RG4N Trial: Thursday Morning

"I sue for the trees, for the trees have no lawyers!"

Testimony in Responsible Growth for Northcross' trial attempting to stop the construction of a Wal-Mart at the former mall property continued this morning with RG4N attorney Brad Rockwell continuing his attempt to show city staff didn't follow proper procedures in approving Lincoln Property's building permit and city staffers continuing to reply that he's misinterpreting city codes.

Rockwell asked city environmental review specialist Betty Lambright whether the city and developers had, as required by law, considered possible alternatives to current design plans that call for the destruction of 11 trees that are large enough (60 inches in diameter) to qualify for protection under city ordinance. Rockwell cited Lambright deposition testimony that he said indicated she did not.

Lambright replied that she had considered multiple factors in approving the landscaping elements of Lincoln's site plan, because, "I am not reviewing in a vacuum." Other considerations, she said, were that Lincoln's plan reduces impervious cover at Northcross from 95% to 87% and that in planting new trees, Lincoln will plant a wider variety than just the live oaks that are on the site now. "More diversity is good for the urban forest," Lambright said. "A monoculture is not good. You get a case of oak wilt, and all the trees are gone."

Rockwell cited provisions of the city tree ordinance that say tree-preservation efforts will try to retain the "existing natural character" of a development site. But Lambright disagreed with Rockwell's definition of that phrase: "We looked at the site overall, its existing character," she said. "It's a mall. The trees are landscape trees planted in the Seventies," not naturally occurring ones.

That flummoxed Rockwell. "Northcross has no natural character?" he asked? No, she replied. "Mature live oaks are not natural?" he continued. "To me, 'natural' is 'undeveloped,'" Lambright said. "So the mall is natural, and trees are not?" asked an amazed Rockwell.

Judge Orlinda Naranjo seemed perplexed by code language that said trees could be removed if it would prevent a "reasonable use of the property." Perhaps thinking the language was a bit vague, she asked, "What would be an 'unreasonable' use? When would you ever say a use was unreasonable?" Lambright replied, "I guess if they wanted something that was beyond city code."

Further questions went to Patrick Dean, a landscaper for the project, who said that he had convinced the developer to save some trees, couldn't see a "feasible" way to save more. Just before lunch break, Rockwell put Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman on the stand, asking her about the official Crestview/Wooten neighborhood plans, which call for "intense" retail uses to be directed toward Research Boulevard, and why the city asked Wal-Mart to stop going into the surrounding neighborhoods asking for support (a move that wasn't going well for Wal-Mart). Huffman replied that the city wanted to organize its own community meetings to solicit citizen input and that having meetings organized by multiple entities would be counterproductive.

Huffman goes back on the stand at 1:30pm.

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