Milwaukie fines developer for destroying trees, park benches
Milwaukie officials are fining the developer of 234 apartments $1,490 for the unpermitted removal of three dogwood trees in Triangle Park.
"The developer will also be responsible for planting three new dogwood trees here, and to either reinstall or replace the two benches, which were removed," said City Engineer Steve R. Adams.
Dogwoods are the official tree of Milwaukie and were planted in large numbers across the city founded in 1903 in celebration of the centennial anniversary in 2003.
Guardian Real Estate Director Tamara L. Holden said the fine was reasonable for what Guardian President Tom Brenneke called "an honest mistake." Holden said that the development company will plant many more than the 150 new trees required by the authorized project design, in addition to paying the fine.
"The general contractor made an unintentional error when removing the trees on the property," said Kim Gaube, Guardian's director of marketing and communications. "We are working with the city to develop a solution to make it right with the neighborhood."
Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba said the new developer stepped in and picked up the plans from the old developer, but those official plans were never granular enough to specify what needed to happen with the park.
"It took two seconds for a bulldozer to wipe out that little triangle," Gamba said.
Milwaukie's engineer said emails between the developer's team and city staff clearly indicate that an effort would be made to save the Triangle Park trees. City officials issued permission to grade land for a new path on Oct. 26, and destruction at the park occurred Oct. 28.
"Although the tree removal was not denoted on the plans reviewed by the city prior to issuing the grading permit, we apologize for any breakdown in communication that led to this unfortunate situation," Adams said.
In addition to a communications breakdown, Gamba said that the real source of the problems came when neighbors demanded that the project reconfigure a "neighborhood greenway" multi-use path from its original alignment that would have been flatter and shorter along the railroad. Instead the project is aligning the pedestrian path with 37th Avenue and Monroe Street.
Some of these same citizens complained about the increased density of housing in Milwaukie, with the 234 apartments potentially bringing over 500 new citizens and associated traffic concerns. Gamba said he warned neighbors that the new trail alignment might create logistical issues for constructing around the park, but the city eventually "caved" to public pressure.
"The new (development) team mistakenly graded that corner so they could complete the new, longer, steeper, more expensive to the city bike/ped path that climbs Monroe and goes down 37th," Gamba said.
The developer is helping construct the greenway on Monroe Street, and its five new residential buildings will fill a 7-acre lot that has stood empty for decades in central Milwaukie. City officials said realigning the path created additional grading issues at the northeast corner of the development, where the city-owned land is known as Triangle Park, although it's not yet an official park.
"Realignment of the pathway was initiated and pushed by several community members," Adams said. "The city worked with the initial developer to realign the pathway to accommodate the wishes of these community members."
In addition to demonstrating the danger of changing recommended plans, the removal of the trees at the Monroe Apartments site highlights the need for private residential — and eventually commercial — tree codes, Adams said.
"Development and the community overall would benefit from uniformity in tree-code application," he said. "The public tree code only establishes a process for trees on public land or in the right of way, and expectation is that residents or developers have a clear and correct understanding of the right-of-way location. We often find that this expectation is not met, and many property owners cannot distinguish right-of-way and public trees from private trees."
Milwaukie's citywide tree code also would ensure canopy protection is prioritized during development, Adams said. Under such a code and in consultation with a certified arborist and the city forester, developers would be required to submit an inventory of existing trees, tree-preservation plans, tree-canopy plans, an ongoing tree-protection plan and arborist report for the development site as part of their permit applications.
"These protections extend to protecting the root zones, reducing encroachments within the root zone and installing chain-link fencing around trees during construction," Adams said. "Without these protection measures, even trees that are 'preserved' are at risk for future removal due to damage from construction on the site."
Apartment construction that began in October is expected to conclude in April 2023.
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