Lochmere encourages residents to protest tree removal

aspecht@newsobserver.comJuly 2, 2014 

The owners of Amberwood Apartments, shown here, face a $70,000 fine from the town of Cary. The town says Amberwood removed about 17,000 square feet of vegetation next to Cary Parkway.

PAUL A. SPECHT — aspecht@newsobserver.com

  • If you go

    Cary’s Zoning Board of Adjustment meetings are open to the public. The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 7, in the council chambers at Cary Town Hall, 316 N. Academy Street.

— Some residents are upset that an apartment complex on Southeast Cary Parkway cut down large trees.

Amberwood Apartments are part of the Lochmere subdivision. Lochmere’s board of directors is encouraging residents to protest the Connor Group, which owns the apartments.

A hearing before Cary’s Zoning Board of Adjustment is set for Monday, when Amberwood plans to appeal a town-issued fine it received for removing trees.

“Everyone is encouraged to attend and speak at the meeting on ... our commitment to support the Town in their efforts to restore the property and maintain the beauty, safety and quality of life that we’ve come to know in Lochmere,” reads a notice on the Lochmere neighborhood’s website.

Cary issued a fine of $70,184 to the owners of Amberwood Apartments. The town says the complex violated Cary’s rules by damaging 17,546 square feet of vegetation.

Tree buffers are meant to separate properties from each other and from roads.

Lochmere’s management company, HRW, contends that the Connor Group’s actions were an “egregious” violation of the subdivision’s covenants.

“Obviously, we’re not happy with what’s happened,” said Andy Siouville, who manages Lochmere for HRW. “Anyone that takes trees down is supposed to go through an architectural process.”

HRW informed Amberwood’s management of Lochmere’s tree-removal rules before the trees were taken out, Siouville said.

Lochmere’s board of directors could fine the company but hasn’t because it is waiting to see how Cary resolves the issue, he said.

Cary fines violators $2 to $4 per square foot for damaging tree buffers and requires them to revegetate the area.

Hearings before the Zoning Board of Adjustment typically play out like a trial, where each side – the town and the accused violator – argues its case before a board of five residents.

The Cary Town Council, which has been critical of the tree removal, isn’t involved.

Applicants who disagree with the board’s ruling could go before the Wake County Superior Court.

Tarynn Minegar, Amberwood’s property manager, has said the Connor Group considers Cary’s tree-damage assessment to be inaccurate and that any changes “improved the area for all concerned.”

The Connor Group didn’t violate town rules because Amberwood’s site plan doesn’t prohibit the removal of vegetation, according to David Pokela, an attorney for the group who sent Cary a letter on June 11.

Furthermore, the fine is “void as unintelligible and vague,” he wrote, because the town rules don’t specify how inspectors measure the amount of vegetation that was removed.

“(W)hen given the opportunity to utilize a price per square foot ... the Town arbitrarily utilized the maximum amount,” the letter says.

Cary has singled out Amberwood management, Pokela wrote, “so that an example can be made.”

The town dismissed Pokela’s claim that the Connor Group was “singled out” in a letter written on June 17 by Russ Overton, an assistant town manager.

“The removal of 17,546 square feet of protected vegetation is a grave violation ...” Overton wrote. “(S)taff considered the degree and extent of the harm caused by the violation, the cost of rectifying the disturbance and damage, and whether the violation was committed willfully.”

He concluded: “Your appeal letter provided no persuasive evidence or argument regarding the appropriateness of a lesser fine amount.”

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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