"Tree cutting’ hearing postponed
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge Municipal Judge Buck Allen agreed to postpone a hearing for Al Nilsson, who was charged with illegally cutting down nine trees at his Weisshorn house in February.
Attorney Seth Murphy, who is representing the town of Breckenridge in the proceedings, said the motion he hoped to present Wednesday would amend the charge from one count of “developing without a permit” to nine counts – one for each tree. Cutting down trees within town limits is illegal without a permit.
Murphy said he hopes to make that motion and present a possible resolution to the dilemma at a hearing Sept. 25.
The damage was discovered by a citizen who noticed the fallen trees and called town officials. The trees – lodgepole pines ranging in diameter from 10 to 20 inches and averaging 70 feet in height – were cleared from an area in front of a large picture window at Nilsson’s house, opening up panoramic views of the valley below. Their removal also makes the house highly visible from Carter Park and the neighboring sledding hill.
To maintain the town’s rural mountain character and to screen homes from the valley below, town codes discourage tree-cutting. Permits are required to cut or plant trees.
A twist in the case is that Nilsson’s realtor allegedly asked town officials if Nilsson could cut down the trees, Murphy said. But apparently the information that Nilsson would need a permit didn’t get back to him.
“The realtor might be the one with the most culpability,” Murphy said. “It’s a weird sort of triangle, and Al has not stepped up to the plate like the humanitarian he claims to be. He’s not taking responsibility in any way.”
Another issue complicating the case is that Nilsson sold the house a few days after he cut down the trees, and town officials can’t force the new homeowner, Mitch Albom, a renowned sports columnist, to plant new ones on his property.
Town officials said in April they would prefer if Nilsson and Albom replaced the trees with nine comparable ones – and in the same location. But planners said it is impossible to transplant older, taller trees and ensure they’ll live.
Albom and Nilsson submitted an application in April asking for retroactive permission to cut down the trees they’d already felled.
As part of the application, the two men proposed replacing the nine trees with 18 trees whose caliper inches equal that of the trees that were felled. Fourteen of those would be 12-foot-tall trees planted along the edge of the sledding hill; the remaining four would be planted elsewhere on the slope. Town planners said they also wanted two, 24-foot-tall trees to be transplanted adjacent to the deck overlooking the park to screen the home from the valley below.
Additionally, Nilsson and Albom proposed installing an irrigation system to ensure the trees survive, as well as replacing any trees lost during the planting work, some of which will require a crane to navigate trees around on the steep slope.
The town’s response
The town planning commission approved the application, hoping the two would plant new trees. But just because the two have applied to plant new trees doesn’t mean they will. And even if they do, town officials have said they still plan to prosecute Nilsson on the criminal charge.
Murphy hopes he can come to an agreement that will result in the planting of nine trees – even if they have to be planted elsewhere in town.
“We’ll have to see what the town wants to do,” Murphy said.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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