Community rallies to save trees in way of condos 

Few things create as much controversy in San Francisco as proposals to demolish buildings, but cutting down trees to make way for condominiums may not be far behind.

The developer of a 182-unit condominium complex at 800 Brotherhood Way in Merced Heights is facing opposition from community members who don’t want 30 trees cut in order to make way for a road to the new housing.

"I will do everything I can to save those trees. These are one-of-a-kind trees," Francisco Da Costa said, director of the Environmental Justice Agency, of the scattered planted pines in the area.

Da Costa accuses city officials of not taking adequate consideration before issuing permits to remove trees, but city officials say they have undergone a lengthy process and don’t take the task lightly.

"The last thing we want to do is remove trees. We try and neutralize the impact," said Department of Public Works spokeswoman Christine Falvey, who works with developers and the Department of Urban Forestry to issue permits.

Da Costa is concerned because he feels the trees should be subject to landmark status and a special public hearing before their removal.

But, according to Falvey, no landmark status requests have been submitted for the trees and two public hearings have already been held for the tree’s removal.

Mission Development Group Principal Scott Riter said The City ordered his firm to replace the 32 trees with 65 more, and made his company agree pay to maintain and irrigate them if the development moves forward.

"The [current] trees are not native [to the area] and are haphazard and overgrown," Riter said, adding that a motorist was killed on the road by a fallen 50-foot pine in June 2003.

District Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is in support of the tree removal because he said the trees will be replaced with twice as many.

"It’s pretty straightforward — 65 is better than 32," Elsbernd said.

The permit to remove the trees is ready to be issued, but the development has been put on hold since 2004, when resident Julian Lagos teamed up with eight churches in the area and the Lakeshore Acres Improvement Group to sue The City and the developer for what they described as a "quality of life issue."

A judge threw out the case in July, saying the impact of the development was indeed considered because of initial studies conducted by The City.

Development Details

Mission Development Group’s Bella Vista complex at 800 Brotherhood Way

» 182 family-size units on 7.7 acres

» 60 family homes

» 61 duplexes

» Two- to four-bedroom units

» Sizes ranging from 1,102 to 2,021 square feet

» 395 parking spaces

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