Just months away from completion, a new El Camino Real apartment project has already created bad blood with its neighbors after workers tore down a pair of heritage trees before they were supposed to. The turmoil over trees only got stormier last week after the developer sought permission to chop down a third heritage tree that may have suffered root damage from the construction work.
The project by Prometheus Real Estate Group is a 66-home apartment complex at 1616 W. El Camino Real, slated to be finished by this summer. As proposed about two years ago, sketches for the new building showed a canopy of trees along the street, including both older heritage trees and new ones planted as part of the project, according to neighbors.
But the finished project apparently won't resemble that vision, said Kristina Pereyra, a nearby resident. She still remembers the day in late 2014 when she witnessed workers throwing two heritage-sized eucalyptus trees into a wood chipper.
"We looked out our window to see their machinery crunching these trees up," she said. "For me, it's that these are 50-year-old trees, and it's going to take another 50 years to grow another one."
For their part, Prometheus representatives have formally apologized for the slip-up; however they also offer a different take on the story. The company told city officials that a demolition subcontractor was to blame for accidentally removing the trees prematurely.
But in the large scheme of things, those trees were going to be removed anyway, said Jon Moss, Prometheus vice president. Two years ago, city officials had agreed those two trees would be taken down during a later excavation phase, he said.
"It was done by the contractor a month or two earlier than when (the trees) would normally would be down," Moss said. "It was a timing issue."
Prometheus will be required to pay a $500 fine for the removal, along with the cost of planting two new trees as replacements, said Lindsay Hagan, a Mountain View associate planner.
But trouble sprouted up again last week after Prometheus officials came back to Mountain View officials for permission to remove a third heritage three. That tree a cedar along Mariposa Street has begun to tilt to one side, leading arborists to conclude it could someday topple into the street. The cause for this was likely trenches dug for the new apartment's storm drain, Hagan said. An arborist hired by Prometheus suggested the tree needed to be removed for safety reasons.
At an Administrative Zoning Administrator hearing last week, multiple neighbors reportedly complained about the developer's actions, and city officials decided to take further action. City staff granted approval to remove the cedar tree, but they imposed what they described as a much heftier fine on the company.
That exact penalty amount remains undetermined, but Mountain View will be consulting an arborist. The developer will need to pay a fine based off the tree's age, maturity, species and possibly other factors, Hagan said.
"In this case there was the feeling that our trust was broken," Hagan said. "They went beyond what they had said they would do."
Email Mark Noack at [email protected]