Residents of condo development say trees bad for health

City law forbids removal

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Some people find the sprawling canopy of the London planes surrounding the Indian Hills Condominiums elegant.

Others find it sickening — literally.

Coughing fits, runny noses and respiratory problems are among the health concerns of at least a handful of folks in the VanMall neighborhood, which they attribute to the towering trees in their yards.

In the summer, when most people are outside enjoying barbecues or gardening, resident Miriam Redfield said she can't spend much time in her yard for fear that her allergies will act up. She used to have garden parties with her neighbors, but not anymore.

"You have to change your way of life because of those trees," Redfield said.

It's true: The London plane, a hybrid between American and Asian sycamores, is known to be an allergy irritant when the hairs on the leaves shed, said arborist John Buttrell.

Buttrell, who does maintenance at Indian Hills, said the leaves are so irritating that he wears a mask when chipping the brush in the summer months. "It's a legitimate irritant," Buttrell said. "I think they do have a legitimate reason for complaining."

For years, these neighbors have raised their concerns with the condominium association and with the city of Vancouver. Though they are on private property, the offending trees cannot be removed because the city's tree preservation ordinance implemented in 1996 protects them.

Only trees that pose a hazard or are declining or diseased can be removed, said Vancouver's Urban Forester Charles Ray. The city did allow the removal of four of the sycamores because that particular crop had hazardous branches.

"Allergies are not a criteria for removal," Ray said. "If that were the case, we wouldn't have any trees."

Still, several residents are crying foul. Resident Anne Bonney, who's mounted the most complaints with the city, said she normally likes to garden in her backyard. But, she said, the trees have increasingly caused her coughing, breathing problems and headaches, so she's had to stop stepping out her back door.

"In the hot weather, I don't open my windows or door," she said. "The only thing I will miss if we cut down these trees is the shade."

The effects the sycamores have on their daily activities anger residents such as Mel King. "It's your home, you should be able to use it," said the past condo association president.

Ray has fielded ongoing complaints from Indian Hills residents. He points out that London planes are very common throughout Vancouver, and he hasn't heard any complaints from any other residents.

Buttrell said he suspects other residents aren't affected by the London planes because they aren't living in such close proximity, and the trees at Indian Hills are expansive and numerous.

The condo association is divided on its opinion of the trees, Buttrell said. Some, mainly those who don't have the London planes in their yards, appreciate the trees for their beauty; others vehemently want them out.

Buttrell said he understands both sides.

"It would be a pretty major change for the canopy if they came out," Buttrell said.

Bonney said her next step is contacting the state's Department of Health about her allergy concerns.

"We are going to continue fighting," Bonney said. "We are not going to let it go."

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.