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157 Windsor oak trees cut down for apartment complex

Crews this week began cutting down more than 150 oak trees on a Windsor site, a tangible sign that a large apartment complex is soon to take their place.

The oaks, including some old-growth specimens and many trees said to be in declining health, are being cleared to make way for a 387-unit apartment complex that Windsor officials say will provide badly needed rental housing.

After an uproar two years ago over the removal of the oaks - a species considered an integral part of Windsor’s identity and also the town’s logo - the developers redesigned the project and agreed to cut down almost 50 fewer trees than they originally planned.

“We have saved many more trees than originally approved (for removal),” said Peter Stanley, project manager for the apartment development, which is expected to break ground by the end of March. “We met the need of the community and environmental concerns by saving as many oaks as we could.”

Windsor Planning Director Ken MacNab said there are currently 274 oaks on the property and 157 are scheduled to be removed.

Over half of the trees being taken out are in poor health or have hazardous structural issues, he said.

The developers will plant 267 new oaks, resulting in almost 400 oaks on the site once the project is completed. In addition, they are required to pay a mitigation fee of $420,000 for future oak planting throughout the town.

Those measures were little comfort to Eric Wee, a community activist who opposed the tree cutting and helped gather a petition two years ago with more than 1,000 signatures against the removal of the oaks.

“I was pleased we were able to save more trees,” he said Wednesday. “It’s still a very sad day when 200-year-old oaks are being cut down.”

“When you watch that happening it is heart-breaking,” he said, adding that it will take a century and more for the new oaks to reach the size of some they are replacing.

The oaks are being sacrificed to make way for the biggest housing development to gain approval since Windsor incorporated ?25 years ago.

Dubbed Vintage Oaks on the Town Green, the mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments and townhomes will be built to the north of the new Oliver’s Market, on the site of the old Windsorland trailer and mobile home park.

The project has been eight years in the making since it was first proposed as Bell Village by Oakmont Senior Living. It gained approval in 2011 before developers decided to redesign it.

Southern California developer Bob Bisno and his partners assumed ownership several years later and last spring obtained Town Council approval for their revised project, estimated to generate 1,000 jobs during construction and cost $135 million to build.

Bisno also is the developer behind Windsor Mill, a downtown 360-unit apartment project that has not yet been reviewed by the Town Council.

When Vintage Oaks was approved last May, the only dissenting vote came from Town Councilman Sam Salmon, who said he was troubled over the removal of the trees and that the originally proposed low-?income units were dropped.

But the council majority said Vintage Oaks met the town’s goal of higher-density, city-centered growth within walking distance of mass transit, parks, schools, shops and restaurants.

And 20 percent of the project, or 77 units, will be reserved for moderate-income tenants. The developers also agreed to contribute $1 million in fees toward other affordable projects.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas

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