Council denies request to review ruling on eucalyptus trees

Council denies request to review ruling on eucalyptus trees
Del Mar City Council members decline to set a future public hearing to review and possibly overturn a Planning Commission decision to trim rather than remove several blue gum eucalyptus trees on property located at 110 Stratford Court. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — Requests to appeal a Planning Commission decision about view blockage caused by eucalyptus trees were denied by the City Council at the Dec. 5 meeting, ending a dispute that began more than a decade ago unless the homeowners decide to spend more money on attorney and court fees.

At least two council members had to agree to review and possibly overturn the commission’s recent decisions at a future public hearing. None did. Terry Sinnott could not participate because he lives near the property being discussed.

“At least hear out your citizens,” said Sam Blick, a lawyer representing a group of condominium owners from Del Mar Woods. “All we were asking for was a little courtesy, and we didn’t get it.”

At issue are several blue gum eucalyptus trees located on a 5.8-acre lot at 110 Stratford Court. Ralph and Marian Staver, who have since passed away and left the parcel to their children, bought the property in 1950.

Some eucalyptus trees existed at the time. Others were planted in the early 1970s, when Del Mar Woods was built.

The current problems began in 2003, when a group of homeowners submitted an application under the trees, scenic views and sunlight ordinance that was adopted that year claiming the blue gums were blocking their ocean views.

The lawyer representing the Stavers at the time worked out a compromise with the condo owners that included trimming the trees without compromising the Stavers’ privacy, so the application was closed.

The deal was not perfect, some property owners said, but it seemed to solve the issue at the time.

In 2012, dissatisfied with the results of the trimming, another application was filed under the ordinance. Condo owners said the rapid-growth trees blocked their views in between trimmings, which they claim were done in such a way that the result was ugly trees. A mediation attempt failed.

At that time the condo group had grown to 28 but eventually only seven were deemed to have complete application materials.

In November 2015, the Planning Commission ultimately determined the trees caused “unreasonable” view blockage to four homeowners in three buildings. Commissioners Ellen Haviland and Nate McCay were named to a subcommittee to determine what restorative action should be taken.

Plans presented in May included trimming the trees to a reliable baseline rather than removing them. But they needed to be revised so the panel continued the issue.

According to the new plan, approved in September, a proposal to remove some existing mature trees was abandoned. Individual trimming rights, for specific trees and adjacent vegetation, was given to each of the four applicants who had been deemed to have unreasonable view blockage.

They would be able to have specific trees trimmed and laced in a manner consistent with past

practices and would be required to pay for the work.

Within the required 10 days they filed for an appeal.

Blick said the council decision was unfair for several reasons. He said the trees are a fire hazard and have been determined to cause unreasonable blockage of scenic views so they should be removed.

He also said since no one lives on the property there is no need for privacy, as the Stavers claim. But Brian Staver said dozens of his relatives use the property annually. He said he is trying to find an amicable solution.

“We have forward blinders on,” he said “We’re willing to work with our neighbors.”

“If someone lived there and they had a pool then you could understand it,” Blick said.

“You don’t need that giant row of trees to block views 24/7 for people who only visit the property a few times a year.”

He also said forcing the condo owners to pay for the trimming is unacceptable.

“That’s a terrible thing to do to these people,” he said. “It’s never going to happen because they can’t afford it. Plus it doesn’t work.”

Blick said his clients could take the matter to court.

“But that’s so expensive, so they probably won’t,” he said. “And they shouldn’t have to go to court to enforce a city ordinance.”

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