Commission OKs Construction of Large House, Removal of Oaks

La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission members recently voted to allow the construction of a new two-story home with a basement, four-car garage and a guest/pool house — buildings totaling more than 10,000 square feet — and the removal of five protected oak trees, despite some residents’ objections.
The site at 861 Flintridge Ave. is owned by Ezra Callahan of Pasadena, according to a commission statement. The panel met last Thursday at LCF’s City Hall.
The 63,162-square-foot lot is zoned as single-family residential. It’s located at the southeast corner of Flintridge and Woodleigh Lane and is vacant except for what was called an accessory structure. There are 33 protected trees on the property, as well as seven trees that don’t qualify for protection because of their species or size, the statement added.
Six trees were initially identified for removal, but the number was reduced to five. Three trees must be removed to accommodate a septic system leach field, according to a settlement agreement between the previous owner and Los Angeles County, the commission’s statement said. Two trees conflict with a required county Fire Department turnaround.
Removal of the sixth tree, in the rear of the lot, was requested because of a broken trunk, but city staff members asked for the current owner to trim the tree and remove the damaged part.
The city’s tree-protection ordinance places restrictions on the removal of stately trees such as oaks but also cites conditions under which they can be felled.
LCF resident and actor Michael Gross, who is part of the community group Together La Cañada that asked residents via Facebook to attend the meeting, objected to the trees’ removal.
“Trees are important to all of us, and that’s what I want to make the thrust of my statements here,” Gross told Planning Commission members. “In regard to the trees, I think it would be a wonderful precedent to set that in case large trees be removed, there be more than one consultant, particularly on these mature, protected trees, who says they’re either too sick to survive or they can’t be boxed and survive and replanted.”
Peter Cooper, who lives near the site, cited concerns about the height of the project.
“The applicant has walked [my wife, Judy] and me through the property and I’m still unable to understand various elevations, where the floor of the guest house would be, where the height is measured to,” said Cooper, who also showed his own photos of the site to the commission. “I’m not happy to be here tonight. I disagree with the proposed project. I think it’s very unjust in the neighborhood.”
Commissioner Henry Oh voted specifically against the removal of two oak trees associated with the Fire Department turnaround on the site but voted in favor of the other necessary permits.
“I am not convinced existing trees 32 and 33 cannot be saved with a redesign and layout,” Oh said before he voted against their removal.
Commissioner Rick Gunter, who voted in favor of the project, said he found nothing “terribly unusual” about the site’s height and was comfortable with findings of staff members about the tree removal.
“For those who have listened to us, we are terribly concerned with trees in the city,” said Gunter, adding they look for a balance between community members’ love of trees and real estate ownership rights.
After the meeting, Gross said it wasn’t clear if neighbors would appeal.
“I do think that it’s a lot to do with the way you deal with your neighbors,” said Gross to property owner Callahan near the door of City Hall after the meeting.
Callahan described the outcry from residents and the vote as a part of a process but said he was willing to work with the neighbors.
“It’s an incredibly complicated site,” Callahan said. “We want a solution that both allows us to build what is a dream home in some respects but is respectful of the natural characteristics, that is respectful of the neighbors and the fact that their homes mean as much to them as our proposed home will mean to us. We’ll do everything we can to find common-ground solutions.”
Callahan noted he was planting three 72-inch box trees as well as two 24-inch box trees and likely others on the property. The city’s tree-protection ordinance requires that each tree that is removed be replaced, depending on the size of the tree removed, according to the commission’s statement.
Callahan added he would try to work with the Fire Department to save the trees Oh wanted to protect.
Susan Koleda, the city’s director of community development, said on Tuesday afternoon no appeal had been filed. The deadline to file an appeal is at 5 p.m. Friday, June 7, she said.

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