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February 15th, 2006 Craig Mosbaek | News Stories
 

Where Money Grows On Trees

How a nature lover's unclear final wishes led to clear-cutting trees —and the Audubon Society making money out of the deal.

     
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A stumping conclusion for a naturalist's beloved trees.
IMAGE: KEVIN BROOKS
When Lawrence Schlottman died at age 83, he was buried with his wife, Norma, and his pet crow, Daisy.

Schlottman's choice in death didn't surprise neighbors of his 3.4-acre property, home to cedar, Douglas fir and maple trees on the Tualatin River near I-205.

"He would come out on the weekends and just sit on his property and watch the birds," says one of those neighbors, Kevin Brooks.

What does surprise Brooks and others is what became of Schlottman's beloved property nearly five years after his death in 2001: Half of it has been clear-cut.

Schlottman, who had no children, willed his assets to the Audubon Society of Portland, putting them in a trust administered by the Bank of America.

Schlottman's will says trust income is to be used first to care for another pet bird "for the remainder of [its] natural life," then to be used "for the feeding of wild birds" and to support the Audubon Society.

So when a developer bought Schlottman's property in December and started clear-cutting, the Audubon Society landed in the uncomfortable position of getting interest from a trust fattened by money from a sale that ended up destroying natural habitat.

Brooks says Schlottman told him his will would have provisions that his property never be developed. But Schlottman's will never mentions protecting the property.

Real-estate agent Annie Johnson listed the property on the bank's behalf for $425,000 last September. Johnson says John Margeson, a vice president in Bank of America's trust real estate office in Seattle, told her the bank had talked with the Audubon Society about the potential sale and that "it had all been settled."

Margeson told her the bank preferred the land not be clear-cut, but that there would be no legal restrictions on the sale. Johnson ended up agreeing to $317,500 for the property from Habib Shekarriz, because the site was not selling due to nearby freeway noise.

After the sale, Johnson talked with Shekarriz about keeping the property in its natural state, but she says there was no legal way to prevent the new owner from cutting the trees.

Meryl Redisch, executive director of the Audubon Society of Portland, says her nonprofit group told the bank a year ago that it wanted the property protected. She wrote the bank on Jan. 25 asking why it had sold the property without restrictions and expressing dismay that the recent sale "damages our work and our reputation."

Margeson referred WW's questions to Rich Brown, a senior vice president with Bank of America in Portland. Brown said the bank would not discuss client relationships but added it followed Schlottman's directives.

Zoning restrictions allow only a single-family house on the site, and Shekarriz plans to build a house there. He declined to give any more details.

As for Brooks, he stresses he doesn't have a beef with the new owner. "He owns the property, he's a developer," he says. "He can tear out the trees and build a million-dollar mansion if he wants to."

But Brooks wonders why all this had to happen to land that he described as "as natural as nature gets."

"Now," Brooks says, "there are just piles and piles of debris."

 
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