A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

One walnut tree versus eight townhouses

Written July 30th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

The empty lot at 224-234 Third Ave. S.E. on Friday night. The walnut tree in the left rear corner has become an issue.

On July 19, three members of the Albany Planning Commission objected to construction of eight single-family townhouses on Third Avenue downtown because it would take down a walnut tree in the corner of the site. On Monday the commission will get a chance to undo that action because, as it turns out, the city development code on felling trees doesn’t apply unless five or more trees are intended to get axed.

The proposed building site consists of six small tax lots at 224 and 234 Third Ave. S.E.  On one side there’s Albany’s oldest remaining church building, until recently the headquarters of the CHANCE addiction-recovery program. On the other there’s the former “Labor Temple,” which has been turned into apartments with the help of CARA, the downt0wn urban renewal district.

The Lepman real estate organization, which owns the apartment house next door, wants to build eight three-story townhouses on the property, with individual garages facing either the street in front or the alley in back.

The planning staff found the application met all applicable review criteria and recommended approval of the site plan. But after a discussion mostly about the walnut tree in the corner, the commission voted 3-2 not to approve it. (I didn’t watch the virtual meeting, and the audio recording on the city’s website makes it impossible for me to hear who voted which way.)

Defenders of the tree on the commission wanted it saved. But the applicants said it was either the tree of the townhouses.

In a memo for Monday’s commission meeting, planning manager Scott Whyte and Matthew Ruettgers, community development director, said the planning staff had reconsidered the relevancy of the tree-felling criteria in the development code. They said this code section applies when five or more trees are to be cut, not to the felling of just one. The implication is that using the tree as a reason to deny the request was a problem.

They suggested the commission could rescind its denial and call for a new public hearing, probably on Sept. 13. Or the commission could adopt findings to back up its decision, which the applicants then could appeal to the city council.

Proposals to build apartments or townhouses on this site have been floating around for close to 20 years, if memory serves, only to be considered and dropped. The question now is whether this one is realized or stopped over a big tree. (hh)

Post script: Planning supervisor Scott Whyte reports that on Aug. 2, the planning commission rescinded its previous decision with the understanding that a new public hearing will be scheduled or Sept.13.

Leafless in November 2018, that walnut didn’t look quite as big as it does this summer.

14 responses to “One walnut tree versus eight townhouses”

  1. Teresa says:

    I can not visually see how 8 3 story townhouses will even fit on that lot and 3rd street is not exactly prime real-estate where people will rush to live.

    • Cole says:

      If you don’t think they can fit 8 3 story townhomes then go to Corvallis and look at the townhomes on 29th a block off harrison. Look at the townhomes on Dolores Way behind the library here in Albany. It can be done. That area isn’t prime real estate true, but Lepman isn’t known for keeping high end rentals either.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Does the development code include a “tree bank”, where a developer or property owner promises to plant or save a tree at a different location (off-site mitigation)?

    Here’s another option – a city homeowner installed a 7.48kW roof-top solar system five months ago. So far it has produced 59.31 “equivalent trees planted.” If an ordinance existed they could deposit those equivalent “trees” into the city’s “tree bank.” And continue to make deposits as long as the solar system is producing.

    Then the Lepman’s could simply make a withdrawal from the bank….problem solved…the townhouses get built….the Planning commission’s virtue maintained.

  3. Abe Cee says:

    But will they be affordable?

  4. Dave Sullivan says:

    I own 338 6th SE, and it had a big walnut tree in front that had cracked the sidewalk and had damaged a pickup truck by dropping a large branch. So I asked the City to be allowed to remove it. The City’s forester said OK and offered to remove it. This sounded great until he also explained he wanted to keep the wood (he wanted to donate it to a high school shop class).

    I objected because I wanted to build kitchen cabinets on this historic property from wood cut in the front yard.

    He said the City owned the tree because it was in the parking strip. So I looked up the City’s rules, and the City owns trees in public areas except parking strips.

    I eventually needed to threaten to go to the city council and our local Circuit Court to get him to back off. At that point, he no longer offered to cut down the tree and wanted me to show proof of insurance to cut it down. Of course, once again, he was making up regulations out of whole cloth — land owners aren’t required to buy insurance to cut down trees on their own property.

    My conclusion is simple: our local government seems to feel like its job is to boss citizens around rather than help them solve problems.

    P.S. — The black walnut kitchen cabinets look great.

    • Bob Woods says:

      So… you had a car damaged by a falling limb. So you called the City to get them to remove the tree. But you wanted the wood.

      Then you objected because they donate the wood to the high school, because they, like you, thought they owned the tree which you thought too, thereby placing the cost of removal on the citizens of Albany.

      Lo and behold, then you went out to fight to get that wood, (shudder that the high school kids should get it), and apparently found that the city didn’t own the tree, YOU DID.

      And now you blame the city? Uh… I don’t think so.

      • Cheryl P says:

        That isn’t what Dave said at all. “So I asked the City to be allowed to remove it.” Meaning, HE was asking permission from the City to cut it down. The City then offered to cut down the tree and that they would donate the wood to local high school shop classes. But Dave really wanted the wood for himself and said, “No thanks.” And the City guy wanted the wood for the high school. So let the games begin.

        • Bob Woods says:

          You see Cheryl, saying “So I asked the City to be allowed to remove it.” clearly says he thought it was a city tree.

          Now if I was there and forester said, “We donate the wood to the high school shop class” I would have immediately said “Cool, give it to the kids” because if I really wanted some walnut I could always buy it, not run off to challenge the city “TO GET THAT WOOD!”

          That’s self indulgent, caring more about what you want, than about helping kids learn the fine art of woodworking in shop class.

          And then to chastise the City and the Forester, well, what he did wasn’t evil, but he certainly wasn’t being a mensch.

    • Cheryl P says:

      Proof of insurance or permit? While the Albany Municipal Code doesn’t require the property owner to have insurance before cutting trees on their property, they are required, under certain circumstances, to get a permit (see 7.98.040).

      And who actually owns the tree is pretty simple…who was responsible for the damage to the pickup truck from the falling branch?

  5. HowlingCicada says:

    “””… individual garages facing either the street in front or the alley in back.”””

    What alley? I don’t see one on the available photos. Or are they able to, and intend to, build a new alley through the church property?
    Use Street View to better grasp the tree location.

    One advantage of building here: there’s no plausible NIMBY case against it (ignoring the tree issue). I agree with Teresa that this area is unattractive (but don’t see a problem with the density). it’s an old car-dominated wasteland. Riding through there some years ago, I thought the “Labor Temple” was grotesque and ugly — is that just me? The vacant lot made it even worse.

  6. al says:

    One ugly walnut tree! Have any of you ever had one in your yard? This tree is undoubtedly diseased and does not have eatable walnuts but just drops damaged nuts. From a former walnut farmer who had a diseased tree in his yard.

  7. Eugene A Small says:

    Good old city planners. They only seem to care about what is best for them to invest in.

  8. Bill Higby says:

    Walnut trees get old and either get diseased or get hit by a wind storm and fall apart. Albany is supposed to be “Tree City USA”, so I think that the devloper should mitigate removing the Walnut by planting a tree or two that will enhance the neighborhood and not create issues as they grow older and taller.

  9. John Klock says:

    Another loss for the arbors. Albany is becoming a giant heat sink. The city claims to take care of its trees but the fact of the matter, there is non-stop cutting everywhere, including oaks.


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