ENCINITAS — The Planning Commission gave the city’s first “heritage tree” designation despite staff recommendations in both a September meeting and on Nov. 4 not to qualify the tree as a heritage tree.
The city arborist said the tree was old, is in poor form and condition with gopher activity and limbs growing into power lines among other problems. Arborist Mark Wisniewski, who worked with the applicant, disagreed.
Marguerite Butler said the 80-year-old cockspur coral along Requeza Way that she has cared for more than half a century deserves special recognition.
As part of the urban forest management policy the City Council passed in 2009, the heritage tree designation identifies trees that have significance to the community according to City Planner Kerry Kusiak.
The heritage designation was designed to afford trees an extra measure of protection against removal for development or other reasons that were not consistent with the city’s general plan. City officials said the designation was not relevant for the coral because it sits along a public right-of-way, where such protections, on paper at least, are already are in place.
In order to qualify as a heritage tree several factors are taken into consideration. Kusiak said the tree must be unique, have importance to the community, have some historic significance, be a defining landmark, be the largest tree or be a rare species. The tree under consideration does not have to meet all of the criteria.
Kusiak said the Planning Department received few nominations for heritage tree designation. The Environmental Advisory Commission reviews all heritage applications and makes a recommendation to the Planning Commission. The environmental commissioners voted unanimously to support the nomination in September.
Butler won a reprieve when the Planning Commission split 2-2 on the designation in its September vote. The tie allowed the applicant to return Nov. 4 with more evidence that the tree deserved recognition and allowed all five commissioners to vote.
The 18-foot tree was planted on a private avocado orchard in 1929, lending it historical significance.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the designation, relying on the age of the tree and the rarity of its species. City planners found only one other cockspur coral in the city’s inventory, although staff suggested others might be on private property. The one on Requeza Way is the larger of the two.