Seattle School District Says Cutting Down 62 Evergreen Trees in City is Not Significant

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

The Seattle School District is proposing cutting down 62 large Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees on the west side of the Ingraham High School Campus in North Seattle. In addition they are proposing adding some 113 new parking spaces to the residential neighborhood, including on street parking.

This action is part of the proposed renovation of Ingraham High School that includes demolishing seven portables and one modular building of 7800 square feet and constructing a 2 story building addition of 14,500 square feet of classrooms on the west side of the existing high school.

Anyone else would likely characterize the cutting down of such a large number of old trees and increasing parking spaces in a residential neighborhood as having a significant environmental impact. Yet the Seattle School District has published a Notice of Determination of Non-Significance in the March edition of the Journal saying that “the proposal does not create any probable significant environmental impacts.”

The responsible school official listed for this determination is Ronald J English. English was recently the center of another questionable environmental skirmish in the same Haller Lake residential neighborhood when he was involved with the proposed sale of a Seattle School District building – the former Nellie Goodhue School – located at Meridian Ave N and Roosevelt Way N. The school district initial determination would have opened the residential neighborhood to an onslaught of trucks because of a “determination” that it was zoned for a warehouse. The Haller Lake Community Club sued and the property has now been sold to be converted into 26 single family homes.

A look at the Environmental Checklist prepared by the the URS Corporation of Seattle that the Seattle School District based its decision on, reveals a number of problems that were not adequately addressed. The Environmental Checklist, for example, does not consider any alternative places on campus to construct the new classrooms or look at any other alternative building designs in their evaluation.

The checklist provides no value to the loss of open space or tree canopy as compared to other alternatives. It assigns no value to the loss old growth trees which it minimally characterizes as Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar. It does not give the age of the trees or the height or the canopy coverage but only says they are 12 to 24 inches in diameter. In reality many of the trees appear to be large mature trees matching the tallest evergreen trees in the neighborhood. I estimate them as 100 feet or more in height.

A person with the design team characterized them in a conversation as mature trees at the end of their life yet they are the same size as other trees in the neighborhood. Douglas fir trees can grow to 48 inches in diameter and cedar even larger. The “ready to die” image is how the logging industries characterizes trees to justify cutting them – is this the school district’s philosophy also?

In addition, the proposal does not take into account Mayor Nickels goal for regreening the city over the next three decades — the planting of 649,000 trees, plus keeping the tree cover we have.” as written about in the Seattle PI.The article notes that:

Since the early 1970s, Seattle has lost more than half of its tree canopy as more businesses and people have moved into the city and smaller homes have given way to apartments and megahouses. Invasive ivy and blackberry bushes have smothered and killed native trees.
Nickels is looking to reverse that trend, to keep Seattle from becoming “the city formerly known as emerald.” …

Trees increasingly are being viewed as an asset to urban spaces. They clean pollution from the air and turn a key global warming gas into oxygen. They catch rainfall and slow the flow of contaminated stormwater from roadways into salmon streams….

“The city is increasingly realizing the urban forest is really part of the infrastructure of the city,” Nicholas said. “It isn’t just about looking pretty.”
The mayor’s goal is to expand the tree canopy from the current 18 percent to 30 percent over the next 30 years. Canopy is a measure of the land covered in trees, not a count of individual trees.

The current Environmental Checklist does not consider any measure of canopy replacement or any measure of global warming impact equivalency. It does propose adding new trees but most of these appear to be deciduous “street trees” maybe 15 to 20 feet tall at most.
The checklist makes no mention of Mayor Greg Nickels Executive order of Sept 6, 2005 that directs “all City departments to replace every tree that is removed from City-owned land in Seattle with two new trees.” One would think that Seattle Public Schools would support this policy also for the school district.
An additional major problem with the Environment Checklist is that it relies on a parking and traffic analysis prepared for URS by Mirai Transportation and Engineering of Kirkland that makes a number of questionable assumptions.

Ingraham High School currently has some 117 parking spaces on campus and has a 50 year agreement with the Seattle Parks Department to use a lot directly east of the school and north of the Helene Madison pool on a shared basis. The school estimates that it uses some 82 of the 165 spaces available in the shared Parks Dept lot.

The Mirai study then makes an assumption that is not borne out by the existing situation. They state that the 50 year “agreement is not assumed to continue and the parking analysis assumes loss of this lot for both daily and special event use. ” Yet both a call to the Parks Department and a discussion with Martin Floe, Ingraham’s Principal, and also the Project manager for URS, provided no problem with the current use of the Park’s Department parking lot or indicated any reason to expect it to end. No other use is planned for the existing parking lot.

But the assumption that it is not available in determining parking needs for Ingraham results in a big impact on the neighborhood, adding some 113 new parking spaces and encouraging more traffic and parking. The only justification seemed to be that the School District somehow couldn’t trust the Parks Department or the City to continue the agreement in the future, even though the Athletic Fields at Ingraham are shared with the city and they don’t have any problems with that.

Currently peak parking for 1200 students, faculty and staff is 185 cars. At some point the school might add 200 more students but this is not even certain. But the Mirai Parking study suggests that 200 additional students will require some 45 more parking spaces. Seattle is an urban area, yet to calculate the additional cars, Mirai uses something called “the peak trip generation for suburban high schools in the Institute for Transportation Engineers Trip Generation Manual.

This is almost double the current rate for students at the school. The difference represents some 22 parking spaces. How can you justify using a calculation for suburban schools for an urban school?

The deadline for responding to the Notice of Determination of Non-Significance is 4 PM on March 19, 2008. The DNS and Checklist can be viewed at the School District’s website

Urge that they do a more thorough environmental analysis of their project that assesses the real costs of building in an urban forested area and looks at alternatives to cutting down old growth trees and that also evaluates alternatives and mitigation measures to reduce demand for parking in general at the school rather than adding new parking spaces.

Send comments to:
Ronald J English, Environmental Officer
Seattle School District No 1
PO Box 34165, MS32-151
Seattle, WA 98124
phone: 206-252-0110
fax: 206-252-0110
Seattle Public Schools is also holding a public community meeting on Tuesday March 18, 2008 from 7 PM to 9 PM in the Ingraham School Library to give a presentation of the design team for the renovation.

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