A giant sequoia on Dennis Lane North was denied heritage status by the Keizer City Council. (KEIZERTIMES/File)

A giant sequoia on Dennis Lane North was denied heritage status by the Keizer City Council. (KEIZERTIMES/File)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

When Roberta Schmechel spotted one of her neighborhood trees in the Keizertimes last week, she felt compelled to speak on its behalf at a Keizer City Council meeting Monday, Oct. 3.

“We look up the street at this tree and it’s a beautiful, symmetrical tree,” Schmecnel said. “When the leaves are off the other trees, that one is magnificent. I think it is worth being called a heritage tree.”

Schmechel wasn’t the only Lorax in the audience. Keizer resident Cathy Philbrick also pleaded the case for the protecting the tree.

“I really care deeply about the living environment. We have a tall eastern white pine in our yard that was causing trouble for a neighbor, but we worked together and consulted with an arborist who was able to prune the tree without damaging it. This tree should be a heritage tree and I feel strongly it should be preserved.”

The owners of the tree applied to have the tree designated as a heritage tree by the city council. The designation would have prevented any type of pruning or other significant change to the look of the tree without written permission of the city, but the council unanimously denied the petition.

The giant sequoia on Dennis Lane Northeast is approximately 100 feet tall and has become a point of irritation for the neighbors of the owners. A significant portion of the tree is growing into their yard and depositing debris there.

The owners hoped to have the city designate it as a heritage tree to protect it from their neighbors’ hopes to prune it.

The tree fell short of meeting the criteria for such a designation, however.

“It’s not of botanical interest, was not a commemorative planting and is not historically significant,” said Bill Lawyer, Keizer Public Works director.

As far as anyone on city staff could remember, it was the first time an application for a heritage tree designation was handed in to the city. Even then, the portion of city ordinance which talks about heritage trees seemed to have been an afterthought to a more pressing issue concerning trees in the right-of-way.

“Neighbor-to-neighbor would be a better way to deal with it rather than trying to apply this ordinance which isn’t ready to be used,” said Councilor Mark Caillier.

Another sticking point for Councilor Marlene Parsons was the ability to apply the heritage designation to a tree on private property. City Manager Chris Eppley said some cities reserve the right to approve any significant changes to trees in their jurisdiction, he cited Lake Oswego as an example.

Mayor Cathy Clark said the nature of the specific application was difficult for all parties involved.

“This is a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute, but what’s at stake is potential damage to a significant tree. The tree didn’t choose the tax lot, the tax lot chose the tree, and the neighbor has the right to ensure their health and safety,” Clark said.

While the council balked at granting the application, several members wanted to revisit the issue of heritage trees in the future. Lawyer said it would probably come up again in early 2017 as the council conducts a review of older ordinances.

City Attorney Shannon Johnson said he would, at the very least, like to attach language to require a public hearing on every application.