Tree clearing plan at farm sparks uproar
By TRISTAN BAURICK Staff Writer
Aug 05 2006
Vista Drive neighbors want better views, while a long-time farmer digs in.
Akio Suyematsu – at 84 years and just over 5 feet tall – isn’t going to budge if the chainsaws come.
“I’d like to see them take my trees,” Suyematsu said Thursday, after learning of a city proposal to remove and prune trees he planted nearly 60 years ago on his family’s Day Road farm. “If I’m here, I’ll kick ’em out.”
But the 15-acre farm is now city property, purchased from Suyematsu five years ago as open space while allowing Suyematsu to work the land until 2012.
Residents along neighboring Vista Drive to the east have complained that the narrow stand of approximately 80 trees blocks views and are a danger to their homes.
The City Council on Wednesday will discuss an agreement with seven Vista Drive property owners allowing an arborist to trim branches for improved west-facing views, which includes farm fields, a vineyard and the Olympic Mountains. Eight trees judged dead or dying would also get the axe as a safety measure, according to the proposal.
In return, the city would gain the right to maintain a narrow irrigation and stormwater ditch cut by Suyematsu’s family. The ditch, which helps prevent flooding in Suyematsu’s berry fields and other agricultural lands, bisects nine Vista Drive residents’ properties and is almost entirely outside of the city’s property, according to city staff.
The ditch’s location touched off a property dispute after Vista Drive was developed in the 1960s.
The city, in an effort to avoid costly litigation, crafted a proposal aimed at compromise between the city and residents.
Vista Drive residents commended the city for its work over the last year in trying to reach a compromise.
“They don’t want our seven or eight lawyers with their one lawyer,” said Vista Drive resident Walter Braswell. “The city has enough on its plate other than dealing with this.”
Braswell and other residents expressed hope that the agreement will improve safety and the aesthetic value of their properties.
“One of the branches came down on my house four years ago,” said Braswell. “It put a 4-inch hole in my roof. We want to get rid of these widow-maker trees.”
Braswell also wants additional limb trimmings to better enjoy views from his property.
“That’s the reason we came here – the quality of life,” he said. “It’s about sharing the panoramic view and the pastoral view. Many people like to look at the farm.”
But Suyematsu and other farmers on Day Road would prefer not to have a view of Braswell’s home.
“One of the values of this place is you don’t see sprawl,” said winemaker Gerard Bentryn, who owns vineyards adjacent to the Suyematsu property. “What the city’s proposing will be is a kick in the island’s scenic pants.”
Suyematsu said he planted the trees – many of which are 40 to 60-foot Douglas firs – to conceal the residential development as it cropped up next to his farm.
“When I sold the property to (the city), I said, ‘no houses, and you better not cut my trees,’” he said.
Suyematsu has allowed Vista Drive residents to trim his trees in the past. But his view of his neighbors and the city has soured.
“They’re double-crossers,” he said. “If I die tomorrow, (the city) will probably come in and build houses.”
Ann Frothingham, whose family owns two parcels bordering Vista Drive, hopes the agreement will cause no ill-will with Suyematsu or Day Road’s farmers.
“I love Akio...and I love the trees,” she said. “I wish they weren’t firs. They grow a hundred feet high. I think (replacing them) with some flowering trees would be lovely.
“But there’s no question they impact the property when you look out at a line of firs.”
Some methods prescribed by an arborist’s assessment commissioned by the city and conducted by Seattle-based Tree Solutions include the removal of some lower limbs, re-cutting the tops of trees that were lopped off in the past and removal of young alders to reduce future pruning and possible safety risks.
Island plant pathologist Olaf Ribeiro, who has consulted for the city on tree retention issues in the past, has strong doubts about the Tree Solutions’ assessment.
“It upset me,” he said. “It’s all about taking out trees and topping them and nothing about saving them or improving the vigor of the trees. Several of the trees could be treated with just mulch and fertilizer.”
Ribeiro is also concerned that tree removal could destabilize the surrounding slope and flood farmland below.
“Those are big trees and it’ll make a big difference,” he said. “You’ll definitely see flooding down there.”
While arborists, city officials and home owners may debate the future of the trees, Suyematsu says the answer is simple: he was there first.
“If I was here last, I wouldn’t say too much,” he said. “But this farm was already here. My dad came here in 1928. Now these houses come here and they have more rights than me? That’s not right.”