”
Don Shor, owner of Redwood Barn Nursery, writes, “When development occurs around mature trees, specific measures are taken to protect the trees during construction.”
He continues, “Arborist reports make reference to the ‘drip line’ of the trees. The drip line is literally that: the canopy of the tree, measured in diameter. The term refers to the area where water would drip from the leaves or needles. An area called the ‘critical root radius’ must be protected during construction. This calculated area, called the ‘protected root zone,’ extends past the drip line and should be left as unchanged as possible. For mature trees in a new development, it is best to leave that zone undeveloped.”
Mr. Shor writes, “We never know exactly where a tree’s roots are, but we do know that generally they grow out well past the drip line into nearby soil. When you cover the soil where the roots are with concrete, or compact it, or heap soil on it, or take soil away, you can harm the roots. You render them less able to take up water, you kill the roots by cutting through them, and in some instances you make the trees unsafe by removing important anchoring roots.”
In his opinion, based on the plans, “it appears that the protected root zone of some trees would be in private property, and that branches of the trees would actually hang over into back yards.”
He further adds, “A rule that arborists use is to protect a radius of soil 1.5 [feet] times the inches in diameter of the trunk. Thus a tree with a ten-inch trunk diameter should have a protected root zone of 15 feet out, or 30 feet diameter.” He argues, “It does not appear to me that the current layout provides a sufficient protected root zone for the trees.”
“One of the great threats to trees is the reaction of neighbors to the nuisance that they can create. Litigation about trees overhanging fences, about roots underlying patios, and other perceived nuisances is common. People often take unwise action against trees that bother them. Pines simply should not be pruned, for the most part, and certainly not by amateurs,” he further adds.
The new plan by the developers sought to address the concern expressed at the October 8 planning commission meeting by shrinking the size of Lot 8 to allow the pines to be on the other side of the property line.
Commissioner George Hague in October said he was sensitive to the concerns of the community about the buffer zone, as well as the nine pine trees. He said, “I learned something about the difficulty in doing business in Davis. But at the end of a very long discussion… the bottom line is that the residents wanted the buffer zone protected. It is protected. They wanted the trees preserved, they are preserved.”
He said eight homes plus a bunch of ADUs “might fit on the lot, but I don’t think that the lifestyle they generate would have been supported by the limitations of the lot.” He said, “I believe the developer has addressed those concerns. There are no more ADUs.”
However, for Cheryl Essex, another member of the planning commission, the development “is supported in this area as long as the public good is retained. We’ve heard that over and over again.” About the public good in this instance, “The citizens are willing to give up some of the greenbelt in order to bring those majestic Canary Island Pine Trees into public ownership. That’s what we’ve been told.”
Marilee Hanson flat out stated that she cannot support plan C-2, that the Canary pines need to be on public land. She said, “I can’t support (C-2)… the public has been speaking for years that, in order for those Canary pines to truly be saved, they need to be on public land.”
She made the motion, that would be adopted on a 3-2 vote, to support something like Plan D. Chair Rob Hofmann joined Merilee Hanson and Cheryl Essex, with George Hague and David Inns in dissent.
At that time, Dave Taormino, one of the developers, said he was willing to compromise. He said, “What I’ve heard tonight, it sounds like overwhelmingly, is that you want the trees, or as many of the trees as possible, into public ownership. If that’s the direction you want to go, give me that instruction.”
He said they could go back to the drawing board and, prior to going to the city council, “we’ll come up with as much as possible with the trees on public land. I think I can do that for six trees and maintain the eight dwelling units with the eighth one being a senior cottage. I can live with that.”
“I never said the plan that keeps the most trees as possible in the public ownership,” Merilee Hanson stated. “I said something like alternative D which keeps the Canary Pines in public ownership is preferable.”
By now it is clear that some remain opposed to this plan and it is the opinion of Don Shor that the current plan does not do enough to protect the trees.
How that will impact the council’s decision remains to be seen.
—David M. Greenwald reporting