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The homeowners reportedly decided to take down the tree due to damage to the historic house's foundations.

STAFF PHOTO: MARK MILLER - This mature sequoia (center) will soon be removed from the front yard it occupies in the 2400 block of 18th Avenue, according to city officials. The difficult decision to remove the tree was made by the homeowners, officials said.The Grove is losing one of its biggest trees.

The owners of a late-19th-century home in the 2400 block of 18th Avenue have decided, after much agonizing, to remove a mature sequoia from their front yard, said Kari Fitzgerald, who has lived at the house for 20 years.

"It saddens us," said Fitzgerald, who traces back six generations of her family to have lived in the house. "It really does sadden us, because the tree's been part of the family."

The tree was planted in 1870, a news release from the city stated. Forest Grove parks maintenance supervisor Matt Baum said that at 148 years old, it is not among Forest Grove's oldest trees, but it is one of its biggest. It's also causing problems for the homeowners, as its roots are causing damage, Baum said.

"Their tree is not long for this world one way or the other," he said, adding, "The tree has to come down."

STAFF PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Cracking is evident in the cement base and sidewalk around the sequoia, located in the 2400 block of 18th Avenue.Fitzgerald said the tree is "literally the root cause" of many problems on the property. As the tree's trunk has grown, the distance between it and the structure has shrunk to nearly nothing.

"If you put a piece of furniture against the wall that's facing the tree, you can see the tilt," said Fitzgerald.

Last winter, a branch fell on the house, Fitzgerald said, causing major damage to its roof and porch.

"If a bigger branch, a branch higher up, had come down, it could have been tragic," she remarked.

Officials took pains to note that the decision to remove the tree has not been made by the city government.

"This is a property owner's choice," explained Tom Gamble, Forest Grove's parks and recreation director.

Although it will no longer tower above the Clark Historic District, the sequoia will still be there, in a sense. Baum said the homeowners offered to sell a "significant portion" of the tree to the City of Forest Grove.

"We were in the process of figuring out how to build the playground across the street," Baum said, when the homeowners approached the city about selling some of the wood from the tree. Forest Grove is preparing to perform major renovations to Rogers Park, directly across the street from their house.

Baum added, "Our dream idea has always been to do a big, natural playground. … The reality is we're not that big of a city, and we don't always have opportunities to come up with that kind of material."

Purchasing part of the sequoia, Baum said, will allow Forest Grove to create a playground similar to the "nature play areas" seen in places like Champoeg State Park and Orenco Woods Nature Park in Hillsboro. It will also preserve some of one of Forest Grove's most stately trees in the same neighborhood.

"We think of it as kind of an amazing opportunity," Baum said. "And the homeowners are also excited about it, because it gives them a little bit of solace."

Fitzgerald said the wood is being sold at well below market rate, but the homeowners wanted to contribute to the project at the park across the street, which she remembers playing in as a little girl. The cost of removing the tree is exorbitant, she noted, so being able to sell some of it to the city helps slightly to defray it.

"We told them we would flat-out donate it if we needed to, but it would be super-nice if there was anything (they could do) to help," Fitzgerald said.

For years, Baum said, the tree's roots have been causing damage to both the city sidewalk and street in front of the house, as well as to the foundation of the house itself. The extent of that damage prompted the homeowners to notify the city they will be taking it down, he said.

"They just decided (to keep) the house instead of the tree," said Baum.

"It has been a very difficult decision," Fitzgerald said. She said she and her husband were advised by an arborist upon moving in 20 years ago that the tree would have to be removed within their lifetimes. Now that time has come.

"It is doing too much damage, and it's becoming unsafe," said Fitzgerald.

Baum suggested the tree's size could be due to its extensive root system infiltrating water lines beneath 18th Avenue.

"It's clearly feeding off the sewer or the stormwater," he said.

Fitzgerald said that 20 years ago, she and her husband had to redo the house's sewer connection because the roots were blocking it.

Rob Foster, Forest Grove's public works director, said there is no indication the roots have gotten into the municipal sewer system itself.

"It is conceivable that the roots from the tree are causing drain line problems," Foster wrote in an email, "however the city maintenance crews have not had problems with the city storm drain lines at this location."

Foster said he believes damage to the house due to the tree's growth is of most concern.

Work at Rogers Park is set to begin this summer.

"It's getting a full fix-up," said Baum, listing new restrooms, lighting and drinking fountains among the upgrades. Tennis courts at the park will be resurfaced.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the plan will be the nature play area, which the city has named the "Anna and Abby's Yard" memorial playground. The name honors two Forest Grove girls who were killed in a 2013 crash while playing under a pile of leaves.

Baum said he thinks the upgraded playground will be very popular within the neighborhood.

"It's going to be a very special park," he predicted. "It's going to be amazing."

Crews will close 18th Avenue in the 2400 block to remove the sequoia's limbs starting Tuesday, Feb. 20, with work expected to continue into Wednesday, according to Fitzgerald. The trunk of the tree will be removed on March 8 and March 9, necessitating another street closure, she added.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from a homeowner.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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