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Holladay residents 'appalled' over removal of historic trees.

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The remains of some of the cherished trees cut down by a new owner of a large Holladay lot. - SUSAN BASMAJIAN
  • Susan Basmajian
  • The remains of some of the cherished trees cut down by a new owner of a large Holladay lot.
Holladay residents turned out in full force Thursday evening at the city's council meeting to express their devastation at a neighbor's felling of cottonwood trees on his own land, significantly impacting the much loved tree canopy on Walker Lane.

Several  asked the council to come up with a new ordinance to protect trees in an area that is famous locally for its majestically-tall, 100 year-old cottonwoods. Council member Steven Gunn told the meeting that such an ordinance had been in development for months through "the tree committee," in response to several similar issues in another part of the city.

Before the meeting resident Susan Basmajian, who is a neighbor to the lot where the trees were cut down, told City Weekly that the trees "have historical value. They're part of why people love living here." In the summer the tree canopy keeps the neighborhood a good 10 degrees or more cooler than the rest of the city. However, she and other residents recognize that they have a potentially tough fight on their hands when it comes to property rights in Utah circumscribing their desire to protect the canopy from further attrition.

Last summer, the council witnessed emotional turmoil over possible plans to bring in archers to cull deer that were plaguing some residents' land. If Thursday's public comments were less charged than the deer debate, it was only because this was a very  one-sided debate, with neither the now treeless property owner or supporters of such actions present.

You can see what the canopy used to look like here.

On Monday, March 20, contractors cut down 13 cottonwoods at the front of a recently purchased 2.2 acre lot, according to one speaker at the meeting. Thirteen trees soon became  25, says Basmajian over several days that left what one resident called "the lovely smile" of Walker Lane disfigured by "a broken tooth."

The trees were on a 2.25 acre lot bought by a family new to the neighborhood. Several residents said that when they talked to contractors who cut down the trees, they learned the new owners planned to build a house close to the street and were concerned the trees could potentially fall on their property. Indeed, several arborists brought into consult had informed the family the trees were rotten, although photos of the exposed cores of the cut down trees displayed no evidence of it.

Some residents expressed deep disquiet at finding Walker Lane dramatically depleted off trees that had formed part of the canopy. A former Holladay planning commission co-chair and longtime resident—"95 percent of my life in this city"—Kim Kimball, told the council, "I've never been so upset, so saddened" as he was at the fate of the trees. "If you take away the trees, then we're just like any other community."

He underscored what others would go on to say, namely that a new ordinance was needed urgently as new owners came into the city, perhaps unaware of the importance the trees held for the community.

Several residents talked about the need to educate new owners about the value of legacy trees, which means trees with a historical, cultural value to the area.

One resident spoke for a number of her neighbors at how frustrated she was at being unable to properly vent her feelings. "I can't tell you the anger I have as I drive down this lane. I don't know where to put it."

Council member Mark Stewart made it clear that the new owner was well within his rights to cut down the trees. "It's private property, the city doesn't have any control," he said. However, he continued,  the council members all "love the idea of the trees in Holladay; of the tree canopy. There isn't anyone here who isn't just as appalled."

Gunn joined with Stewart in stating his outrage, particularly after seeing the lot. But the city would have to proceed acknowledging there were "constitutional considerations" and  "practical issues as to how to enforce a [tree] ordinance, how to determine what can and can't be cut down."

Officials told the concerned residents to check the city's website for an initial proposal of what an ordinance would look like. That would then trigger public hearings to get feedback, followed by a formal vote.

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