Planners have proposed a change to Oak Harbor’s oak protection ordinance in an attempt to save a tree from development.
An Oak Harbor group dedicated to preservation of the city’s namesake trees hopes that the city also takes the opportunity to look at another shortcoming in the code.
Oak Harbor Planning Commission is taking public comment Tuesday, May 23, on a proposed text amendment to city code on variances for oak tree protection. The meeting is at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall.
Garry oak trees in the city are protected under the city’s “Oak Tree Protection” section of code, 20.16, and under “Variances for oak tree protection,” 19.66.040. The code prohibits the damaging, topping, mutilating or killing of the trees, with some exception.
Senior Planner Cac Kamak said the purpose of the proposed change is to make the code more flexible in terms of how close construction can come to a Garry oak tree. The code states no hard surface shall be allowed within the drip line of an oak tree “to the maximum extent possible.”
The current codes states that a variance may be granted to allow the intrusion of a building into a setback yard by 10 feet to preserve an oak tree located elsewhere on the property, but that the setback shall not be less than five feet to a side yard or 10 feet to an adjacent public street.
“We thought the limitations didn’t serve the purpose of the code, which is to protect oak trees,” Kamak said.
Kamak said the proposed change would allow variances on a site-by-site basis.
The impetus for the change, Kamak said, was a developer’s request under the “reasonable use exception” of the oak protection rules to fell an oak in the Rose Hill neighborhood to make way for a townhouse. A property owner seeking to develop his or her land may receive a reasonable use exception if the application of critical areas regulations — which include the oak protection code — would deny all reasonable economic use of the property.
Changing the code, he said, may allow the developer to build a home and save the tree.
Laura Renninger with the Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society said any code changes related to oak trees must be accompanied by much more comprehensive rules protecting the trees during construction. Currently, the code says “suitable protective barriers shall be erected around oak trees” during construction.
The language, she said, is too vague. She points to oak tree protection rules in Oak Bay, British Columbia, which have specific rules about how trees should be protected during construction.
Members of the society plan to speak at the planning commission meeting and display photos of construction sites containing mature trees on Melrose Drive and Ireland Street — where there appeared to be no protections — to illustrate their point, Renninger said.