ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Planning Commission approved a request to name a small group of mature Torrey pine trees along Melba Road a “heritage grove” during its Sept. 7 meeting.
To earn the city’s heritage designation, a tree must be one of the oldest and largest of its unique species, have historical significance or be a defining feature of a neighborhood.
In January, the Planning Commission amended the Municipal Tree Ordinance to include a “heritage grove” title for a group of trees that collectively meet the criteria. Each tree identified as a significant part of the grove will also be considered a heritage tree.
As part of the Urban Forest Management Program’s goals to protect urban forests and heritage trees, the classifications restrict tree removal and direct caution during construction projects.
The newly established heritage grove consists of five Torrey pines, a rare pine species and hallmark of the San Diego area. As some of the tallest along Melba Road, the city found they are a defining feature of the neighborhood.
Only five of the proposed 14 trees were approved, with private property being the primary reason for denial. Trees on private property require approval from the property owner to receive the designation, which was the main hangup last year.
However, the new “heritage grove” status gave residents a unique opportunity to apply.
In her research for the application, applicant Jeryl Anne Kessler found aerial photos from the 1920s and ’30s showing Torrey pines in the same area.
At the time, Anton van Amersfoort, a prominent Encinitas resident, owned 80 acres that included the original botanical gardens. The trees on Melba Road today are not those originals, planted only as early as the 1980s, but Kessler said the history adds to their significance today.
“At times, we have taken these beautiful sacred trees for granted because we did not know that they could be threatened, but we want to correct and protect them now,” Kesler’s application reads.
Last year, residents learned the Torrey Crest project, a proposed development of 30 single-family homes on a 7-acre parcel between Melba Road and Oak Crest Middle School, would necessitate the removal of 172 trees in the area.
Brian Staver, a manager at developer Torrey Pacific Corporation, previously told The Coast News the project’s plans for one-to-one tree replacements would offset the environmental impact of losing dozens of local mature conifers.
“While it is the case that mature trees on-site will not be replaced with similarly sized trees, this one-to-one tree replacement we are planning provides for much more extensive replacement of trees than would have been required by the city even three years ago on this same site,” Staver previously told The Coast News.
Kesler and other concerned residents remained extremely concerned, banding together to form the Melba Alliance for a Safe and Healthy Environment. The group filed its original request for the “Melba Forest” to be named heritage trees in an effort to preserve some of the neighborhood’s older, signature trees.
During the meeting, the Planning Commission also awarded heritage tree status to the iconic Canary Island date palm at Moonlight Beach based on an application submitted by former La Costa Canyon High School student Tanner McConlogue.