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The City Journals

Tree ordinance open house goes rogue

Jun 19, 2017 12:33PM ● By Aspen Perry

Councilmember Steve Gunn describes resident feedback graph and discusses issues. (Aspen Perry/City Journals)

By Aspen Perry  |  [email protected]
On Tuesday, June 13, Holladay residents came out in full force to voice their concerns over the proposed tree-protection ordinance, which took a surprising turn given the number of residents who requested the city take action to protect Holladay trees during a Marchcity council meeting.
An hour after the open house kicked off, there was a heated exchange between Walker Lane residents. The two parties walked away with one side feeling attacked and the other far from going the route of love thy neighbor.
“(Some of) these are old dead trees — what (you’re) doing is spending a lot of money to recreate the canopy,” said a female bystander after the exchange took place.
The June 13 open house was the result of city officials addressing resident concerns and requests to have Holladay establish a tree-protection ordinance. Drafting the ordinance was no small feat, and included the Holladay City Tree Committee, an ad hoc committee of city staff, and assistance from former City Planner Pat Hanson and Cottonwood resident Kim Kimball.
“The tree committee has long been concerned about the continuing reduction in the size of the tree canopy in Holladay’s urban forest,” said Steve Gunn, District 4 council member.
Gunn went on to explain Holladay already had two tree ordinances on the books, one designed to prevent the removal of trees without permission from the city’s right-of-way, and another that prohibits removing or damaging trees near ditches, canals or streams.
“In essence, the new ordinance will amend those by limiting the ability of lot owners to remove larger trees in certain areas of the city, without providing a replacement,” Gunn said.
The ordinance at first glance was seemingly welcomed by the community with open arms, especially by residents in the Cottonwood and Walker Lane neighborhoods.
However, as the Little Cottonwood room in City Hall began to fill during the evening of the open house, group chatter revealed a change of heart was in the air. Either citizens had gone rogue, or there were just more residents than initially realized that were not in favor of being told what they were allowed to do on their property.
Though the ordinance stated it would not prohibit “the removal of trees that are a hazard risk,” several open house attendees expressed concern regarding the problems that would arise from the fees associated with complying in the event they did need to remove a diseased or dying tree.
One Walker Lane resident with a second home in the foothill overlay of Arizona did not want to see Holladay faced with what is happening in Arizona now.
“We have an overlay where our house is in Arizona that has become a disaster — people don’t take care of their trees because of the cost of the permit and specialist coming in … it becomes too expensive to take (dead trees) out,” the Walker Lane resident said.
She went on to say, “I think a better solution to all this would be start educating everyone about the importance of the trees, what the diseases are in the area. Education would be a better way to save the trees.”
In addition to fears of healthy trees being cut down to appease land developers, what seemed to be the real elephant in the room was being discussed in many small groups. Residents discussed their concerns regarding the old cottonwood trees on their lots suffering from disease or beetles and shelling out unnecessary funds to have those trees removed.
According to several professional arborist companies in Utah, many of the cottonwood trees in the urban forest area are diseased and dying — an issue no ordinance can stop.  
While some species ofcottonwoods can live upwards of 150 years, others have a life expectancy of 40–50 years and all varieties are prone to disease. Despite their sturdy appearance, cottonwoods are considered by arborists to be “weak” trees.  
As one enraged open houses attendee shouted, her family had been in Holladay for 100 years, meaning many of those large cottonwoods either have already, or are about to, hit their quota.  
This made some residents question how to keep Holladay, specifically the urban forest area of Walker and Cottonwood Lane, beautiful for future generations.
It is a question Talia and Eldin Diglisic, the property owners currently under fire for clear-cutting their lot, took into great consideration.
Utah born and bred and an avid rock climber, Talia dreamed of owning a home on Walker Lane as a youth.
“This was nothing short of a dream — I use to drive down Walker Lane and think, ‘how would it be to live here?’” said Talia.
“We want to have the atmosphere they got to grow up in,” she said. “Why can’t we have the same? Our trees were not healthy, though a few may have had a couple years left, I thought why not get them out now.”
After consulting with two arborists, the Diglisics decided to cut down trees on their recently purchased property, including the street canopy, due to a disease in the trees they were informed was too far gone to treat. Though those trees came out, they had already planned on over $400,000 worth of trees and landscaping to replace what was torn down. They planned to plant stronger and more disease-resistant trees like sycamores and white oaks, starting at 15–30 feet tall.
Money Talia was reconsidering spending after an unfortunate encounter with a few angered neighbors.
Another resident in support of the tree ordinance described her love of the trees and the habitat they provide, as well as keeping Holladay cooler. Following her initial reason for attending, she further stated the ordinance should “be practical and fair,” stating that “no one minds big homes as long as there is consideration for the environment.”
As the evening wound down and cooler heads prevailed, the general consensus seemed to be everyone is Team Trees.  The real dividing factor was the approach in how to both protect the trees and keep Holladay beautiful.
With some sitting firmly in the camp of “don’t mess with nature” and another side wanting to replace the diseased and dying trees, no one envies the choice the council has in front of them.
To stay up to date on what the council decides, visit the city of Holladay’s website.