Members of the Sonoma Midtown Neighborhood Association were surprised by a tree removal crew Thursday morning.
People who live in the neighborhood at 36th Place and New Haven opposed a plan by the Church of Latter Day Saints to expand a parking lot. They argued the expansion, which would include removing several large trees, would have a negative impact on the barred owls that nest in the neighborhood.
The association turned to the city of Tulsa for help and also started a petition. The developers notified the city in July that they were dropping their plans to expand the parking lot.
Thursday morning, Jennifer Harmon, the president of the Sonoma Midtown Neighborhood Association, sent out an alert about the tree removal on the Facebook page she runs about the owls.
She said the neighborhood is upset at the church and its members.
"What they're doing is absolutely appalling, because they've never made any effort to really hear the neighbors out. They've not made a good effort, an ethical effort, to hear what would happen, especially when they displaced one of the baby owls last week. They've not returned out calls," Harmon said.
"They simply seem to only care about destroying an urban habitat of federally protected raptors and the livelihood of a master gardener and other neighbors to rely on those trees for their quality of life."
The crew said it was taking down seven or eight trees in the area.
The church said no permit is required to take down trees. Members of the neighborhood had asked that any tree removal be delayed until after September 1st, to lessen the impact on the Owls.
And while it's too late to try to keep the trees, Harmon said the fight isn't over. She and other neighbors will be standing by, waiting for the church to apply for a variance to get the parking lot.
"We will be there again, in front of the Board of Adjustment, explaining exactly what it says in the comprehensive plan in the zoning code," Harmon said.
The Board of Adjustment said after the church applies for a variance, it will take about a month to get an answer on the parking lot, which would have 44 spots.
The church released the following statement:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been part of this neighborhood for many years. We value our relationships, but we also have a need to provide increased parking for our members. Our previous application for a parking lot exception was withdrawn after questions over site drainage, parking set back and concerns over the fledgling barred owls. We are now prepared to resolve the drainage and set back requirement. We are currently working with a licensed plumber who has received the necessary permits to plug the existing sewer line on the property. The mini excavator is on the site for this purpose. Following the building inspector’s approval, the holes will be backfilled and the equipment will be removed from the property.
To address the concerns about the owls, we consulted Matt Fullerton of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, who informed us that the project does not violate any state or federal regulation involving the protection of wildlife and no environmental oversight is required. The Barred Owls Society of Midtown requested that we wait until September 1 to remove the trees to ensure the well-being of the fledgling owls. Now that the owls have fledged, we will move forward with our plans to remove the trees and the existing buildings and resubmit our application to build a parking lot on our property.