Environmental commission raises tree removal concerns for new office development on East Evelyn | News

Amendments to a plan for a new office building on East Evelyn Avenue received a general thumbs up from the Environmental Planning Commission last week, though commissioners had questions and suggestions about prioritizing pedestrian access and saving heritage trees.

The Development Review Committee reviewed the project, located at 301 to 381 East Evelyn Avenue, in April and provided recommendations for site and architectural changes for the commission to review. Much of the discussion among commissioners at the June 1 meeting centered on a proposed driveway accessible off of East Evelyn Avenue, which would run adjacent to the project’s proposed new office building.

The site features five existing office buildings that the project plans to keep. According to a city staff report on the project, “The existing site design places vehicular access/parking around the periphery of the site with the areas between the existing office buildings accessible only through pedestrian walks with limited emergency vehicle access and improved with high quality landscaping , pedestrian amenity spaces, and a significant central plaza.”

With this in mind, city staff recommended that the proposed site design create a similarly walkable, pedestrian-oriented environment between the proposed building and existing buildings – particularly where the driveway is currently proposed to go.

Commission Vice Chair Joyce Yin said that if the goal is to “go to a more walking/biking sort of situation … then it would seem that we would want for it to be more of a pedestrian feel and get rid of the driveway.” Yin also pointed out that the driveway will require the removal of three heritage trees.

In total, the project will require 104 trees to be removed, including 32 heritage trees. Per city requirements, the applicant would be required to plant 138 total replacement trees based on a 2 to 1 replacement requirement for the 33 Heritage tree removals and a 1 to 1 replacement requirement for the 72 non-Heritage trees. The project is currently proposing to plant only 94 new trees.

Project applicant Joe Nootbaar on behalf of MV Campus Owner said the driveway is intended to provide rideshare and vendor access. Because the office park will likely be used by multiple tenants, “you want to be able to offer a building that functions well for multiple types of tenants,” Nootbaar said, which will each have different needs as far as car access goes.

“If there was a way still, I would still side for pedestrian access,” Yin said. “If it could just be a one-way street and you’re not looping through. … We’re only saving a few trees so it’s not the biggest thing for me either, but I would still lean toward [more pedestrian access.”

The other commissioners agreed that pedestrian access should be prioritized as much as possible, as well as bicycle access. Commissioner Chris Clark echoed Yin’s concerns about tree preservation.

“I would generally support anything that we can do to preserve additional trees, even if that means going a little taller on a couple of these structures, just given the amount of redwoods,” Clark said. “I think preserving the trees is more important in this particular area than [building height.”

Ultimately, the commission gave its approval to the Development Review Committee’s recommendations for site and architectural changes on the project, with a consensus to do “anything we can do to preserve as many of the trees as we can, particularly the Heritage trees,” Commission Chair William Cranston said to conclude the item.

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