After paying $90 million for the 500,000-square-foot campus at 100 Mayfield Ave. earlier this year, Rockwood Capital and Four Corners Properties have proposed to remove 120 large "heritage" trees from the site, irritating neighbors who had been relieved that the property would no longer be developed as row houses.
Zoning administrator Peter Gilli shared many of the concerns at a Sept. 19 hearing where he denied the proposal to remove the trees.
Residents of the Monta Loma neighborhood have grown attached to the hundreds of old trees that shade the 27-acre site, planted when the Mayfield Mall became the region's first indoor mall in the late 1960s.
"People like the park-like atmosphere that it has," said Wouter Suverkropp, former president of the Monta Loma Neighborhood Association. Neighborhood residents often drive through the site's streets to get to the neighborhood from San Antonio Road and Central Expressway. "I just love driving in. It just feels like I'm coming home," he said.
The new owners propose to replace the 120 trees with 148 new, 24-inch box Western redbud and crape myrtle trees, which Suverkropp says will remain small and not live very long, resulting in less "biodiversity on the site."
Western redbuds are so small that they are sometimes referred to as shrubs, he said.
"I do think it's very important to focus attention on providing as much canopy as possible," Gilli said. "Our goal is to get large canopies over the pavement to address heat island impacts, etc."
He noted that the city often requires that every heritage tree be replaced with two new trees. Four Corners proposed to replace 92 of the heritage trees, deemed to be in "poor condition," with 92 new trees. The other 28, considered healthy, would get two replacements each.
"Taking out a large tree and replacing it with a very small one may not end up qualifying," Gilli said.
The city's arborist recommended that eucalyptus trees on the site be removed, Gilli said, but he added that he was hesitant to approve the removal of some trees just because they are causing significant impacts to the pavement. He suggested an idea: "Put in some fill and raise the pavement a little bit and help the trees stay for a length of time."
"Certain species, like stone pine and eucalyptus, I'm likely going to be approving the removal of," Gilli said, saying the stone pines are, "by their nature, unsafe. I think the key thing is what the replacement is going to be at those locations."
Bill Wilbur of Four Corners properties said a meeting would be held with neighbors about the trees.
"We hope to meet with the neighborhood association either at the site or at the community hall, and hear their concerns directly," he said.
Gilli approved facade improvements to the existing buildings on the site, including new brick veneer siding and replacement windows reminiscent of an those in old factory building, designed by Korth, Sunseri and Hagey architects.
"We think it's going to be a big improvement," Gilli said.