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Originally published November 8, 2012 at 9:36 PM | Page modified November 9, 2012 at 7:08 AM

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Olerud backed by Clyde Hill board on removal of neighbors' tree

Former Seattle Mariners first baseman John Olerud won a neighborhood dispute when the Clyde Hill Board of Adjustment ruled that homeowners across the street must remove two trees that obstruct his view of Lake Washington and the Seattle skyline.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Nine years after he won his third Gold Glove as a Seattle Mariners first baseman, John Olerud has won a victory in a different venue.

The Clyde Hill Board of Adjustment ruled Wednesday night that Olerud's neighbor to the west must remove two trees because they unreasonably obstruct Olerud's view of Lake Washington and the Seattle skyline.

The board's 3-2 order is the first time the city has told a resident to cut down a tree under a 1991 "view obstruction and tree removal" ordinance.

Despite winning the long battle with neighbors Bruce and Linda Baker, Olerud's reaction was subdued.

"This was no fun, this was a tough process — a lot of emotions on both sides. It's not a pleasant experience by any means," Olerud said after the hearing before a standing-room-only crowd in Clyde Hill's small City Council chambers.

Bruce Baker, a Presbyterian minister and a professor of business ethics at Seattle Pacific University, said his reaction was one of disbelief, but he didn't know if he would appeal the decision to the City Council.

"I'm going to need to think that over. It's so fresh and shocking I haven't had time to react. I'm still stunned," Baker said Thursday.

An appraiser hired by John and Kelly Olerud said their $4 million home would be worth $255,000 more if the rare Chinese pine and the Colorado spruce across the street were cut down and replaced with smaller plants. The Chinese pine's value is estimated at more than $18,000.

Removing the trees would widen the west-facing view from his family room by 65 percent, Olerud told the Board of Adjustment, giving his house the same amazing view of Seattle's skyline that's visible from nearby Northeast 20th Street.

"I know Mr. Baker has said in the past we have a 180-degree view. We don't have a 180-degree view; we have a 30-degree view of the west," Olerud said, prompting guffaws from some people in the audience.

Baker, showing a spliced-together enlargement of two photos submitted by Olerud, said the vista was significantly wider when views from different parts of the house are considered.

"We love the trees, they are valuable and we don't want to remove any of them," Baker said. He said the Oleruds "have a fabulous property and, no matter how valuable it is, the ordinance doesn't promise them an unobstructed view. It doesn't entitle them to more than they paid for."

The meeting was recessed for about 20 minutes after board members asked if the two couples were willing to make a final stab at a settlement.

"Let me hear your offer," Bruce Baker said before the homeowners met privately but without success.

Board member Catherine McLamb said she was troubled that the city code considers the effect of a tree on the value of a property bought when the tree was already there. "One is not entitled to enhance your view," she said.

Member Jack Bookey responded, "I look at the way it's written, not the way it should be written."

The board found that the portion of the view blocked by the Bakers' trees materially decreases the Oleruds' enjoyment of their property.

Removing the trees wouldn't unreasonably decrease the Bakers' enjoyment of their property, the board said. The view ordinance says an owner's enjoyment of a tree must be determined "by an objective evaluation," and "the personal attachment of a party to particular trees or landscaping shall not be compelling."

Because the Bakers' trees can be replaced with something smaller, "They can enjoy their privacy and shade and whatever else the tree provided for them," board member Bruce Eastes said.

Under the board's order, the Oleruds must pay the cost of removing the trees and replacing them with smaller trees or shrubs.

"We carry out the ordinance," Bookey said after the meeting. "The reason that there has not been a view hearing for years and years is because the neighbors routinely get together and work things out."

In this case, Bookey said, the neighbors weren't able to settle it themselves.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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