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Phoenix neighborhood ready to fight removal of tree

LISTEN: Fight over neighborhood tree with HOA

PHOENIX — A showdown is brewing in Sunnyslope community of Phoenix over a neighborhood landmark.

Jayden Bucoy, 11, lives at the Casa del Norte townhomes near 12th Street and Northern Avenue. There’s a big tree there.

“I love it!” she said about the tree. “It’s just really fun to play with, and we use the bark as little boats.”

The eucalyptus tree towers over everything.

“It’s a large tree. We don’t know how long that it’s been there, but it’s approximately 50 years,” said Mayme Wilhem, community manager for Associated Property Management, the company which has been hired by Casa del Norte’s homeowners association to run the neighborhood.

In 2013, the tree started damaging the sidewalks around it, and APM got a warning from the city of Phoenix.

“If we did not make the repair, we would be charged $3,000 by the city of Phoenix,” Wilhem said.

APM paid for the repairs and elected to keep the tree, she said. But now, Wilhem said that it’s causing new problems.

“It is lifting the sidewalks,” she said. “We don’t know what it’s doing to the plumbing, piping and fire hydrant. It could be damaging the roof of the building that it’s adjacent to, as well as the structure.”

Fearing another threat of fines, APM sent someone out to cut the tree down last week.

“As a contractor was removing the tree, there was a woman with a baby standing under it. The contractor would not go any (farther),” Wilhem said.

That woman was Jayden’s mother, Zarah Bucoy.

“I told them that I’m not going to move until you guys leave,” Bucoy said.

The contractor backed down and left.

Bucoy said she’s willing to fight for the tree.

“We love it. The kids named it Big Ben,” she said. “It’s just a big tree. It’s beautiful. It’s a living thing. It’s part of the community. It would just break our hearts if they took it down.”

She said she doesn’t believe Wilhem’s claims that the tree is doing damage, and has put a sign on it that reads “Save our tree” and “Don’t kill me.” Bucoy said that the next time that someone comes to cut it down, they will find more people around it.

“Some of the homeowners are willing to stand there and stop the tree-cutting again,” Bucoy said. “The HOA management said that they will have cops escort us out.”

That won’t happen until at least April 13, because APM has agreed to talk about the controversial tree that night at a meeting in its offices at 3260 E. Indian School Road.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m., but is limited to only certain residents of the neighborhood. More than 50 percent of Casa del Norte’s residents are renters, and only those who can prove they own a home in the neighborhood will be allowed in.

Wilhem said that any renters that want to comment about the tree need to contact their landlord and address their concerns. Bucoy said she believes renters are being shut out because she attended a similar meeting recently.

Other residents said they are glad the tree controversy is getting the public’s attention.

Bucoy said at least 10 homeowners plan to be at the meeting to support saving the tree. One of them is her roommate, Bernardo Rosete Jr., who bought his home two years ago and wants the tree to stay.

“This is just part of what we moved into. Having it being taken away just kind of sucks,” Rosete said.

Wilhem said the HOA understands.

“The board does not want to remove a beautiful tree,” she said.

But it has little choice.

“The cost that’s associated with this — the damage that it’s doing — it’s to the point now that we have to remove the tree,” Wilhem said.

Rosete is digging his heels in the other way.

“This tree has to stay,” he said.