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Effort to save trees in Camas fails

CAMAS — A group of Camas residents thought they had won a battle against tree clearing and development in the city, but a lawsuit against Camas has given the developer permission to clear 79 trees to build homes.

Alicia King first noticed a sign alerting the public to the planned tree removal and a time to meet with the hearings examiner. King, Geri Rubano and Heather Kesmodel spoke at the meeting, and the hearings examiner determined that 37 of the trees should be saved. Developer Waverly Homes sued the city and eventually settled.

“The compromise there is, we would allow the developer to remove those trees, but (they) have to replace them,” City Administrator Pete Capell said. “Because of the compromise, we also required those would be more mature trees than normally required so they’d have fuller canopy sooner.”

The three residents planned on holding a peaceful sit-in Wednesday to honor the trees at the site, 2223 N.W. 43rd Ave., but will end up honoring the trees’ memories instead. On Monday morning, a crew was out clearing the 3.84-acre property.

About a third of the site is wetlands that can’t be touched. Waverly Homes will divide the remaining property into 12 inconsistent-sized lots, said Brett Simpson, Waverly Homes’ project manager for the development.

King noticed some fencing up around the site late last week, so she assumed something was coming.

Simpson said he expected all the trees to be removed Monday and said there’s still more work needed to prepare the land for development. He’s not sure if that can get done by the end of the summer. If not, construction could started toward the end of 2020, he said.

Arborists reports

Simpson said an arborist came out to look at the trees in the fall and saw some alarming fungus known as “phaeolus schweinitzii” at some of the trees. The report from Peter Torres with Portland Tree Consulting said that the fungus colonizes tree “roots and butts and causes a crumbly, red-brown cubical rot that destroys the cellulose in woody tissue.”

“The structure of tree rots away, and you won’t know until tree faults,” Simpson said. “Once it’s in root system in (a) cluster of trees, you’re better off taking the trees down, so they don’t spread to adjacent sites.”

Simpson said that is why the developer wanted to take the trees down quickly.

“We also want to get the fungus isolated before its growth period in late summer and early fall,” he said. “Our hope is that with the trees down, it will die back before this growth period.”

It was the second report done on the site. The earlier report from Davey Resource Group said 38 trees were in good condition, nine trees were in fair condition and 32 trees were in poor condition. That report, which had been used in the hearings examiner’s decision, said 31 trees should be removed, 11 trees were not worthy of special retention efforts, 25 trees required minor maintenance and should be retained and protected and 12 trees were excellent candidates for retention.

Simpson said preserving some of the trees was problematic because Waverly Homes must also make road improvements on Northwest 43rd Avenue, including extending the sidewalk, widening the road and preparing the site for utilities.

“There was no physical way for us to build out the 43rd improvements while maintaining the trees,” he said. “The city wanted both.”

Tree protection sought

As part of the settlement, Waverly Homes had to pay $15,000 into the city’s new urban tree program, something the city council passed in 2018. King called the new ordinance “a joke,” and said one of the reasons she, Rubano and Kesmodel have taken up their cause is to get a more robust tree preservation plan in the city.

“We want to integrate the natural landscape into plans for development,” Rubano said.

The three women said they’re not against development. They’d just like to see it done a little differently. Kesmodel said a lot of new development “looks vanilla,” with everything done the same exact way. Rubano said there’s “no character” in many new developments because everything is so similar.

“I know development has to happen,” King said. “We have to find a better middle ground. This is way too swayed (against preservation). That’s what we’re hoping to establish.”

Even with the trees on the property gone, the group, known as the Camas Tree Protectors, plans to continue. King said the focus will be on getting people involved to retain the natural landscape of Camas. If anything, she said, the clearing of the trees has “intensified” the group’s belief in what they’re doing.

“This group is not going anywhere. This group is more motivated and inspired. We are sure in our cause that there need to be stricter tree ordinances in the city of Camas,” she said. “The group is getting stronger. We getting more rooted in our cause and in our goal that there can be development and trees. It can be cohesive together.”

If You Go

What: A peaceful sit-in to honor trees cut down in a Camas neighborhood by a developer.
When: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: 2223 N.W. 43rd Ave.

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