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Atascadero council approves removal of 100-year-old tree 

This Coast Live Oak in front of Sylvester's in Atascadero will be removed in the near future after the Atascadero City Council denied an appeal of the planning commission's approval. Photo by Heather Young

This Coast Live Oak in front of Sylvester’s in Atascadero will be removed in the near future after the Atascadero City Council denied an appeal of the planning commission’s approval. Photo by Heather Young

Members site safety as No. 1 reason for tree removal

The Atascadero City Council denied an appeal to reconsider the planning commission’s approval to remove a 100-year-old Coast Live Oak tree next to Sylvester’s on the corner of El Camino Real and West Mall. The commission approved the removal request in a 4-3 vote, which Community Development Director Warren Frace said was due to dissent over whether or not to require the tree to replaced.

“We were essentially unanimous on the subject that the tree should come down … the only question that we divided on really was the question was that sylvester should plant another tree there,” Planning Commissioner Len Colamarino said.  “We felt that a new tree really wouldn’t improve the aesthetics anytime soon.”

The tree in question was planted in 1915 as part of Administration Park, which is the name the city’s founder, E.G. Lewis, gave the area around the city hall. When Sylvester’s owner Brian Englund purchased the building in 2008, he had an arborist look at the tree. That arborist determined that the tree had poor pruning that caused it stress and a decline in health. In October 2013, a large limb — 18-inches in diameter — fell, though no one was hurt. An arborist went out again and then the city sent out its arborist — Mike Bolba for a second opinion.

While Bolba said that Coast Live Oaks can live up to 300 to 400 years in native landscape settings, in this kind of landscape it is rare to last longer than 100 or 150 years. This tree suffered bad pruning that severely damaged its health.

“If it could cry, you’d be hearing it.” Bolba said.

“It is distressed, you can see it,” Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi agreed.

Bolba said that he originally recommended mitigation before removing the tree, but in the end it is up to the owner on how much liability he or she wants to assume. Englund said he came to the conclusion that removing the tree would be the best option.

“I only want to do best for the people sitting underneath [the tree],” Englund said, adding that he does not want to remove the tree because it offers the best shading he could hope for and because it aesthetically makes the business.

After the planning commission approved the removal, Atascadero citizen Chris began a social media campaign to get the item reconsidered. He said he didn’t really want to do it, but when he found out that the tree was going to be removed, he felt that it warranted additional discussion.

“I believe that the majority in this town if they would drive by one day and see the Sylvester’s tree cut down without really knowing much about it,” Johns said. “I think there would have been a lot of out-lash or outcry. … I hope that future heritage trees go through this process. I really do feel they are a treasure of our city. … We should take any conceivable measure to try to save them.”

In the appeal, Frace said that the council had four choices: to uphold the planning commission’s decision, uphold the decision but require that the tree be replaced,

The council voted 5-0 to uphold the planning commission’s approve, along with Englund paying $1,067.67 into the tree mitigation fund. Fonzi asked that language be added that the council can opt to replace the tree in the future at its expense since the tree is in the city’s right-of-way.

“I’m willing to say yes, but with reservation,” Councilwoman Heather Moreno said. “I’d like to say this: safety does trump and if somebody were hurt I couldn’t get past that so I will vote yes.”

All the council members agreed that the safety of Sylvester’s customers and Atascadero citizens come first. Englund said he wants to take care of the issue as soon as he can, though no removal date has yet been determined.


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