George Suniga, a Salem (Oregon) developer, has this thing about beautiful large trees. He loves to cut them down. With or without a permit.
Here's his latest piece of work. Until a few days ago these marvelous oaks were some of the few trees left on Suniga's Waln Creek Estates subdivision.
My wife and I drive past the property just about every day. And for many years we had the Oregonian delivered to a paper box on the corner of Holder Lane and Liberty Road (we live too far out in the country for home delivery).
So I got to know the trees along Liberty pretty darn well. Every time I got out of the car to grab the newspaper, I'd be aware of the presence of these old massive denizens of Oregon—who were here long before I (or George Suniga) was, and deserved to live on well after us.
Now they're gone. When I saw them laying on the ground, I was suspicious as well as sad. Suniga's history with trees isn't going to win him any Arbor Day awards, to put it mildly.
Back in August of 2006, Suniga was fined $10,000 for illegally removing trees on the Waln Creek Estates property. His city –approved development plan required that he leave a maple, a spruce, and three fir trees. Suniga's excuse was lame.
A contractor removed the trees by mistake after their roots were damaged during the demolition of a house on the property, he said. "We cautioned them, but heck, you get those young guys bulldozing and they don't pay much attention," Suniga said.
Yeah, right. An opinion piece in the Salem Statesman Journal got it right: "Protection of trees was responsibility of home builder."
Suniga has been in the business for 45 years. It took me about one Google minute to learn how to protect trees from construction damage. It's hard to believe that the trees weren't removed on purpose.
As someone said on a Statesman Journal forum, $10,000 is pocket money to a developer. Until a fine is large enough to really hurt, some environmentally unconscious builders are going to continue to cut down trees without a permit in order to pad their bottom line.
Which is what Suniga did again just a few months later, on a different development.
This time he got fined $47,250 for removing 58 trees, three of which were larger than 24 inches around, without waiting for city approval. (Here's the newspaper story; couldn't find it online, but Beth Casper, the reporter, was kind enough to email me a copy). Download salem_developer_gets_second_fine_for_tree_removal.doc
And now, the oaks. I phoned the City of Salem and reached Brandi Dalton, a tree permit staffer. She told me that Suniga had permission to remove 11-12 trees along Liberty Road, adjacent to a right of way. The supposed reason? Sidewalks.
Hmmmm. I wasn't mollified. Some of the sidewalk along Liberty had been put in before the trees were cut down. The rest of the right of way had been graveled in preparation for the remaining sidewalk construction.
I took this photo today, two days after the photo above. The downed oaks already had been removed. I wanted to confirm that the sidewalk was quite a ways from the oak trunks.
It is. Much farther than the three feet that should separate a sidewalk and the trunk of a tree. A little web research also revealed that if a tree is close to a sidewalk, "deep-root trees such as oaks and maples are preferable to shallow-rooted trees like spruces and poplars."
So we have large oaks well away from a sidewalk right of way. Why cut them down? I phoned Ms. Dalton back, saying that I needed to know more about the reason a permit was given to remove the trees.
The message she left on our voice mail said that the contractor wasn't required to remove the trees. But improvements, which I gather meant the sidewalk, would affect the health of the trees. And some supposedly needed to be removed to build the sidewalk.
Well, the large oaks certainly didn't need to be removed, because they were still standing after the leveling and graveling for the sidewalk had been completed.
However, Ms. Dalton was right about the health of the trees being affected by the construction. Needlessly, in the opinion of my wife and me.
As we drove past the subdivision a week or two ago, we noticed that earthmoving equipment was working right around the base of the oak trees. Laurel said, "They're not going to survive."
It sure looks like the trees were damaged purposely, so there'd be more justification for a removal permit. Dirt was mounded up around the trunks to a depth of several feet.
You can see in this photo that the dirt had to be excavated before the oaks were cut down. In effect, the burial took place before the killing happened.
Experts say, "If you move large amounts of soil within a tree's root zone, you will likely kill the tree. Generally, any tree covered by more than 24" or more of fill should be removed."
Which is what happened. But Suniga is responsible for moving the dirt around the oaks, compacting the soil, and covering the trunks with several feet of fill.
He trashed the oaks. Then he got a permit to remove the damaged trees. What a _____. (I've filled in the blank in my own mind. I invite you to do the same.)
If you're thinking of buying a lot at Waln Creek Estates, consider what you're buying into. This is a subdivision that hasn't respected either the surrounding neighborhood or the trees on the property.
I've talked with some people who live in the area. They don't like Suniga's style: "He's irritated the majority of us," I was told.
This afternoon I phoned George Suniga's office. Most politely, I told the woman who answered the phone that my wife and I frequently drive past Waln Creek Estates and we noticed that the oaks along Liberty had been cut down.
I said that saddened us. But if there was a good reason for their removal, that'd make us feel better. Could she tell me what the reason was?
She laughed in a brittle "ha, ha" fashion. "I can't help you," she said. Click.
That told me a lot. You'd think that a builder would want to stay on the good side of the public, especially since it looks like lots are beginning to be sold at Waln Creek Estates. But all I got was an "I can't help you."
