Priory: Senator asks town to justify 'excessive' tree fees

By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Editor
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Many at the Regina Caeli priory hearing last week expressed strong concern over the project’s tree mitigation fees. The town is charging the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist $662,000 for the removal of 192 native oak trees that are in poor to fair condition, and the sisters are replanting 400 trees. Those voicing opposition include State Senator Doug La Malfa, who represents the 4th District. His district director Lisa Buescher, attended the Feb. 7 planning commission meeting to speak on his behalf. Buescher called the fees excessive. “The Senator believes that if 200 trees are to be removed in order to construct the priory, at $500 a tree, simple mathematics dictates that 200 trees times $500 a tree, equals $100,000. This appears to be excessive when the conditions are requiring the sisters to pay for 1,324 trees at $500 a tree equaling the $662,000 amount.” Buescher said LaMalfa wants an explanation from the Town and their justification for the fees and tree mitigation policy. Planning commissioner Jean Wilson said, “I have a hard time justifying these costs. The tree ordinance has serious problems.” Wilson said she did some property value research and found two 20-acre parcels currently for sale in Loomis, with an asking price of approximately $40,000 per acre. She said at that price the 40 acres of priory land would be valued at $1.6 million. Wilson said if the sisters were not planting 400 trees, their fees would be $800,000. “That’s half the value of the land,” Wilson said. “Only 28 percent of the project’s trees are being cut. They’re not giant oak,” she said. Loomis’ tree ordinance requires mitigation fees for the number of trees removed per property, with no consideration as to the lot size. The price is the same whether it be10 trees on one acre or ten trees on 100 acres. The other consideration is the requirement for replacement trees. The basic formula is approximately one 15-gallon replacement tree for every one inch in diameter of the removed tree. According to the town tree ordinance, the in-lieu mitigation fees are not actually based on the trees removed, but on the number of replacement trees. The fees are “for the cost of purchasing, planting and irrigating the number of 15-gallon trees required.” Per the town’s tree removal ordinance, fees for removing protected oak trees are $100 for one to four trees; $300 for five to nine trees; and $500 each for ten or more trees. The priory land has 697 protected oak trees, with 192 slated for removal. Those trees are arborist-rated at poor to fair condition. Former town councilman Tom Millward called the fees being charged the sisters “extortion.” “This ordinance is outdated. That’s too much money. None of us could afford to live in Loomis now, if that is the case,” Millward said. Former councilman Russ Kelley said, “We need to do something about the tree ordinance. We need to figure out things to do with the money and reduce it to some practical amount.” Richard Azevedo, who owns property in Loomis, said he considers the fee “a little over the top.”