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Arie and Els Kleinjan instigated a campaign to spare the trees, which stand on a road reserve on the corner of Panorama Tce and Maxwell Pl, after Queenstown Lakes District Council staff decided to fell them last year.
A vote at Thursday’s community and services committee narrowly approved their removal, but on the condition the nearest property owner pay for the job as well as covering the costs of a new tree and the site’s ongoing maintenance.
The property owner, Kenneth Butt, requested the trees’ removal nearly a year ago to improve the views from his yet-to-be built house.
A report for the committee by parks and reserves planning officer Stephen Quin said felling the trees was "prudent" as they had probably grown as suckers from an old stump, were in the wrong location and their roots were damaging a neighbouring retaining wall.
Consultants Opus also favoured their removal, saying it would improve visibility for motorists, lessen the chance of ice forming on the road and remove potential objects for motorists to crash into.
Three immediate property owners were initially consulted, who agreed to the plan.
But the trees had a reprieve when the Kleinjans found out and accused council staff of failing to follow the district tree policy.
As a result of their campaign, households within a 100m radius of the trees were consulted.
Nine of them were in favour of felling the trees and 21 were opposed.
The Kleinjans are overseas at present, but in a statement tabled at Thursday’s meeting, Mrs Kleinjan took issue with the Opus report, saying the trees did not impede views for motorists and had not caused issues with ice in the winter.
There was also no evidence their roots were affecting the road or retaining wall, Mrs Kleinjan said. Mr Butt did not live in Queenstown and failed to appreciate the town’s "green aspect", she said.
"He bought the section knowing there were two big trees ... on the other side of the public road."
Council arboricultural officer Tim Errington told the committee the "tenacious" poplars would probably have been felled within a decade anyway, because of the council’s hazardous trees policy.
Committee chairman Scott Stevens said the poplars were the "wrong trees in the wrong place" and would eventually have come to the council’s attention, regardless of Mr Butt’s request.
But the public interest showed that felling trees was a "very serious issue" and staff needed to widen the consultation process in such cases.
The five-member committee voted to have the trees removed, but on the condition Mr Butt pay for a replacement tree of a smaller species, its ongoing care, and for the cost of poisoning the poplars’ stumps to prevent regrowth.
The motion passed with Crs Craig Ferguson and Penny Clark opposed.Tree-supporter Kirsty Sharpe told the Otago Daily Times after the meeting she was disappointed by the outcome, but it was "probably expected".
The committee had seized a chance to have Mr Butt pay for all the costs.
"It has forced council to realise tree-scapes are important in residential neighbourhoods," Mrs Sharpe said.