Salem Hospital plans to cut more than forty trees on the 8.42-acre parcel it purchased in 2010 from the School for the Blind along Mission Street. Among the trees are nine several-hundred year old Oregon White Oaks which were once part of the ancient woodland that covered the area. The trees were growing before the first European settlers arrived in the 1800’s.
Thus far, the City of Salem has approved the hospital’s plan to remove the trees and install in their place a 264-space parking lot, a rehab center and an enlarged a maintenance shed, by allowing a variance to city laws that protects the trees.
A neighborhood association wants the trees to live.
The law in question comes from Chapter 68 of The City of Salem’s code, the tree preservation ordinance. It says that no one can cut down a “significant” tree, an Oregon White Oak greater than 24-inches at breast height, except under certain limited circumstances, which the hospital does not meet.
This spring, as part of their process to develop the land, Salem Hospital asked the city for a variance to the law and for approval to cut the trees. On June 25th, their request was granted by the City’s Planning Administrator.
SCAN, the South Central Association of Neighbors, appealed the decision, but on August 28th, Hearings Officer Scott A. Fewel sided with the Hospital.
On September 10, SCAN voted to appeal. Its appeal to the State of Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals will be filed as Salem Weekly goes to press.
“We think we were right and the Hearings Officer was wrong,” says a SCAN member. “We are convinced that the opinion will not hold up. You look at the parking the hospital put on the old Bush Elementary School land between Capitol and University Street, and you’ll see the clear-cut that will happen if the hospital prevails.”
Salem Hospital’s plans show that about 5 trees would remain in the main part of the 8.42-acre parcel. Nearly all the trees in the center of the property would be cut to allow for earthmovers to scrape and re-grade the site for parking. Among the variety slated to be cut are seven, 100-foot tall historic Douglas Fir trees. Observers who visit the site can note the trees with a dash of red on their metal tags; the red denotes a tree the hospital intends to cut.
SCAN says that all the hospital’s objectives could be achieved with far less destruction of trees if its planners placed a value on doing so.