City staff say plan would improve safety, critics call for plan that would save two giant oaks on Villa Road

As the city works on overhauling Villa Road to widen it and make it safer for cars, bicycles and pedestrians, some residents and local organizations are pushing back on the plan in order to save two large oak trees. GARY ALLEN - As the city prepares to make a series of new road improvements on Villa Road that would add bike lanes, sidewalks and a turn lane, some residents are  calling on the city to preserve two large oak trees just south of Park Lane, possibly by scrapping the improvement plans.

With plans to substantially widen the road to include a left-turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks, critics argue that the plan should be redesigned or scrapped entirely in order to preserve the oak trees just south of Park Lane that they estimate as being centuries old.

In particular, Leonard Rydell — a local engineer and surveyor as well as president of the Yamhill Watershed Stewardship Fund — argued that the increasingly rare white oaks would make way for bike lanes that will go largely unused by local residents and children as the wider road and turn lane makes drivers comfortable traveling at faster speeds.

"I'm not against public safety. I would rather have bicycle pathways that are not next to the traffic lane and are (safer) for all ages to use," he said. "And then we can save the oak trees and we can put a park bench under it and people can enjoy it."

The plan in dispute is the second phase of a larger project to improve safety and traffic flow along Villa Road.

Entering its second year of planned construction, the project is supposed to improve the roadway's surface and alignment from Haworth Avenue to Park Lane in order to make the road more efficient for cars and trucks and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

"The incomplete sidewalk connections are unsafe as it forces pedestrians onto the roadway shoulders and bicyclists into the travel way with vehicles that are consistently going over the speed limit through substandard vertical and horizontal curves," said City Engineer Kaaren Hofmann in an email.

The planned improvements would create travel lanes, a turn lane, bike lanes, curbs and sidewalks — standard additions the city is adding to its major thoroughfares — which would put the existing trees in the middle of the travel lane, Hofmann said. Even without the turn lane, she said adding the bike lanes and sidewalks would probably be detrimental to the health of the trees.

Although critics have tied the improvements to the high-density residential development slated for that block along Villa Road — formerly Martell Commons and now known as Chehalem Pointe – city officials have said the improvements are actually driven by growth in traffic. They noted that the developer has not yet submitted a design review application for the site, which is expected in the coming months and will include a new traffic study.

Drawing on his 45-year career as engineer, surveyor and water rights examiner in Oregon, Rydell said he is working on alternative plans to propose to the city.

In the meantime, he provided several letters from local watershed and woodland protection groups urging the city to protect the oak trees, which Hofmann noted would "require a complete redesign of the project."

Noting that Newberg does not have any regulations to protect old trees, she said these particular trees are already subject to pruning for the overhead utility lines and could be removed by the property owner at any time.

She said the city is in the bidding stage of the project and expected to forward bids to the City Council for approval on July 17 with construction to start in August but no specific timeline on when the trees would be removed.

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