Neighbors inEastmoreland have been given more time to raise the necessary $900,000 to save three 150-year-oldseqouia trees.Elizabeth Leach, who has led the fundraising efforts, announced on Monday at the neighborhood’s “Save the Giants Jam” that they will partner with the Portland nonprofit Friends of Trees to purchase the lot on Southeast Martins Street from the developer, Everett Custom Homes.
The Portland nonprofit will be accepting donations on behalf of neighbors, to make them tax-deductible.
Leach told the Tribune the group still has about $200,000 to raise, but says she feels encouraged.
“There’s a lot of interest,” she says. “People really care about these redwoods.”
Leach says neighbors have been working with a builder and architect, who would be designing a home in the lot next to the trees. If Leach and other neighbors successfully raise the needed funds, the lot where the trees stand will become a community park.
The neighborhood’s fundraising efforts began June 24, when Robert McCullough, president of theEastmoreland Neighborhood Association, came to an agreement with VicRemmers, owner of Everett Custom Homes, to buy the lot from the developer for $900,000.The agreement followed the developer’s plans to cut down three large sequoia trees, which neighbors say were planted more than 150 years ago.
According to the developer’s plans — acquired by the Tribune from the Portland Bureau of Development Services — Everett Custom Homes planned to pay $2,400 to cut down the three sequoias and a fourth tree, a smaller Pacific dogwood.
The city’s tree code, which became law in January, requires developers to pay the established cost of two trees — $2,400 – if they don’t preserve at least a third of the trees on a property that are larger in 12 inches in diameter.
Yet neighbors and advocates believe the cost to mitigate each tree removal — $1,200 — is too low.
“That’s a really low-bar,” says Kris Day, a member of the Urban Forestry Commission.
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Bureau of Parks & Recreation and the Bureau of Development Services, also says she doesn’t know whether $1,200 is enough for developers to pay.
“There’s a number of issues with the tree code that we need to address,” Fritz told the Tribune.
Another issue with the tree code, McCullough says, is its complexity.
McCullough says the neighborhood association had to obtain a lawyer to help make sense of the tree code, which is more than 100 pages long.
“The tree code is completely unreadable,” McCullough says.
McCullough also says developers have an easier time getting approval to remove trees.
“While you as a homeowner have a lot of steps to go through to prune a tree, you as a developer just need a bulldozer,” he says. He adds that developers still have to pay the fee, which is so small he calls it “insulting.”
The tree code does allow residents to nominate a tree as a heritage tree, which affords it more protections.“We would love for more people to nominate trees to be heritage trees,” Fritz says.
However, the city’s tree code doesn’t automatically protect older trees.
“The city should actually forbid cutting older trees or providing some sort of incentive to builders to keep them,” McCullough says.
Fritz says the Urban Forestry Commission will look into making changes to the tree code in the fall.
Day says both the Urban Forestry Commission and another citizen group she is a part of — the Tree Code Oversight Advisory Committee — are both seeking public input on the tree code.
“I’m not allowed to just change the city code,” Fritz says. “We’re not going to change it without going through a public process.”
Day hopes the committee will have a set of proposed changes to the tree code by the fall.
“The intention is to find a more equitable way to recapture the values that these trees are providing to the community,” Day says. “It’s a hard thing to put a value on something like a tree because it’s a living thing and its an asset that actually increases in value over time.”