How to treat a tree
The story centered around Old Mac, a Douglas-fir purported to be the tallest tree in Yamhill County. The estimated 300-year-old giant stands on the eastern edge of the upscale Forest Glen residential subdivision just off Southwest Fleishauer Lane in McMinnville.
In November, Steve and Jan Iversen, Forest Glen residents since the subdivision opened in 2007, contacted the News-Register to voice concern that major harm to Old Mac appeared imminent.
Developer Dan Grunewald, the Iversens said, was about to build a residential structure on a lot adjoining Old Mac, and they contended its foundation would severely compromise the tree’s root structure.
This writer interviewed the couple, and at the time they said Grunewald was ignoring a section in the Forest Glen covenants specifically protecting the tree. They further claimed the support of other Forest Glen residents and nearby homeowners for efforts to avoid irreparable damage to the tree.
An on-site inspection verified that the tops of large roots jutted above the surface up to 40 feet from the tree. It appeared that excavation for a foundation would almost certainly require cutting into or entirely through them. The story, at first postponed because efforts to reach Grunewald for comment were unsuccessful, was published Dec. 20.
Neighborhood reaction was immediate, and a delegation of Forest Glen residents came to the News-Register to express dismay about what had been written. They contradicted the claim that Grunewald was in any way acting against the best interests of the residential community or of Old Mac.
Residents Greg and Teri Wroblewski submitted a letter on behalf of five Forest Glen couples that read, in part, “Developer Dan Grunewald, at significant additional expense, is following original covenants relative to Old Mac as developed by the initial developer and homeowners association. The vast majority of homeowners we have contacted feel he is a responsible developer and that he has done the necessary due diligence to protect Old Mac.”
Following conversations with Grunewald and resident John Kaiser, this writer concluded that another meeting was needed to learn more about the disagreement. Ten members of the community attended, along with Grunewald, and the outcome proved enlightening.
Clearly, the developer had their wholehearted support, and they emphasized that from their perspective Grunewald has always kept the best interests of Old Mac in mind.
Grunewald showed architectural drawings of the new house, using them to explain in detail his plan to protect the roots of the old fir that could be affected by its construction.
“We retained Associated Arborists in McMinnville, and we’re following their advice to build a pin pile foundation,” he said. “In other words, the foundation will be suspended over the roots.”
Grunewald said certified arborist Taylor Alvarez recommended procedures to maintain the tree’s root health. Those steps include aeration twice a year and application of a root growth hormone, as well as vitamin supplements and low nitrogen fertilizers.
“All of this will cost between $15,000 and $20,000,” Grunewald said. “But I recognize the importance of Old Mac and what it represents to this residential community as well as McMinnville.”
The developer said he had not been contacted by the Iversens, and would have shared his plans with them if asked. He acknowledged that as majority owner, he removed Jan from the Homeowners Association board because of disagreements over other matters.
One resident at the followup meeting challenged the original story’s claim that Old Mac may have lived less than a third of its natural lifespan. “Such giants,” the story reported, “have been known to survive a millennium or more. The oldest recorded Douglas fir survived an estimated 1,400 years.”
A recheck of reference sources upheld the original statements with this quote from the National Wildlife Federation:”The largest coast Douglas-firs frequently exceed over 500 years in age and occasionally over 1,000.”
The United Kingdom’s Royal Forestry Society elaborated on that by saying, “In its native range, the oldest known Douglas-fir is estimated to be 1,400 years old.”
The collection of Forest Glen residents praised Grunewald for the high quality and character of homes he has built, and voiced concern that the December 20 story could damage his reputation. And therein, of course, lies the reason for revisiting the story in a quest for accuracy in reporting.
As previously reported, the original Forest Glen developers lost their investment during the 2008 recession. It wasn’t until 2012, when Grunewald bought the 30 remaining lots, that a significant turnaround occurred.
Before he took over the project, 14 houses had been constructed. Today, an additional 11 houses have been completed, and 10 more lots have been sold. Values are on the upturn throughout the development.
A leisurely drive through its curving streets shows Forest Glen as a first class residential community with homes of high-level style and substance. Site planning, which has incorporated the retention of numerous stately trees of various species, bespeaks the reason it is called Forest Glen.
As for the Old Mac controversy, Steve Iversen has since said,” This is the absolute worst time of year to be having any kind of construction activity around the roots of trees. Yet (Grunewald) clearly intends to move forward right now.”
Certified arborist Shaun Slovik of A&R Tree Service said, “Pilings can work but only if properly done. It’s not an easy procedure.” Slovik consulted with the original owners on Forest Glen’s development.
So, there is disagreement among neighbors, and even uncertainty among professional arborists as to the impact of continuing development near Old Mac. But as perspective, we note the observation from the Wroblewski letter to the newspaper:
“The tree has survived many destructive acts of nature and manmade trauma through the centuries that far exceed the risk of having someone build within parameters that have been certified by one arborist and endorsed by a second.”
And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — interacting with a group of residents who can take pride in the fact that a majestic tree towers over one of McMinnville’s finest residential communities.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 503-687-1227.