Well, I'm pleased to be able to help prospective lot buyers by providing some of the tree-unfriendly history of the subdivision.
You get what you pay for. In this case, part of what your purchase price would buy is the unnecessary destruction of some majestic old oaks and other trees.
Like they say, buyer beware.
Here's a cynical, yet accurate, observation that I heard an architect make: "Most developments are named after the property's attractive natural feature that got bulldozed away." You can bet a subdivision named "Tall Firs" won't have many, if any, left.
Similarly, there's no sign of a creek in Suniga's scorched earth development. But I didn't look in every culvert.
Lastly, just to show that I'm not completely negative toward real estate developers, here's some Internet-related advice:
If you think that some prospective buyers might search for information about your subdivision by typing the development's name as a URL, WalnCreekEstates.com, for example, early on you should spend $8.95 and reserve that domain name. Otherwise, someone else could.
That is sad. It seems that developers only value one green thing-- the dollar bill
Posted by: Rain | April 11, 2007 at 10:36 AM
I think your $8.95 investment is brilliant! (I checked on walncreek.com but I see some clever person (wink-wink) already owns that.) Do you know if Suniga is partnered with any particular realty firm on this development?
Posted by: Michael Smith | April 12, 2007 at 11:07 AM
Michael, a brilliant mind that would think of registering one domain name would also think of registering a similar name (wink-wink).
No, I don't know if Suniga is partnered with a realty firm. The phone number(s) on the sign shown in a photo lead to Suniga's office.
Does your own clever mind have any action-oriented ideas if a realty firm is indeed involved?
Hope your campaign for President, as a sound-thinking Republican, is going well. Blog readers should check out:
Posted by: Brian | April 12, 2007 at 02:21 PM
I can’t say that I have any brilliant ideas toward the realtor other than whatever public feedback can be mustered. The only real motivator is going to be monetary, and as you point out, the penalties for chopping the trees are minimal. I’m somewhat surprised that the trees didn’t have value in landscaping terms, but it sounds as though the site needed quite a bit of grading.
My campaign is somewhat low on steam lately. I’m increasingly frustrated that the Republican Party serves as a shelter for narrow-mindedness. While I frequently don’t agree with my Democratic friends on their approach, I think their intent is almost always well-meaning. But some of the recent debate in Salem over sexual orientation issues has brought out some in the Republican ranks who have little goodwill toward their fellow Oregonians, and an unfortunate willingness to employ government toward objectives that betray the true nature of their alleged moral superiority. I’ve encountered several who defend their bigotry as protected religious freedom. If I believed in hell, I’d pray for a special place for those who use their faith as a weapon against others.
I’m glad to see a bit of chaos in the Republican ranks, and I hope Texas Rep. Ron Paul gets some traction with some of this libertarian ideas. For myself, I’m starting to get engaged more in some local issues where my efforts might be more practical.
Posted by: Michael Smith | April 12, 2007 at 04:10 PM
The real fun would be if a planning department had the nerve to say to someone who illegally removed trees to build a subdivision, "No problem. We'll just wait for them to grow back before we issue you any building permits."
Posted by: Isaac Laquedem | April 14, 2007 at 11:23 PM
You can talk trash about George all day long. He recently sold the entire Waln Creek development to a local homebuilding company. He's been paid in full and laughing at you tree huggers all the way to the bank. I'm laughing at you too.
Posted by: JSG | September 29, 2007 at 04:41 PM
Leave George alone its a stinking tree vs making money. don't lie if it was your property you would accidentally cut it down too!
Posted by: Lauren | June 11, 2009 at 10:08 PM
Apparently he tries to bulldoze people too. He backed into my car in a parking lot and now - after admitting to me and to my insurance adjuster that it was his fault - he is claiming that he is not liable. Just because I wouldn't do things his way and not go through an insurance company, he decided to throw a tantrum. Guess he thinks money allows him to get away with things that we mere mortals can't do.
Posted by: JW | April 19, 2011 at 04:54 PM
Unfortunately the fines put in place by your government and city officials has made it not much of penalty in these situations. On the flip side of it all your probably not aware that Mr. Suniga is the 2nd most charitable individual in the Salem area behind Mr. Dan G. You are probably not aware that Mr. Suniga has put countless families in tragedy into a home or apartment free of charge for up to a year for the family to get back on their feet. Just wanted to point out both sides of the equation, maybe doing some homework before you open your mouth next time. Sincerely, a Salem resident.
Posted by: Cory | March 22, 2013 at 11:28 AM
Cory, so you agree that Suniga cuts down trees for no good reason and scoffs at laws designed to prevent this. You don't disagree with anything I said in this post.
I don't care about Suniga's supposed charitable giving. So what? My wife and I give to charities. Thus I'm a wonderful person in that regard also. Why didn't you ask me about my charitable giving before you left your comment?
Oh, I know. Because that fact has nothing to do with the subject of this post: George Suniga cuts down trees illegally and makes a lot of money from this. Then he gives some to charity, which doesn't excuse the non-permitted tree cutting.
Posted by: Brian Hines | March 22, 2013 at 11:37 AM