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Planning Department revokes removal permit, then reissues permission with tweaks from same arborist

COURTESY PHOTO - Two sweetgums on Washington Street were removed May 19 with reissued permits against the protest of the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association.OregoCOURTESY PHOTO - Oregon City contracted with Friends of Trees to provide homeowners with free pruning of street trees on May 22.n City residents have renewed cries for stronger tree protections after city officials revoked a tree-removal permit and then reissued the same permit for logging street trees with slight revisions from the same arborist.

Jesse Buss, chair of the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association, called the incident a "farce," in part because the Planning Department reissued the tree-removal permit before giving MNA members a chance to review the new application.

"This is just another example of how broken OC's tree code is," he said.

Oregon City has a budget for street and park trees and is a member of the Tree City USA group. However, several vocal citizens are saying OC can do more to protect and plant trees, pointing to nearby Milwaukie's win as the top Tree City statewide after the city recently passed additional tree protections.

COURTESY PHOTO - Stacks of logs were all that was left of two sweetgum street trees removed on May 19.Under current code, street trees are owned and regulated by the city, but are the responsibility of adjacent property owners to maintain. Homeowners at 209 Washington St. had two large sweetgums removed on May 19 after an arborist determined that corrective pruning would have "negative repercussions on the health of both trees," which according to city staff, did not meet the required "dead, diseased or hazardous" determination necessary to justify street tree removal.

"I might have 10 doughnuts for breakfast tomorrow morning, which would certainly have negative repercussions for my health, but it wouldn't mean that I am dead, diseased or hazardous," Buss said.

Buss pointed to city policy that strongly favors the retention of mature trees where possible, but the city currently lacks its own arborist. Under the current rules, a homeowner only has to find one certified arborist who is willing to say that a given tree is "hazardous" and then the homeowner can replace large trees, like the sweetgums that were more than 20 inches in diameter, with 2-inch-wide trees.

Ryan Howe, an arborist with Portland-based All Around Arbor Tree Care Services, provided Washington Street homeowner Elisabeth Caw the necessary justification after a second attempt to receive a valid permit. Howe originally tried to justify removing the trees by saying they had "considerable structural damage from snow and ice. … Removal is suggested at this time."

In an updated justification to get the permit reissued, Howe wrote that the damage made the trees "hazardous to right of way traffic, even with significant pruning. … Removal is advised as soon as possible." Howe provided Caw with the justifications for removal, at the same time charging Caw $4,390 for the removal of the trees and stumps.

Caw said the trees would have been a hazard no matter how they had been pruned, which was the opinion of more than just All Around Arbor.

"They were actually our lowest bid, and we had several arborists who said that the trees were a hazard," Caw said.

In an attempt to save the trees, the neighborhood association asked for an opinion from Clackamas County Master Gardener Pam Kromer, who said the healthy sweetgums offered an established and "very suitable streetscape pyramidal growth habit" that also provided shade for the house and users of the public sidewalk. Kromer hopes that the Washington Street incident will inspire the city to designate one of its planning or parks department staff member to be the city's designated arborist.

"If it's a lack of budget or funds, options might be to contract with an ISA-certified arborist on an as-needed basis, or even have a staff member willing to train as an ISA arborist to help direct crews to understand and appreciate the work and care that is needed to sustain and preserve our trees," she said.

City officials, as part of their current investments in encouraging street trees, are nearing the end of a two-year $60,000 contract with Friends of Trees to plant hundreds of street trees for willing homeowners. Also as part of the contract, the nonprofit organization offered free structural pruning to homeowners during a May 22 event.

Caw said that nothing more needs to be done to improve the city's tree code, given that the city already requires a determination from a certified arborist. In the homeowner's opinion, neighborhood associations and city commissioners should have more pressing issues for reform.

"Neighbors could not try to push their way into trying to save a tree that was unsafe," Caw said.

Kromer supports a related project to update Oregon City's approved street tree list to remove Japanese maples, which require a lot of space for their roots to grow and can suffer when confined by narrow planting strips. While the trees recently removed on Washington Street will be replaced by Japanese maples, most Oregon cities don't recommend them as street trees, including Eugene, Portland, Beaverton, Lake Oswego, Tualatin and Gresham.

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