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  • Kevin Elliott

Rochester rejects removal of landmark tree

A request by a Rochester developer to remove a 30.5-inch-wide Red Oak tree along Pine Street, north of Glendale, to help facilitate plans for a condominium project was rejected on Monday, October 9, by Rochester City Council members.

In August, developer Jake Bolyard requested permission to remove the tree in order to continue with construction of Pine Knoll Estates, an eight-unit, single-family residential condominium development on the east side of Pine Street, just north of Glendale Court. The project already includes the removal of more than five dozen well-established trees. However, the size and species of the tree in question classifies it as a specially protected tree under the city's tree ordinance.

Under the ordinance, the removal of any landmark or historic tree is prohibited without a resolution passed by city council approving such removal. Requests are subject to a public hearing, with notice given to all neighbors within 300 feet of the property on which the tree is located.

"It shall be the burden of the applicant to demonstrate that there is good reason to remove said landmark tree such that public interest in retaining a landmark tree or historic tree is outweighed by the applicant's need to remove it," the ordinance mandates.

Rochester resident Paul Wintermantle, who has lived on Glendale near the property since 1950, spoke in favor of keeping the tree and questioned the value of removing it. Resident Sue Douglas said Bolyard should be permitted to remove the tree, asserting that property rights trump tree rights.

"I love trees myself. I really do," said Bolyard, who owns Bolyard Lumber. "If we could save the tree, I would like to save the tree. In this case, the tree will lose 60 percent of its roots and has a low chance for survival."

Plans for the condominium development were submitted to the city by a previous developer and approved in 2013 by the Rochester Planning Commission, prior to Bolyard purchasing the property. The planning commission at that time required the protection of the tree as part of their approval of the project. Bolyard has since submitted engineering plans to the city for all the site utilities and grading work, along with two building permit applications for the construction of two spec homes, one of which will affect the tree.

Deputy City Manager Nik Banda said the city's department of public works reviewed the plans and found there isn't room to move the utilities further away from the tree, and a service water lead in the location would impact the tree root system as well as the trench for the water and sewer pipes. That, along with the proximity of the proposed home foundation, will certainly affect the tree in the long run.

"We explored every engineering angle to take the pressure off the tree root system but the final design was not able to totally remove that risk," Banda said.

Councilwoman Ann Peterson noted that Rochester is known for its oak trees, and that the ordinance is in place to protect them. "Every time we have a tree like this come before us – we have an ordinance that says we can't cut down the tree, but we have a way to say ‘remove it.’ Or if a tree is damaged during construction, then it comes down," she said. "It's not fair to us for a developer to make that decision. I suggest moving the building, which would make it not look so cookie cutter."

Rochester councilwoman Kim Russell said the city is already losing 64 trees to the project. With projects taking down so many trees, she said, the city is losing its canopy to development.

Rochester Mayor Cathy Daldin agreed. "The goal of the ordinance is the protection of the canopy," she said. "We are a tree city."

Councilman Jeffrey Cuthbertson said the planning commission's approval of the project had specific requirements outlining the tree be saved. He suggested changing construction plans to accommodate the tree's survival.

"I'm not sure placing a house six feet from the centerline of a tree is compliant with the idea of preserving the tree," he said. "Where the house is placed is at the discretion of the developer, and placing it so close to the tree is part of the challenge we face.

"As it relates to utilities, the water, which is an inexpensive piece of pipe, can be routed around the tree at virtually no or low cost. Moreover, adjusting the placement of the house to give the tree breathing room is inherently possible and would be what the planning commission envisioned with the layout."

Council voted unanimously to reject the request.

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