By Melissa Bearns
Six east Concordia kids huddled over large pieces of paper in my living room, intently sketching pictures of the gigantic red oak tree at 4810 N.E. 40th Ave. They painstakingly added details including squirrels, birds and acorns, along with personal notes to the man who will develop the property.
“Thank you for not cutting down the tree,” wrote 7-year-old Roxy. “I love the oak tree because you can ride your bike around it and you don’t have to go too far.”
When the property was sold last summer to Eric Thompson of Oregon Homeworks LLC, neighbors were deeply concerned the oak tree with a trunk diameter of 49 inches would be removed. In November, after a few visits to the planning department for research, I called the developer, who told me he intended to preserve the tree.
He has since filed his initial site plan with the Portland Bureau of Development Services, which shows the tree intact on the lot.
For the past decade, the former property owners hosted annual Labor Day potluck barbecues under the oak’s sprawling canopy. Across the years, residents enjoyed impromptu gatherings and other holiday celebrations.
“The oak has played a really important role in our community,” said Carol Apple, a neighbor of that property for 42 years. “It’s a place where kids love to play. As adults they return, and the oak tree is still there. It creates a sense of continuity. Having a focal point on the block where people gather helps build strong relationships.”
Prior to the sale, the property owner and her neighbor, Cindy Black, nominated it for Heritage Tree status, which would give it a high level of protection in both residential and development situations. The Heritage Tree Committee approved a lesser designation of Tree of Merit.
That affords no additional protection for a tree; however, our red oak appears to be safe from the chainsaws for now. Unfortunately, that cannot be said for many other magnificent trees that are equally important across Portland.
City code Title 11 governs tree management. It includes special protections for trees with trunk diameters greater than 36 inches. But Title 11 also has loopholes, which allow developers and property owners to skirt those protections and cut down even very large trees like the red oak.
I’m researching how the tree code was developed and compromises that were made to honor the different needs in our rapidly growing city. My goal is to find a way to balance those needs and still protect large, valuable trees like this oak.
Melissa lives near the red oak and has nine trees on her property. She has always loved trees, but gained a deeper understanding of their value to the planet and people while reporting on Ascending the Giants, an ongoing project of two Portland arborists to climb and measure the world’s champion trees. She has climbed some of the world’s largest trees, many of which are located in the Pacific Northwest.
Editor’s note: Melissa has more to share on this topic. For the rest of the story, visit ConcordiaPDX.org/preservinggiantoak. And, if you’re interested in following what’s happening with the red oak tree, Developer commits to preserve giant oak “The oak has played a really important role in our community.” – Carol Apple learning more about Portland’s trees and neighborhood tree-related events, or wanting to get involved, email Info@SaveOurTreesPDX.org.