With some hesitancy, the Newberg City Council gave its blessing for the city to award a contract to overhaul a segment of Villa Road – work that will almost certainly mean the demise of two ancient white oak trees.
Although the council seemed to lean the other way last month when the body instructed staff to look for ways to save the trees, they voted to award the contract by a 4-2 margin Aug. 7.
Casting one of the key swing votes on the issue, Patrick Johnson held up a photo of a car crash he experienced two years ago – from which he is still recovering – to illustrate why he placed traffic and roadside safety concerns above the oaks, especially with limited sites lines for drivers without a turn lane.
"I'm not going to be responsible for some kid walking up and down Villa (Road) getting hit; I'm not going to be responsible for college students who are commuting through there, and that's why I made the motion," he said.
Despite a long meeting discussing other issues, the council still spent at least 90 minutes discussing the Villa Road projects, much of that time listening to residents renewing their calls for the council to preserve the trees, one of which some estimate as being at least 200 years old.
Among them was Leonard Rydell, a resident and longtime engineer and surveyor who rallied support from other residents to protect the trees and even drafted his own plan for the road work.
The plan in dispute on Villa Road is meant to improve the roadway's surface and alignment from Haworth Avenue to Park Lane in order to make the road more efficient for cars and trucks and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. The changes would preempt an array of expected residential and recreational developments along Villa Road. Some, like the new aquatic center, are set, while others, like the large housing developments on the Springbrook Properties, are not even in the planning phase yet.
The improvements would create two travel lanes, bike lanes, curbs and sidewalks, which are standard additions the city is adding to its major thoroughfares, as well as a left-turn lane for northbound traffic to turn onto Park Lane.
Rydell and other opponents had taken issue with the project in general, arguing that widening the road would make drivers feel more comfortable driving faster and therefore make the road more dangerous.
They specifically took issue with the turn lane, arguing that it's for a development with no official plan yet, as well as the bike lanes, contending that residents would not feel safe using a bike lane that's not separated from traffic.
After the council tabled the issue last month and asked staff to review ways the city might save the oaks, City Engineer Kaaren Hofmann dutifully came back with such a preliminary plan, although she noted various safety concerns.
She added that they would have to look deeper into the plan in order to determine if it's workable and an arborist would have to evaluate the trees before the full impact of revamping the road could be determined.
While all councilors expressed their admiration for the oak trees, Mayor Bob Andrews, Stephen McKinney and Mike Corey sided with Johnson for a variety of reasons, including safety and putting the city in a better position to grow.
Scott Essin and Denise Bacon, on the other hand, held back their support and urged their colleagues to wait and consider other plans as most developments are still years in the future.
"I think in 10 years we're going to regret what we've done – you've done – tonight …" Bacon said. "We need to make the streets safer, we need to make the pedestrians safer, but this amount of traffic may never happen. So in 10 years, we may find out that we cut the trees down for no reason at all."
The council's decision awarded the contract to K&E Excavating for work expected to cost about $2.8 million.
City documents indicate construction on Villa Road could begin as early as this month and is expected to be finished next August.
The council also heard a presentation earlier in the evening on what various other cities are doing to preserve various kinds of trees.
In addition, they later tabled an easement and improvement agreement through which the nearby developer KWDS would give right of way to the city and pay about $343,000 for some improvements. That was expected to be approved Monday.