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The Planning Commission ruled at its Nov. 10 meeting that views from buildings 2, 3 and 6 are being unreasonably blocked by a row of eucalyptus trees along the northern border of the Staver property. Courtesy image
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Battle over eucalyptus trees continues

DEL MAR — In a 3-1 vote, with Don Countryman recused, the Planning Commission concluded at its Nov. 10 meeting that the views of four Del Mar Woods condominium owners are being unreasonably blocked by a row of eucalyptus trees.

D. Wayne Brechtel, a lawyer representing the Staver family, which owns the adjacent 5.8-acre lot on which the trees are located, said any views that may be lost were created by voluntary tree trimming conducted biannually by his clients at a cost of about $7,000 each year.

Seven homeowners in six buildings want 20 blue gum eucalyptus trees on the northern border of the Staver property removed under Del Mar’s Trees, Scenic Views and Sunlight Ordinance, which allows the city to direct a property owner to restore scenic views or sunlight lost as a result of tree and vegetation growth on another property.

Ralph and Marian Staver, who have since passed away and left the parcel to their children, bought the property at 110 Stratford Court in 1950. Brechtel said some eucalyptus trees existed at the time. Others were planted in the early 1970s, when Del Mar Woods was built.

The current problems began in 2003, when a group of homeowners submitted an application under the ordinance regarding view blockage from the blue gums.

Countryman, who was not a planning commissioner at the time, was the Stavers’ representative.

He worked out a compromise with the condo owners that included trimming the trees without compromising the Stavers’ privacy, so the application was closed.

Most people at the Nov. 10 hearing said the deal was not perfect but seemed to solve the issue at the time.

In 2012, dissatisfied with the results of the trimming, another application was filed under the ordinance. Condo owners said the rapid-growth trees blocked their views in between trimmings, which they claim were done in such a way that it resulted in ugly trees. A mediation attempt failed.

At that time the condo group had grown to 28 but eventually only seven were deemed to have complete application materials. Those homeowners have been represented by C. Samuel Blick, a former Del Mar city attorney, for about six months.

Planning commissioners first had to determine that reasonable efforts had been made to resolve the dispute. Based on events over the years they concluded that requirement had been met.

Before making a final decision they next had to find that the view blockage is “unreasonable.” All but chairman Ted Bakker said that finding applied to four homeowners in three buildings.

But that decision didn’t result in tree removal.

Commissioners Ellen Haviland and Nate McCay were named to a subcommittee to determine what “restorative action” should be taken. They will report back at the January meeting.

Connie Sherman, whose view blockage was deemed unreasonable, said she would only be satisfied with a recommendation to remove the trees.

“They’re ugly,” she said. “The trees have been ruined by the trimming and I don’t think it’s possible to fix them.”

Blick, who said he was “delighted” with the decision, agreed.

“No amount of trimming solves the problem,” he said. “The only way to fix this is to remove the trees.”

Arborist Mark Wisniewski said based on his inspection all 20 trees on the northern border of the Staver property should be removed and nine others on the east side of the property should be trimmed.

The condo owners whose views were not deemed unreasonably blocked can appeal the ruling to City Council. Blick said he was not sure if they would.

Brechtel called the ruling “frustrating.”

“The view that the Stavers opened up is now being used as a basis for saying they should do more,” he said. “We don’t think that’s what was intended by the ordinance and that’s not the way it should have been applied.

“My clients are being punished for voluntarily creating views,” he added. “That decision will create more views than ever existed before. Those trees have been there since 1973. That’s why they call it Del Mar Woods.”

Brechtel said the Stavers have a right to their privacy. Two- and three-story condominiums looming over them degrades their use and enjoyment of their property and the “natural forested landscaping.”

He said the family agreed to trim the trees for no other reason than to create views.

“There’s no benefit to them,” he said. “The Stavers have done the best they could to act in the spirit and the intention of the ordinance and now they want them to do more.”

If the restorative action calls for removal he said his clients will likely appeal to City Council. He also said the Planning Commission ruling sets a precedent.

“No one in Del Mar will voluntarily trim their trees to open up views because it will work against them,” he said, adding that it’s an example of no good deed going unpunished.