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Portola Valley: Property owner now free to apply for building permits

Development plans for a home on 2.1 acres at 18 Redberry Ridge in Portola Valley took a significant step forward on May 28, about 18 months after an unpromising start that included the clear-cutting of trees on a public open-space easement.

After briefly commending the diligence of property owner David Douglass in the replanting of the clear-cut area on his hilltop property in the exclusive Blue Oaks subdivision, the Town Council voted unanimously to release its grip on his plans for a new home of 5,680 square feet. Mr. Douglass is now free to apply for building permits, according to a staff report.

In April 2013, the council hit Mr. Douglass with a $75,000 fine and up to $150,000 in restoration costs over the felling of 18 major trees, including 15 oaks, in late December 2012 or early January 2013. The cutting had been done without a permit, and many of the trees had been growing in a protected open-space easement.

At the time, before the council went into closed session to deliberate on penalties, Mr. Douglass walked up to the dais and apologized. He said he had acted on the advice of an arborist who, he said, had advised him that "many" of the felled trees were diseased and unhealthy.

The restoration included oaks as well as three madrones. The first attempt at madrone replanting failed, perhaps because of the drought. A second attempt is underway, the staff said, adding that if they fail again, oaks will be planted instead. Sprouts are also growing from several of the stumps and are being encouraged and protected from grazing deer.

About 1,000 understory seedlings were also planted, and about 150 of those have failed, staff said. The drought has been a factor.

The restoration plan includes five years of town oversight. The past year's work has been undertaken by the Monterey-based landscape architecture firm Rana Creek. The town's Architectural and Site Control Commission stipulated that Mr. Douglass coordinate with Rana Creek when planning landscaping for the property in connection with the new construction.

Council comment

Before voting to allow Mr. Douglass to proceed with permit applications, Mayor Ann Wengert asked her colleagues if they had comments.

"The guy was really dragged through the mud," said Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin. "I think it was appropriate. ... I think it was a lesson."

"It was unfortunate for it to happen in the first place," said Councilman Craig Hughes, "but I think it's certainly moving in the right direction."

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