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[whitespace] Residents unhappy with removal of trees

Saratoga--Neighbors and visitors to the Argonaut Shopping Center said it wasn't what they saw, but what they didn't see, at the center that shocked them: trees.

The majority of trees in the center's parking lot were removed by contractors over the past few weeks in preparation for the renovation of the shopping center and its parking lot. The removal resulted in the cutting down of not only trees in the parking lot, but also of those that lined Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road on the perimeter of the parking lot.

And it's the removal of those trees in particular that is upsetting residents.

"I think it's awful," Pierce Road resident Dora Grens said. "I would've suspected the ones in the parking lot were going to come down, but I never thought they'd take the other ones."

Saratoga resident Cheriel Jensen said she was shocked to visit the center and find it so barren, all the trees having been removed. Jensen said she questions how the city could let all the trees, especially the perimeter trees, be taken down.

The street-side trees at Argonaut were Italian stone pines. According to James Walgren, Saratoga community development director, the Saratoga Planning Commission's approval of the shopping center renovation did not specifically call for the removal of the pines.

"The stone pines didn't necessarily need to be come down," he said. "Our condition was that an effort be made to keep them."

But, Walgren said, arborists hired by the center's owners, Carole Rodoni and Paul Hulme, determined the trees should be removed because the project called for the installation of a sidewalk along Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road. That sidewalk, Walgren said, could damage the root structure and the strength of the trees, leaving open the possibility of the stone pines being weakened and falling over in bad weather.

"Limb failure was not really an issue," Walgren said. "But once the sidewalk is put in, you'd be undermining the root system of the trees."

In addition, Rodoni said, the arborists said the trees were not in the best of health.

"It was their opinion that the trees were infected, and it was their strong recommendation that the trees be taken down," she said.

But Walgren pointed out that the renovation project's approval calls for a significant number of replacement trees to be planted in the center's parking lot and along the street.

"We are requiring that for frontage areas, they go with dense, native canopy trees," he said.

Rodoni said they are planning to plant 17 trees, from oaks to junipers, along the Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road perimeter of the center--and an additional 75 trees in the parking lot.

But Jensen said that's not good enough. The new trees, she said, will be smaller and younger, and will not provide the same screening that the older, more established trees did.

"It takes a good 20 years to get that same kind of screen that we had before," she said. "I can see why a shopping center owner doesn't want [a good screen] because he wants the shopping center in your face."

But Rodoni said that the new trees, as well as the 75 trees in the parking lot, will provide for plenty of screening and a beautiful center.

"What people need to remember is that we are taking out the whole parking lot and putting in a whole new one," she said, adding that the new lot will have landscaped medians and improved lighting and traffic flow.

The Planning Commission approved renovation plans for the center in February 1997. The project calls for the expansion of the 30,070-square foot Safeway Supermarket by 10,720 square feet, the addition of two buildings at each corner of Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road and Blauer Drive, improved and landscaped median barriers, a sound wall along the north side of the property behind the center, landscaping of the parking lot, creek side improvements, a bus turnout and shelter on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road and traffic design improvements, including a left-turn signal from the center onto Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road.

Trees along the rear side of the property are not slated for removal, Walgren said, adding that he wasn't surprised at residents' reactions to the removal of the parking lot trees.

"I know right now that it's a shock to see all those trees knocked down," he said.
Sarah Lombardo

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