Homeowner unsure about accepting tree condition
A Red Mountain homeowner who cut the tops off of nearly 130 cottonwood trees on his property last year without permission must monitor replanted trees and vegetation for five years, Pitkin County commissioners decided Wednesday.
Andrew Lessman, the homeowner, must also submit twice-annual reports to the county about the replanted trees during that five-year period.
“I think five years is really quite appropriate,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said.
Commissioners on Sept. 14 voted to make Lessman monitor the replantings and submit the reports for 20 years. Lessman, who did not attend the Sept. 14 meeting, asked the board to reconsider the condition because it didn’t meet industry standards.
“Twenty years is not reasonable,” he said Wednesday. “It was an outrage.”
After the meeting, Lessman said he hadn’t yet decided whether to accept the five-year condition or to allow a lawsuit filed last month continue forward. The lawsuit was filed because a statute of limitations would have run out 28 days after the condition was imposed, and Lessman would have had no recourse if the board had not changed its mind, said Chris Bryan, his attorney.
“(The condition) bears no reasonable relationship to industry standards,” Lessman said. “But because I’m generally a peaceful, cooperative guy, I might (accept) their unreasonableness.”
Lessman and Bryan asked commissioners to lower the 20-year monitoring period to three years.
Pitkin County authorities red-tagged Lessman’s home on Placer Lane in October 2015 after complaints by residents about the tree-cutting.
Lessman told commissioners Wednesday the trees were pruned and that none were removed. Aspen Fire District officials removed trees from the area before Lessman ordered the pruning and left many tree trunks in the area, he said, which made people think he’d cut down trees.
In fact, he said he cut 12 to 15 feet from the tops of 127 cottonwoods trees to make them healthier and not to improve his views.
“I didn’t do this for the view,” Lessman said. “The views only changed insignificantly.”
Tami Kochen, a county community development planner, said Lessman wasn’t allowed to remove vegetation from outside his building envelope. The county stopped the work because officials felt that’s what he was doing, she said.
Suzanne Wolff, assistant community development director, later said Lessman would have had to get a permit to prune the trees.
Lessman admitted that he’d previously been told he couldn’t remove dead or dying cottonwood trees, but said he was told he could prune the trees.
Richards said the trees were topped, not pruned, and Ben Carlsen, Aspen city forester, agreed.
Pruning is removing dead branches or allowing pedestrians or cars to pass under a tree unmolested, Carlsen said. Topping a tree removes the top part of the tree’s trunk and leads to structural instability and problems with insects and diseases, he said.
Commissioner Michael Owsley, who first suggested the 20-year period, remained hot under the collar Wednesday about Lessman’s actions, and said he still considered 20 years reasonable.
“Mr. Lessman is smiling and smirking,” Owsley said angrily, pointing at Lessman and raising his voice. “It’s an outrage. I’m so upset by this I can’t tell you.
“I’m appalled by the actions of the applicant.”
Neighbor John Moore appeared to feel the same way, and asked commissioners to hold Lessman’s “feet to the fire.”
“I’ve never seen such devastation,” Moore said. “It looked like Armageddon over there.”
Lessman said he will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to replant the hillside where the cottonwood trees are located, including installing an irrigation system. The slope will be replanted with aspen, spruce and other native vegetation, but not cottonwoods, said Ryan Vugteveen, a local landscape architect.
The commissioners unanimously voted to approve the five-year condition.
Lessman is the owner and founder of ProCaps Laboratories, a vitamin supplement manufacturer and distributor.
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