Accurately Measuring Tree Growth.
February 19, 2014 1:33 PM   Subscribe

We recently were fortunate enough to buy a house in the Berkeley Hills with panoramic Bay views of the city from the Golden Gate to the Bay bridge. Our downhill neighbor has a large beautiful redwood tree in their yard. However as beautiful as the tree is it can significantly obstruct our view if allowed to continue to grow uabated so we need a way to accurately measure its growth remotely.

I may be over thinking this but if the tree grows a foot we may lose significant views as its directly in our SF sightline. Its already a significant obstruction but Berkeley law on this front only gives us recourse for as long as we've occupied the property (about a month) so we want to curb any additional unmanaged growth.

While a picture from our deck is great a few feet/inches each direction can both overstate or understate the problem. So what we want is a method by which we can take a very consistent picture over time (or very consistent and documentable measurement) in order to track its growth. We overlook the tree being uphill of it and can see the whole trunk clearly. Its also very close, if not overhanging the house on the property which could be used as a point of reference.
posted by bitdamaged to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Could you pay a surveyor?
posted by signal at 1:40 PM on February 19, 2014

I think you may well be overthinking this. When we lived in the Berkeley Hills, the thing to do was go knock on your downhill neighbor's door and introduce yourself, and get some contact info so that you can reach out to them when the tree needs trimming. It's pretty well understood that uphill neighbors have a right to the sightline they had when they bought the house. Just take a bunch of photos of the current view so that you have something to refer to when it's time to call in the tree-trimmers.
posted by ambrosia at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

You need a tool called a clinometer (something like this) that will allow you to measure view angle to the top of the tree. If you take that measurement over time from the same spot (with the same person so that height is the same), you can estimate relative growth over time. If you can measure the distance from where you stand and where the tree is, you can estimate absolute growth with a little trigonometry.
posted by one_bean at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding ambrosia. It will be better for both parties if you can keep this friendly and neighborly, and work together to keep the tree from impinging on your view. I say this as someone who lives across the bay from you and has a similar tree on his property. Trees grow -- that's what they do when they are healthy, anyway. When they aren't, they fall over (very bad) and/or catch fire (also very bad, obviously). It's not going to be news to your neighbor that his tree is growing. Treat this as an issue that will need routine quarterly or twice yearly maintenance, not as a crisis that's brewing. At some point, the fence between your properties will fall down, or there will be an earthquake and part of your house or deck may end up in his yard. When real shit happens, it will be much better if you guys are still on speaking terms.
posted by mosk at 2:22 PM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all. And I should clarify I have no intention of turning this into a thang I'm just trying to do a good job documenting the baseline height now that we've just moved in.
posted by bitdamaged at 3:39 PM on February 19, 2014

Find a spot that you can take the same photo from, time after time. Pick a permanent location in your house or yard that you can set a camera down on, framing the tree and the view it obstructs/could obstruct. Look for a fence post at a property corner, a corner of your house, or something else that will not move. Line up a photo that shows an immovable nearby feature (your fence, the side of your house), the tree, and an immovable faraway feature (the SF skyline). Take some photos. These won't be photos to hang on your wall, because they will inconveniently have a fence or something similar in the foreground. Now you can take the same photo with the same alignment every so often, and show how the tree moves relative to the skyline. You don't need to know how tall the tree actually is, you just need to say "I used to be able to see X, now I can't any more. Can you trim the tree so I can see X again?"

Unfortunately, redwoods grow fast and they grow tall. Topping them does not generally have good results for the tree, either. They're wonderful trees, and well suited to your neighborhood from an ecology standpoint. Also, it is the Berkeley hills, so people like their trees. But if the social norms are not to block the view of those uphill, then planting a redwood was not a very community-minded move on your neighbor's part. This could be a tough situation. Treat it with delicacy.
posted by agentofselection at 1:39 PM on February 20, 2014

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