When a Stillwater towing company announced earlier this year that it planned to cut down 181 trees at a proposed new location, residents of the Forest Hills neighborhood screamed scandal.
But Stillwater Towing officials said on Friday they were changing their plans at 1749 Greeley St. in light of neighbors’ concerns. Under the new proposal, 97 trees would be removed from the 5 acres of land, which is zoned as a business / industrial park, to build a new pound.
Felling of trees is necessary to create a relatively flat surface for vehicle storage, depending on the application of the company’s variance.
According to city code, Stillwater Towing can remove up to 35% of the site’s 265 significant trees – 93 trees in total – without replacing them, said city planner Abbi Wittman.
Stillwater Towing hopes to avoid removing the other four trees, but is ready to replace them if necessary, said Cameron Kelly, the company’s attorney. If they can keep these trees, they won’t have to get a waiver of the city’s tree replacement requirements.
“The goal is to take as few trees as possible,” Kelly said.
Gloria Hatchel was shocked when she learned that 181 of the trees on the other side of her garden could be cut down. Hatchel, who lives in Rainbow Court, said the woodland and nearby wetlands provide habitat for wildlife and birds, including foxes, coyotes, deer, turkeys and cardinals.
Although the company’s proposal has changed, it said on Friday it still opposes it.
“I don’t even want them touching the property,” she said. “It’s a sanctuary over there with all these trees and the pond. It’s beautiful, and they want to build a parking lot in the middle.
Stillwater Towing, she said, should look elsewhere.
But officials at Stillwater Towing say the company, founded in 1975, must be in a central location in the city to handle its calls. The company employs 25 full-time and five part-time employees.
Owner Rick Ritzer, who took over the family business from his father in 1980, began looking to expand 15 years ago, Kelly said. “They were starting to get too big, but they wanted to stay in the area,” he said. “It’s centrally located, which is essential for their business. “
The new location is the old Croix Oil and Olson Transport site, Kelly said. “This lot has handled commercial trucks since 1940,” he said. “It’s a much safer place in terms of traffic, proximity to traffic lights, etc. “
Washington County has a strip of land between the Stillwater Towing property and the neighbors, Kelly said, and there is about 300 feet of land between the back of the proposed pound and the nearest house. The land “is quite heavily forested, and it’s down a big slope,” he said. “The pound lot is higher. It’s far away and the houses are much lower.
On October 27, the city’s planning commission approved the company’s conditional use permit, but denied the exemption for tree replacement. Forest Hills residents appealed the permit approval and Stillwater Towing appealed the denial of the exemption, Wittman said. A public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Stillwater Town Hall.
Neighbor Carolyn Clendenen wasn’t happy the business didn’t need a gap, after all. “At least with a gap he needs to have more responsibility,” she said.
Clendenen said she was concerned about noise and light pollution from the proposed operation.
“These big diesel trucks will be running 24/7 because it’s a towing business, and there will be security lights illuminating my room,” she said. “Instead of looking over the trees, my view will now be of salvaged cars. What is the city going to do to help me recover the real estate value of my house? Now all of a sudden this quiet residential area is going to become commercial.