(Update: Adding video, comments from woman, city planner and land trust developer)
City of Bend approves four trees to be cut down for solar panels
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Neighbors in northeast Bend's Orchard District noticed last week that unbeknownst to them, several tall trees were marked for removal in a nearby affordable housing project-- and now, a resident is expressing her dismay about four trees' removal, for solar panels, after residents voiced concerns to the city.
Developers must follow city codes in order to build in Bend. The current tree preservation code obligates the City of Bend to approve the removal of trees in the name of needed housing and certain utilities.
Ashlee Henninger said Thursday she contacted the city and asked why four of the oldest and tallest trees on Eighth Street were marked for removal, a change from the proposed Kôr Community Land Trust project plans sent earlier to area residents.
After those concerns were raised, she said, the four trees were removed Wednesday, reportedly to make room for solar panels. She says that tree removal was not part of the original plan -- and that neighbors were not notified when plans changed.
"If the city is going to allow that to be a justification for tree removal, and developers find out that's all they have to do to clear-cut Bend, as we grow -- it's going to become a city of solar panels and concrete sprawl and houses crammed into lots," she told NewsChannel 21.
Henninger says she thinks the city code has a loophole for developers -- and that it will keep happening.
"As the city continues to be developed, if this continues to happen, it's not just about four trees, it's about this lot and that lot and every other development that's going to happen in town," she said.
Nicolas Lennartz, an associate planner with the city, says they revised the project's plans and sent notice to neighbors in June of 2020. He says the development did meet the city's requirements to cut down the trees.
"This project, being an affordable housing cottage subdivision, is certainly considered needed housing, and by the looks of it, the solar panels on the top of the development required the removal of trees," Lennartz said. "The developer actually looked into other options for retention of the trees, limbing the trees, other ways to keep the trees, even with installation of the solar panels. But it was ultimately found that for the panels to be viable financially for the site, that they had to be removed."
Lennartz says the city is working to revise its tree protection approval process.
The developer, meanwhile, says they kept eight other "significant trees" on that property -- and that solar panels will help lower-income households who are burdened by energy bills.
Kôr Community Land Trust provided the following statement Thursday afternoon to NewsChannel 21:
"Kôr Community Land Trust is a nonprofit that creates sustainable, affordable homeownership communities for Central Oregon’s workforce. We are developing our second community of affordable cottage clusters, which will serve 5 families earning between 40% AMI (average median income) to 120% AMI. These are working families who can qualify for a mortgage, but cannot afford to purchase a home on the rising market when their own wages remain stagnant.
"Kôr recognizes the inequities that persist in mid-size cities and rural counties in Central Oregon as vacation homes and the zoom-town phenomenon threatens to displace Central Oregon’s workforce, and disproportionately lower-income households.
"Kôr is not only committed to breaking down barriers for lower-income households to access affordable homeownership, it is also committed to energy justice. Lower-income households are disproportionately burdened by energy insecurity due to their likelihood to live in older, energy-inefficient homes. This causes increased housing costs and unhealthy living conditions, linking housing to health insecurities. The persistent income and health inequality perpetuates instability that leads to generational poverty. This is why Kôr builds net-zero homes for Bend's lower-income residents. We want to ensure income does not negate access to energy efficiency systems and the health and utility cost savings that comes with it.
"At the Orchard District property, Kôr kept 8 significant trees on the property and only plans to cut down 4 significant trees to ensure proper function of the solar panels to ensure our units are built net zero. Any other trees that were removed were either already dead or required by the city's safety standards to ensure clear vision of cars leaving and entering the property."