Eucalyptus saga continues

Eucalyptus saga continues
Council members agreed to hear an appeal of a Planning Commission decision that a row of eucalyptus trees on property at 110 Stratford Court does not unreasonably block the view of a condominium owner on Spinnaker Court. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — An ongoing dispute over privacy versus scenic views will continue after council members at the June 5 meeting voted 4-1 not to follow a staff recommendation and instead decided to hear an appeal of a Planning Commission decision.

At issue is a grove of blue-gum eucalyptus trees and other vegetation on property owned by the Staver family, also referred to as Torrey Pacific Corporation, at 110 Stratford Court.

Ralph and Marian Staver, who have since passed away and left the parcel to their children, bought the 5.8-acre lot in 1950.

Some eucalyptus trees existed at the time. Others were planted in the early 1970s, when the Del Mar Woods condominium complex was built on adjacent land to the north.

In 2003, a group of Del Mar Woods owners submitted an application under the Trees, Scenic Views and Sunlight Ordinance, which allows the city to direct a property owner to restore scenic views or sunlight lost as a result of tree and vegetation growth on another property.

A compromise was reached that included trimming the trees without sacrificing the Stavers’ privacy, so the application was closed.

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

Three years later the Planning Commission concluded the views of four of seven condominium owners who filed the application, including Lauren Ritman who lived at 118 Spinnaker Court, were being unreasonably blocked by a row of the eucalyptus trees.

Opposed to restorative action that included a tree-trimming plan later adopted by the commission, those owners filed an appeal request, as did one owner whose view was determined to not be unreasonably blocked.

City Council denied the appeal.

Shirli Weiss bought the condominium at 116 Spinnaker Court, next door to Ritman, in November 2014. Nine months later she filed a view blockage application.

In a 3-2 vote at the April 11, 2017, meeting the Planning Commission determined the view from her primary living was not unreasonably blocked and was essentially the same as when she first occupied the condo in January 2015.

Weiss filed an appeal claiming the commission failed to correctly interpret the ordinance and its findings were not supported by the record. Additionally, new information was presented during the hearing.

Weiss said if the appeal was granted she could provide more information.

The Torrey Pacific Corporation said the Planning Commission decision should be upheld because Weiss should not be entitled to more view than what existed when she bought the condo.

The property owners also agreed to continue voluntarily trimming for at least the next two years.

“I think that this voluntary program has been issued as a substitute for the operation of the ordinance,” Weiss said. “It’s time for the City Council to weigh in here. It’s not being enforced by the Planning Commission.

“The resolution that is on the books allows the tree owner to completely block my view,” she added. “I have no remedy. The ordinance does not substitute a voluntary program. It contemplates a reasonable preservation program.

“Voluntary, as the tree owner has insisted in writing repeatedly, means it can change its mind any time,” Weiss said. “If the City Council does not undertake to do this and I don’t take action, then it can be argued that I’m waiving my rights.

“I love this city,” she added. “I don’t want to sue the city. But if the City Council doesn’t take an interest in this that leaves me with nowhere to go but Superior Court.”

Chris Garrett, an attorney representing Torrey Pacific, said in the 67 years the Stavers have owned the property they have reached a number of voluntary agreements with several people who haven’t gone through the Planning Commission process.

“I don’t think you need to have an adjudication each time someone is worried that there may be a view blockage in the future,” Garrett said. “There may be times when a property owner acts in bad faith and you need to make a decision.

“But I don’t think that’s one of them here,” he added. “The commitment is in the staff report that we made to at least keep it trimmed exactly the way it is … until June of 2019. And as good neighbors we hope to continue that as we have with a number of other voluntary agreements.”

Only two of the five City Council members needed to agree to set the de novo hearing. Dave Druker was opposed.

The soonest it could be back in front of council is July 17.

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