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The fight over Encinitas' Melba Forest

Torrey Pines, Monterey Cypresses, Coast Live Oak at issue

When are trees a heritage, and when are they just a bunch of big plants?
When are trees a heritage, and when are they just a bunch of big plants?

Encinitas needs a lot of new housing, and in some cases, a few old trees are in the way.

At risk, residents say, is a canopy of evergreen along Melba Road, where adjoining roads once had several shady tunnels of Monterey cypress and pines, most of which have been lost to beetles, parking, over-pruning - and development.

Of nine trees eyed for protection, some are on private property where the Staver Torrey Crest development of 30 single family homes (27 market rate and three affordable to very low income) is proposed. According to neighbors, 175 trees and 30 smaller trees and native shrubs on the six-acre site, located at 1220-1240 Melba Road and 1190 Island View Lane, will be cut down.

The big threat is to the "Melba forest," as they call the mature city-owned trees lining the road that create both habitat for wildlife and the bucolic character of the neighborhood. But when locals sought to nominate several as heritage trees, those having historic or community significance which can't be readily removed, they included four on the private property where housing is proposed.

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"I hope that the ability to weigh this application as a grouping of trees will be confirmed," said Jennifer Hewitson in comments to the city. "That is an important part of the nomination... We call this the Melba Forest for a reason."

But heritage nominations aren't allowed on private property unless the owner agrees - and the Torrey Pacific Corporation objected to the nomination of any of the trees on their land. For several off-site trees, they said, heritage status could adversely impact their project.

They also disputed that some of the trees are city-owned. Being in the public right of way makes protection far easier due to an ordinance passed in 2017 that protects and regulates city trees, allowing some to be designated as heritage trees.

In August, a Monterey Cypress near the southwest corner of 1250 Melba Road made it onto the city's list of heritage trees. It was designated for two reasons, though only one was required: being among the oldest and largest of its species in Encinitas, and as one of just 24 of its kind left in the city.

Another application to nominate nine more Melba trees was withdrawn from a public hearing at last week's planning commission meeting. Included in the application by Jeryl Anne Kessler were seven towering Torrey Pines, one Monterey Cypress, and one Coast Live Oak along 1202, 1220, and 1250 Melba Road.

The planning commission was recommending denial.

Aside from the four trees on private property that were ineligible because they were nominated without the owner’s consent, and the Monterey Cypress that had already received heritage status in August, the remaining four fell short for lack of evidence, staff said.

Each tree had to be shown to be one of the oldest and largest of its species in Encinitas, or of unique form or species. In addition, the historic significance wasn't reviewed by a qualified historian, and no evidence was provided to prove each tree is a defining landmark or significant outstanding feature.

Neighbors said their research showed the road's canopy existed since the late 20s. "We want to honor the historic tree-lined state of this road, and the surviving trees, regardless of the varying ages and who planted them," said Jennifer Hewiston.

The Urban Forest Advisory Committee, which reviewed the application in September, found the trees worthy of nomination yet agreed they don't meet the criteria "with the way the current city ordinance is written."

Committee Chair Jenne recommended the city’s heritage tree ordinance be updated to consider groups of trees, and encouraged submitting the application "if and when the ordinance is amended."

Although the individual Melba trees don't meet heritage status, the committee agreed that as a group "they likely meet the criteria of being a defining feature of a neighborhood."

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When are trees a heritage, and when are they just a bunch of big plants?
When are trees a heritage, and when are they just a bunch of big plants?

Encinitas needs a lot of new housing, and in some cases, a few old trees are in the way.

At risk, residents say, is a canopy of evergreen along Melba Road, where adjoining roads once had several shady tunnels of Monterey cypress and pines, most of which have been lost to beetles, parking, over-pruning - and development.

Of nine trees eyed for protection, some are on private property where the Staver Torrey Crest development of 30 single family homes (27 market rate and three affordable to very low income) is proposed. According to neighbors, 175 trees and 30 smaller trees and native shrubs on the six-acre site, located at 1220-1240 Melba Road and 1190 Island View Lane, will be cut down.

The big threat is to the "Melba forest," as they call the mature city-owned trees lining the road that create both habitat for wildlife and the bucolic character of the neighborhood. But when locals sought to nominate several as heritage trees, those having historic or community significance which can't be readily removed, they included four on the private property where housing is proposed.

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"I hope that the ability to weigh this application as a grouping of trees will be confirmed," said Jennifer Hewitson in comments to the city. "That is an important part of the nomination... We call this the Melba Forest for a reason."

But heritage nominations aren't allowed on private property unless the owner agrees - and the Torrey Pacific Corporation objected to the nomination of any of the trees on their land. For several off-site trees, they said, heritage status could adversely impact their project.

They also disputed that some of the trees are city-owned. Being in the public right of way makes protection far easier due to an ordinance passed in 2017 that protects and regulates city trees, allowing some to be designated as heritage trees.

In August, a Monterey Cypress near the southwest corner of 1250 Melba Road made it onto the city's list of heritage trees. It was designated for two reasons, though only one was required: being among the oldest and largest of its species in Encinitas, and as one of just 24 of its kind left in the city.

Another application to nominate nine more Melba trees was withdrawn from a public hearing at last week's planning commission meeting. Included in the application by Jeryl Anne Kessler were seven towering Torrey Pines, one Monterey Cypress, and one Coast Live Oak along 1202, 1220, and 1250 Melba Road.

The planning commission was recommending denial.

Aside from the four trees on private property that were ineligible because they were nominated without the owner’s consent, and the Monterey Cypress that had already received heritage status in August, the remaining four fell short for lack of evidence, staff said.

Each tree had to be shown to be one of the oldest and largest of its species in Encinitas, or of unique form or species. In addition, the historic significance wasn't reviewed by a qualified historian, and no evidence was provided to prove each tree is a defining landmark or significant outstanding feature.

Neighbors said their research showed the road's canopy existed since the late 20s. "We want to honor the historic tree-lined state of this road, and the surviving trees, regardless of the varying ages and who planted them," said Jennifer Hewiston.

The Urban Forest Advisory Committee, which reviewed the application in September, found the trees worthy of nomination yet agreed they don't meet the criteria "with the way the current city ordinance is written."

Committee Chair Jenne recommended the city’s heritage tree ordinance be updated to consider groups of trees, and encouraged submitting the application "if and when the ordinance is amended."

Although the individual Melba trees don't meet heritage status, the committee agreed that as a group "they likely meet the criteria of being a defining feature of a neighborhood."

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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