In a town where the official logo is an oak tree, cutting them down is not taken lightly.

But a couple dozen trees, including five large Valley Oaks, along Old Redwood Highway in Windsor are scheduled to be removed soon — perhaps by the end of this week — to make way for street improvements associated with a new shopping center and residential project.

A couple of the bigger, three-foot diameter oaks facing the ax are estimated to be 150-to-160 years old, according to a consulting arborist.

Even though they managed to survive the construction of Old Redwood Highway in the 1920s, the coming street improvements have set them squarely in the path of modernity.

"Most people in the community don't realize such big trees are going to come down," said Eric Wee, a Windsor resident who started an online petition to stop the destruction of the century-plus "heritage trees."

The trees are being removed to make way for Bell Village, a mixed-use project with 387 multi-family dwellings and 83,500 square feet of commercial space, including an Oliver's Market.

Windsor officials say the trees are being taken out to accommodate new sidewalks, parking and bike lanes along Old Redwood Highway that were a condition of the approval of Bell Village.

They say they have done everything to spare as many trees as possible and in fact the developer had an initial plan that would have taken out even more.

The Town Council several years ago took a field trip to examine the trees on the 25-acre Bell Village property, which was previously the site of the Windsorland mobile home and trailer park.

"The council walked the project, looked at every single tree on Old Redwood Highway and trees within the property and we saved quite a few," said Councilwoman Deb Fudge. "But when you're building a grocery store and putting in bike lanes, parking and roundabouts along Old Redwood Highway, to get those improvements some trees will have to come down."

But some of the people who signed an online petition to save the trees aren't buying it.

"If you have oak trees alongside the road, you make the roads accommodate the trees," said Windsor dentist Kurt Mitchler.

He said the trees "are much older than Windsor," and while he sees Bell Village as good for the town, the loss of heritage trees represents something that "will never be back in anyone's lifetime."

Consulting arborist John Meserve of Glen Ellen said some oaks in Sonoma County can be up to 350 or 400 years old. As to the ones on Old Redwood Highway, "They're not grandmothers, but they're not adolescents either," he said. "They're at mid-life. They have life left in them."

He said tree removal "is so emotional for folks" and he's seen it play out time and again in the Bay Area in a trade-off between development and tree preservation.

The Town Council in January gave the green light to a modified Bell Village, following an initial approval for the project in late 2011.

The developers, Oakmont Senior Living, said last month they now were ready to proceed on the $100 million project, beginning by first constructing the commercial phase, with the residential dwellings to follow.

Earlier this month, they began clearing part of the old Windsorland — including the removal of 53 trees — to make way for the highly anticipated Oliver's Market, the first supermarket in Windsor on the west side of Highway 101.

Oliver's has grown to 35,000 square feet and will be the flagship store for the company, which has two stores in Santa Rosa and one in Cotati.

The next phase of tree removal involves 25 trees along Old Redwood Highway, including the large oak trees some are rallying to save.

Windsor Associate Planner Pauletta Cangson is on the verge of issuing a permit to cut down those trees. She said there is urgency to bring them down before birds begin to nest in them this spring.

Overall more than 760 trees were identified on the Bell Village site and along old Redwood Highway where public improvements are planned related to the project, according to Cangson.

Of the total, she said 288 trees are proposed for removal.

"They're not really healthy, excellent specimens. A fair amount are in fair condition," she said.

Windsor officials said they were able to spare many of the trees initially proposed for removal on Old Red by using elevated wooden boardwalks rather than concrete sidewalks to accommodate the roots systems.

Developers already have put up more than $160,000 to plant replacement trees for the ones that were recently removed and will put another $72,000 or more for the second phase of tree replacement.

Town council members see little possibility of the targeted oaks being saved.

"We did a lot of work to save as many as we did," said Councilman Steve Allen. "For us to stop now, we'd be opening ourselves to lawsuits and lawsuits we'd lose."

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com