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Environmental Board backs variance to remove heritage pecan tree

Friday, March 15, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

With the backing of city arborists, the Environmental Board recommended approval of a variance that will allow for the removal of a 30-inch heritage pecan tree at its meeting last week.


The board voted 6-0 to recommend the variance with Board Member Mary Ann Neely absent.


The pecan tree is currently located at 2818 Rio Grande Street. City Arborist Keith Mars explained that the tree is “predisposed to failure,” though it is not an imminent threat. He showed pictures of the tree, whose trunk leans a distinct 45 degrees. The tree is 53 feet tall, with a canopy spread of 42 feet


According to Mars, the canopy of the tree has major asymmetry, excessive storm damage and moderate decay.


Because there is no evidence of root decay or soil heaving, Mars said that the tree was not in imminent danger of failure, but determined that it was not reasonable to incorporate the tree into the proposed apartment building’s design, particularly given the fact that any construction nearby was likely to cause it to fall over, even if it was code compliant.


Mike McHone was representing Tribeca Group, who had acquired two adjacent lots, including 2818 Rio Grande. The group plans to demolish the existing structures, with the plan of developing them under their current MF-4 zoning. The zoning on the lot allows for 60 feet in building height, and developers hope to build an apartment building.


McHone explained that it was important to remove the tree now, regardless of any future plans.


“As property owners, we have now been noticed that we have a hazard and this tree needs to be removed because of the liability. If you don’t know the tree is a hazard, it’s an act of God. If you know the tree is a hazard, and you don’t remove it, it’s a liability problem,” said McHone. “So, we have a liability problem.”


Because the tree is not in great health, the recommended mitigation is for 150 percent. To meet that mitigation, developers have several opportunities. They could pay $9,000 into the Urban Forest Replenishment fund, $9,000 worth of tree care for public trees in the Shoal Creek Watershed, or plant 45 inches of native trees on public property in the Shoal Creek watershed. Due to the size and location of the site, there are no opportunities to mitigate on site.


Two other pecans, one 21-inch pecan and one 27-inch pecan will be preserved on the property. The Environmental Board tied its recommendation to the current site schematic, which preserves the two trees.


According to the board conditions, there is to be no removal of the tree until there is an approved site plan that preserves the other trees on the property.


Board Member Marisa Perales made a friendly amendment to include, in their recommendations, the city arborist’s opinion that “it is not possible to preserve this tree and develop the property.”


After a brief discussion about the Environmental Board’s recommendations, the Planning Commission this week also voted unanimously in favor of their recommendations, and the variance. The vote was 8-0, with Chair Dave Anderson absent.

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