It started as a simple request by Garry and Luanne Bettelheim, the owners of a property in 13th Ave, to remove a tree.
They are knocking down the existing house and replacing it with two, two-storey dwellings. Nothing strange about that. Intensification is being encouraged on Te Papa peninsula?
The stumbling block is a 40-year-old avocado tree, on the council berm right where the Bettelheims want to put the driveway. A tree with friends.
Under Tauranga City Council’s Vegetation and Tree Management Policy 2014, the tree doesn’t meet the criteria for removal. It won’t be considered for removal until there is sufficient feedback from the local community, says the council’s urban forrester Richie Goldstone in a letter to nearby residents.
The eight-month battle culminated on Tuesday with city councillors faced with 80 pages devoted to the tree in its meeting agenda.
Impassioned presentations included one from Grace Road and Neighbourhood Residents Association chairperson Phil Green.
Phil’s letter begins - “I stand trembling in the morning light, not from the stirring breeze but from the fear my life will be cut short by a chainsaw…”
After 90 minutes the council decided the tree’s life could indeed be cut short by a chainsaw.
However, the tree does serve as a reminder of democracy in action.
Tom Lehner and Christine Price live across the road from the avocado tree. They moved into the avenue a couple of months ago.
They had been warned by the previous owners that the tree may go.
“We were disappointed but it’s still a beautiful area. We thought we’d try our luck and fight to keep the tree. If you drive down 13th Ave, the whole area is a green corridor, so it’s really awesome. We moved here because of all the greenery,” Tom says.
After a tree visit and assessment, the Bettelheims were asked to re-consider their proposal and look at possible alternative designs.
Alas, one of the units had been pre-sold, so design modifications were off the table. After more head scratching, mulling and discussion, the owners were asked if they’d discussed their plans with the locals.
It was the height of COVID-19 lockdown.
A letter drop around the neighbourhood resulted in a flurry of emails to Tauranga City Council from concerned residents not wanting the tree to be removed.
Tom says the tree’s been a real feature of that end of the avenues.
“A lot of people come down here for the avos, you see them constantly and it’s full of birds all the time.”
“The owner wants to maximise his property. Unfortunately development has to happen,” says Tom.
During the process GRANRA dived into the fray, emailing elected members and the mayor, objecting to the removal. Meanwhile the architect emailed council requesting removal approval.
Letters went out to 133 residents in May. Twenty-nine responses were received, with 28 opposing the tree removal and one in support.
More meetings took place as alternatives were explored. Maybe a driveway ‘bridge’ over the roots instead of a traditional concrete driveway? Maybe smaller trees to replace it?
In July an email did the rounds suggesting a boycott page be set up “showcasing the people involved in this act of urban vandalism” with a request that the community avoid those developers, designers, contractors and sales people both commercially and socially.
Tom says the tree serves the wider community.
“There’s constantly people down there picking avocadoes. Everyone benefits from it. Having an avocado tree that’s on public property and the avocadoes are free, it’s pretty awesome.”
Mary’s School is nearby, so bus bays and footpaths had to be considered. Three car parks are outside the proposed building development.
“Potentially one of those carparks is going to go, which is disappointing as well because from what I understand from the locals, it took them a long time to get additional car parking down the street. If you come down here at about two o’clock the street is packed with parents waiting to pick up their children so they’re always scrambling, putting their cars into other people’s driveways, so there aren’t enough carparks as it is.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, council voted for the tree’s removal after adding conditions around the housing project meeting requirements.