So how would you feel if you lived next to 27 acres of untouched forest land just outside the Salem city limits, and one day logging equipment rolls in to clear-cut all of the trees -- firs, white oaks, other species?
And when you asked someone in charge why this was being done, they reportedly said, "I'm logging it for timber."
Except, it turns out that this really isn't true, because a 46 acre, 212 lot subdivision is planned for the property that's north of Robins Lane SE and west of the I-5 freeway.
To cap it off, you later learn that the developer of that property submitted a Pre-Application with the City of Salem in April 2017, because the developer wants the land annexed by the city, plus, of course, approval of the 212 lot subdivison.
In the Pre-Application report prepared by the Community Development Department, there's a requirement that the developer prepare a tree conservation plan "to preserve all heritage trees, significant trees, trees and native vegetation within riparian corridors, and a minimum of 25 percent of the remaining trees on the property."
From what I've said so far, it's completely understandable why the people who live near the proposed subdivision are angered by the loss of the urban forest, which reportedly included quite a few large white oaks.
I learned about the clear-cutting and subdivision plans from Andrea Balcavage.
She lives near the proposed development and took on the task of reaching out to people like me who could publicize what's going on. We talked by phone a few days ago, then Andrea emailed me some photos and documents, which I'll share below.
Part of what irritates Andrea and her neighbors is that they live close to the I-5 freeway, and the trees that were cut down served as a sound barrier. In an email, she said:
Another big concern is that the freeway is LOUD, we can all hear it, even inside with windows closed. The trees provided sound and wind protection. Wind is crazy up here now. I'm sure there would have been a sound wall built when the neighborhood was built had the trees not been there.
Here's some before and after photos that Andrea shared.
Here's the Pre-Application Report from the City of Salem.
Download 2017 Pre-App - Lot 083W1300201
Mark Ferris of Salem's Project Delivery Group is shown as the Applicant/Representative. This afternoon I left a message asking Ferris to call me back, as I have some questions for him. Basically, they are:
(1) Was a tree conservation plan prepared prior to the clear-cutting of the 27 acres, as the City of Salem seemingly required?
(2) Why were all of the trees on the 27 acres cut down, given the fact that they provided a freeway sound buffer, and it is well known that large trees add value to a lot, being something that most homebuyers want?
Andrea told me that Marion County doesn't protect any trees. This must explain why the clear-cutting was allowed, even though the property is bordered on three sides by land within the Salem city limits. Part of the clear-cutting permit is shown above.
One MBF is a thousand board feet, which is 83.33 cubic feet. So 450 MBF is 37,499 cubic feet, or 1,389 cubic yards of wood. Imagine 1,389 blocks of solid wood three feet high, three feet wide, and three feet deep. That's how much wood was in the trees clear-cut in the south Salem urban forest.
As reflected in the questions I want to ask of Mark Ferris, it doesn't seem right that the developer of the proposed subdivision should get a free pass on having their property be annexed by the City of Salem if a tree conservation plan was required, but wasn't prepared.
Now, it may be that a tree conservation plan was prepared. If so, it's perplexing why, according to Andrea, many large trees, including white oaks, were cut down this year. Above is the tree section of the Pre-Application Report.
And here's another section of the report with a requirement that seems at odds with how the 27 acres was logged.
This is an image which gives a pretty good view of how many trees were on the subdivision property. Another view can be obtained by comparing the subdivision vicinity map below with the following Google Images screenshot. Robins Lane is the orange "pin" in the Google Images screenshot.
I could be wrong, but the maps I've shared sure seem to show that most of the trees on the 46 acre, 212-lot proposed subdivision already have been cut down. I look forward to learning from Mark Ferris if this is correct.
(I'm going to send him a link to this blog post with a request for comment, if he doesn't return my call before I publish it.)
If I'm right, and a tree conservation plan wasn't prepared prior to the clear-cutting, that would make a tree conservation plan pretty damn easy to prepare -- since there are few trees remaining on the property.
Andrea told me that on her .16 acre lot, which isn't much larger than the size of the lots in the proposed 212-lot subdivision, there are seven oak trees. So when her Robins Lane neighborhood came to be, the developer had the foresight and wisdom to save many significant large trees.
Yet now, in 2018, developers can get away with removing every large tree, then they plant small trees that will take dozens of years to grow to the size of the trees that were cut down. Something is wrong here.
It may be legal to clear-cut 27 acres of urban forest, but it sure isn't the right thing to do.
UPDATE: I just talked with a City of Salem planner who confirmed what I suspected. Even though the developer was told that a tree conservation plan was required in a Pre-Application Report, this only applies when the actual subdivision plans are submitted. So the developer was able to cut down all of the trees on the property, or almost all of them, prior to submitting a subdivision application.
Of course, now there won't be a need for a tree conservation plan, because there are no or very few trees on the property.
The planner said that the only way to stop this sort of thing would either be for the Marion County Commissioners to change their ordinance, or for the City of Salem and Marion County to enter into an Intergovernmental Agreement that would stop the practice of clear-cutting on unincorporated land prior to a developer asking for the property to be added to the city limits.
I asked if there was any way City officials could penalize the developer for running roughshod over the spirit of Salem's tree preservation regulations, and I got no answer. So it looks like the developer will be able to move ahead with a request for the property to become part of the City of Salem, even though the developer clear-cut the 27 acres in a fashion that was against City policies.