Point of view: tree fouls out

A few weeks ago the Seattle Times ran a story about a tree whose existence is straining a long-term neighborly relationship. The feud’s between former Mariners first baseman John Olerud and his neighbor Bruce Baker, both of whom live in the Clyde Hill area (a bit north of Bill Gates’ place in Medina). Baker owns a Chinese pine (red or white, I’m not sure, but I’m guessing red based on the photos) which interferes with Olerud’s view of Lake Washington and the Seattle skyline.

You can read the entire story on the link above, but I’m particularly interested in the following points from the article:

  • "The tree, with a 2-foot-thick trunk, was there long before the Oleruds built their home."
  • Baker "wasn’t willing to cut down a tree that his arborist called very rare and valued at $18,000."
  • Clyde Hill is "one of the first in the nation to adopt a process for condemning trees that block too much of neighbors’ sunlight or scenic views."
  • "You guys saw the trees," Olerud said at the board hearing. "They’re not attractive trees. I would say they’re the kind of tree that only an arborist would love."

So…what would YOU do if you were on the board making this decision? (Be sure to do your homework and read the entire article before weighing in.)

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

24 thoughts on “Point of view: tree fouls out”

  1. This almost reminds me of that Redwood Trees controversy in Santa Clara California where the trees were already existing long before the neighbour wanted to install Solar Panels. As time goes on such qualities as neighbourliness go further and further into the proverbial toilette. It sounds like the Council is the one to be forced to make the decision. whether the two come to an agreement or the council decides, this friendship is over. I understand this controversy and have written about it in my blog. My mum was forced to cut down a native Laurel Sumac because the next door neibour insisted it was going to turn into a giant tree and crack his concrete block wall. That was a lie as Laurel Sumac in San Diego co never comes close to attaining such a massive growth. The shrub was never cut as long as I lived there before moving to Sweden 6 years ago. My mother was affraid of this guy and caved in and had my brother cut it down. The guy was still never friendly after that. His whole yard from front to back was almost all concrete. He didn’t like a lot of landscaping even on his own property.

  2. The very idea that Baker should be forced to take down his tree is completely outrageous. Do we now have a constitutional right to scenic views that overrides the property rights of our neighbors? If Olerud wanted an unobstructed view he should have bought property with an unobstructed view.

  3. The slope feels awfully slippery. If the powers that be can make you cut down a tree because it’s blocking the view f
    rom another property, what’s to say they can’t make you remove a shed, or a house, if it’s in the way of some neighbor’s enjoyment of the scenery? If the tree is endangering life and limb, that’s another story entirely. It makes no common sense that somebody can move into a neighborhood and require others to destroy their own possessions to improve the view. Who’s to say somebody won’t move in next door to me who doesn’t like trees at all, considers them eyesores, and will try to make me cut down my woods? Outrageous!

  4. I’d side with Baker and the tree in this dispute. The Oleruds sited their new house behind the tree; the time to have this discussion with the Bakers would have been in the early planning stages, when it would have been possible to shift the house location or to design the house to accommodate the tree and the views. To ask the Bakers to remove this large specimen tree (and to my eye, it is a beauty) is really stretching the concept of what a good neighbor is. (The alternative argument might be that the Oleruds themselves aren’t being great neighbors…) I agree that it’s a slippery slope; what holds might there be to keep anyone from demanding that their neighbors take down trees to open up views? Who’s protecting the trees themselves? (This article covers the religious angle pretty thoroughly, although nobody seems to be talking about the notion of being responsible stewards of the created world…)

  5. Oh dear, rich people problems.

    The tree, and Baker, were there first. That the Oleruds decided to build a $4 million house despite the tree means, to me, that they found the tree acceptable. Otherwise, with a budget like that, surely they could have managed to build somewhere else with no pesky tree in the way.

    I think the Oleruds are being the bad neighbors. They are the ones that feel it appropriate to demand their neighbors modify their property to suit their whim. It would be one thing to ask a neighbor how they felt about taking a tree down, because maybe the neighbor wouldn’t mind. It’s another to try to get the tree condemned.

  6. I’d have to say I agree with Deb and Nicole on this one. Too bad the Oleruds didn’t think about the tree (or trees? Bakers have already removed some due to this issue?) when they designed the house! And to make it a religious issue? That’s low. The devil’s advocate in me wants to say that if this is really about the “Christian faith being important” then maybe they should all just sell their possessions and give it all to the poor. The decision seems to center on this comment, though, in the article: for a tree-cutting order, “Olerud must show that his view is unreasonably blocked, that the obstruction decreases his enjoyment of his property, and that removing the tree wouldn’t unreasonably decrease Baker’s enjoyment of his property.” Bottom line, I don’t think the tree is unreasonably blocking the view, and I think removing it would unreasonable decrease Baker’s enjoyment. There’s my 2 cents worth, based on the info in the article.

  7. This idea that neighbors have the right to unrestricted views/sunlight is a dangerous slippery slope and total trampling of people’s property rights. Your property rights should end at the property line, period. Save the tree.

