Dear Management Doctor: 

A resident has asked the Town Council and Planning Commission to consider whether the town can develop provisions that will assist in retention of views that people lose with development, especially from growing trees. The commission indicated that they would consider the topic. I am curious what your experience has been with view ordinances and how they have worked out.

Thank you for your assistance.

Leslie Lambert, Planning Manager
Town of Portola Valley, CA

Dear Leslie,

This is a difficult question. I have not personally managed this type of regulation and hope our readers who have can give us a hand. Most of the regulations I have seen are part of CC&Rs or private easements.

I live on a hillside with views of San Diego Bay and downtown San Diego. The property on the hill above me has an easement over my property that allows the owner to trim my trees to protect his view. He tends to trim them every one or two years. The people below me have trees that block my view. Although a few have agreed to be helpful, most have not. One neighbor allowed me to top one of her trees at my expense. Two other neighbors allowed a groups of us to chip in and top some large Eucalyptus trees. There were seven of us who chipped in $300 each.

I believe it is legal to control trees by the City but I see a number of legal issues that your city attorney will need to address. I can also imagine that such an ordinance will present considerable staff workload. You may want to charge a fee when asked to investigate an issue. Also, it may be prudent to require the person who wants their view protected to pay for the tree trimming, or in some cases tree removal. I tried a tree cutting search on the Internet and found yet another possible concern. Some communities and citizens say there is too much tree cutting. I believe that you will find new trees easier to handle. If you have design review, view protection can be part of your review. You can also have a process that requires a permit for planting any new trees of a certain type or size.

Good luck with this potential “can of worms.”

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

Our City Council has directed us to look at the issue as well. We are considering an ordinance adopted by the Town of Tiburon that establishes a right to a view that the owner had when they purchased the property — but the City is not involved in the process of getting the view back. I looked into it and they claim it does not add a lot of work to City staff. We have competing interests — great views as well as a community developed around shady redwood and oak trees and wildlife. So, I don't anticipate it will be adopted without much discussion and debate.

I attended a class at a planning conference by staff from Rancho Palos Verdes — they have a much different process and I believe they have a full time staff person devoted to the view issue.

Elise Semonian, AICP
City of Mill Valley

One might want to look at how the TRPA handles view issues — they have a rather extensive ordinance dealing with that issue. We have incorporated in some development approvals a requirement for a view shed analysis of each lot and the particular view that is being protected — that has then been put into effect through the application approval and a handbook that is generated.

Mike Harper
Washoe County, NV

The City of Port Orchard, Washington has a View Protection Ordinance that has worked pretty well up to this point. However, the city is in the process of redeveloping the downtown waterfront and the view ordinance may have to be amended to allow that to happen at the height and intensity that is being proposed. Click here to read a copy of that ordinance.

Joanne Long-Woods, AICP
City of Port Orchard, WA

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