Oak Harbor has a tough-sounding ordinance meant to protects its namesake Garry oak trees, but the handling of the Fidalgo oak situation proves the ordinance has no teeth.
Sure, the ordinance protects a limb or two that a homeowner might prefer to trim, but when a developer wants to decimate a grand oak tree, then that’s OK.
A reading of the city’s oak tree protection ordinance starts out, “no person shall remove, top, damage, destroy, break, injure, mutilate or kill any oak tree.” Of course, it spells out exceptions, called variances, but even those are restrictive. Nothing indicates four of a tree’s six trunks can be removed, its canopy vastly reduced in scope and its roots disrupted, as will happen to the Fidalgo oak tree.
The blame for this lies not so much with the developers, who understandably want to maximize profits, but rather with the city’s planning department. Planners approved the developer’s drastic pruning plan despite the fact it mutilates the intent of the ordinance, approved by the elected city council, and then pitched the plan to the city’s hearing examiner whose highly disappointing ruling sided with the developers against citizens who took the oak tree ordinance seriously. Turns out they were wrong. The ordinance is considered a joke in the planning department, something to be skirted rather than obeyed.
So the city council’s oak tree protection ordinance has become a laughingstock in the planning department and in the development community. One would think that a council with backbone would react strongly to this violation of trust.