  8. Personally, I agree with most of you all, I hate the idea that a neighbor has the ability to decide what happens to my property. That said The question is “as a board member, what would I do?”, and as a member of a board you swear to uphold the laws of that town, county, state, etc. This rule states that (whether you agree or not)the neighbor HAS the right to demand it. The little research I did states that a Chinese Red Pine is not a “rare” tree (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/42419/0), and a $18,000 fee for a large (2+ft. trunk) tree doesn’t equate to rare either just big and hard to buy a new one. I sure would really be going over every word of the rule, making sure that every t is crossed and I dotted, every thing done exactly by the rule, but in the end, if everything done I would say goodbye to the tree, and then do everything in my power as a board member to change the rule for the next tree. Last but not least this line raised a red flag for me; “Baker has agreed to remove a Colorado spruce behind the pine.” If he’s okay with one tree why not the other?

  9. OK a political comment here- One more reason why the rest of the U.S. should jettison the left coast to become its own country… the values that lead to this kind of law are beyond me.

  10. Hey, I’ve got an bright idea. Let’s compromise and top the tree. That way Baker keeps his tree and Olerud gets the view. Just kidding! I’m probably more sympathetic to Olerud than most since he’s a WSU Cougar as well as a Mariner but the time to address this was when the house was built. I’m not convinced the tree is 50 years old but it was certainly there when Olerud built and if it wasn’t blocking the view then it should have been obvious that it would soon. will be interesting to see how it plays out. I suspect the board will have to uphold the letter of the law. Otherwise, why have the ordinance?

  11. Sorry, I just can’t leave Wes’s comment alone. Clyde Hill is a strong right-leaning community in an otherwise pretty blue region. So the “values” that led to this law are certainly not leftist!

  12. I don’t have to read the article. Olerud played 1st base for the Blue Jays the year they beat my Atlanta Braves in the World Series. The tree stays put. Feel free to plant another one next to it, Mr. Baker.

  13. I was just about to echo Linda regarding the politics of Clyde Hill. Laws protecting views are mostly about maintaining high neighborhood property values. In this case, Mr. Baker is playing the role of the tree-hugging leftist. If I were deciding, I’d ask an arborist about thinning the tree to provide greater see-through views. The tree might have more character, and a view is always better with a frame.

  14. These political arguments are humorous in a rather unusual sort of way. I’ve never found any differences in between Right wingers and Left wingers, especially when it comes to affluence. I’ve worked around both affluent areas for a good part of my life and with people who were either extremely wealthy or the Wannabes who prey on them. It didn’t matter what race, gender or politics they were, what seemed to morph their attitude was money as the number one priority driver. Ideology always seemed dead last. This squabble is more about money-influenced Ego, Pride, Arrogance and a stubbornness to yield in any way to their neighbour. Sounds almost like the childish adolescent behavior witnessed at any United Nations conference doesn’t it ? No wonder our world of Human Society stinks! I vote for the Tree for no other reason that
    I like trees and don’t find anything offensive about them.

  15. Insert Farmer instead of “guy with tree”. This happens all the time in farming areas where non-farming folks buy land right next to an existing farm and then scream about the sounds, odors, views, etc. Funny how no one seems to care much about that yet the circumstances are much the same and often County Boards are used to do the “dirty work”.

  16. I agree with most of the other commenters’ arguments in favour of Mr. Baker.
    Sadly, according to the ordinance it doesn’t matter that the tree was there long before the Oleruds built their home.

    Clyde Hill’s Municipal Code (chapter 17.38) states that no tree (except a “historic” tree whose age antedates the incorporation of the city) “… whether native or planted and whenever or wherever planted in Clyde Hill is immune from complaint if the height of the tree unreasonably obstructs the view or access to sunlight of a neighbor. No owner of a tree shall allow the same to grow or tolerate or permit the presence on the owner’s premises of such a tree.”

    So in my opinion this boils down to whether the board members will find the tree provides an unreasonably obstruction of the view from the Olerud property and “… such obstruction materially decreases the enjoyment of the real property of the complainant…” and that the decision by the board “… will not unreasonably decrease the enjoyment of the real property of the tree owner …”

    I wonder how this can be determined by an objective evaluation, though.

  17. Gee, I always enjoyed stirring the pot…. I guess it was the “left coast” comment. Linda, please be assured I don’t condem all Pacific Coasters, nor even left coasters for that matter. I just abhor the concept that we all have a “right” to control everyone elses property, life, bedroom, etc. Here’s a suggestion, how about Mr Olerud agrees to pay Mr. Baker’s property taxes for the foreseeable future, since he wants to incist that Mr. Baker remove his pre-existing tree.

  18. Gil,
    Red pines are not common in the Seattle area. Spruces are common here. Spruces are also prone to spruce gall which make them ugly. The decision to take out the spruce, but not the red pine makes perfect sense.

  19. This is incredible. Post an interesting informative subject about the environment, trees, shrubs, pest, organic gardening and get a token set of comments. Post something that tweeks the ideologues brains ans sentiments on both sides and the floodgates of the Heavens open up.

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