Tag Archives: rare plant habitat

Ingraham High School Remand to DPD Victory for Public Process

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School


Save the Trees-Seattle scored another victory in their battle to stop the Seattle School District from needlesssly destroying part of an uncommon plant habitat at Ingraham High. In their second appeal hearing before the Seattle Hearing Examiner, they again got a remand of the project proposal back to the Seattle Department of Planning and Development.

Earlier this year, Save the Trees-Seattle forced a remand of the Ingraham High School Addition back to the city because they had not looked at the impact of building the addition in an uncommon plant habitat, a conifer madrone forest habitat that the city law says should be protected. Specifically SMC 25.05.675 directs that “It is the city’s policy to minimize or prevent the loss of wildlife habitat or other vegetation which have substantial aesthetic, educational, ecological,and or economic value”.

The Seattle School District, rather than moving the project out of the conifer madrone rare plant association, instead slightly reduced the size of the project by removing an open courtyard and resubmitted the project to the city. DPD again approved the Project despite lacking any printed rules or guidelines as to evaluating its impact on the uncommon conifer madrone forest habitat.

Save the Trees-Seattle appealed the decision to the Seattle Hearing Examiner.

Save the Trees-Seattle in prehearing motions before Seattle Hearing Examiner Anne Watanabe argued that “DPD erred because it did not issue public notice of the revised School District application or provide a public comment period on the application, as required by SMC 23.76.012.”

In a quick ruling yesterday Watanabe noted that “It is undisputed that DPD did not provide notice or a public comment period on the revised application.”

Anne Watanabe’s ruling also noted that “The Code provides no exemption from the notice and public comment period requirements, even if the new application and resulting decision are in response to a Hearing Examiner decision.”

In conclusion Watanabe stated, “While it is regrettable to postpone resolution of issues raised in these appeals, the matter must be remanded to DPD to provide the required notice and comment period. “
Below is the relevant part of Keith Scully’s brief. Scully is a member of the Gendler Mann law firm and represented Save the Trees-Seattle.

While SMC 23.76 does not spell out the requirements for public notice upon a remand and then redesign, SMC 23.76’s mandate to provide “notice of application and an opportunity for public comment” to the public with the intent to “promote informed public participation in discretionary land use decisions ” mandates a new public comment period on the District’s new design. Were the Examiner to hold otherwise, a project proponent could submit some outlandish proposal (a heliport in a residential zone, for instance), have it remanded, and then come up with a radically different design without any public comment on the new proposal. The new design and new decision in this case mandated a new notice of appeal and filing fee: it also mandates a new public comment period so other members of the public besides the appellants can have “informed public participation” in the discretionary review of the District’s new proposal”

Seattle School District Continues Fight to Cut Down Trees at Ingraham High School

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

Despite a clear ruling by Seattle Hearing Examiner Ann Watanabe that the NW Forest at Ingraham High School was a rare and uncommon plant habitat and should be protected according to Seattle’s environmental laws, the Seattle School District is continuing its campaign to try to cut down 72 conifer and madrone trees in the grove.
The Seattle School District, obviously with the full agreement of the Seattle School Board and Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, are choosing continued legal action and delaying construction of the Project by thumbing their noses at the taxpayers of Seattle and now the City of Seattle. They have filed a motion for reconsideration of the Seattle Hearing Examiner’s May 4, 2009 decision against the Project being built as proposed by the Seattle School district that unecessarily required cutting down the trees.

The Hearing Examiner ruled that the Ingraham High School Project

would reduce by half an uncommon habitat that the City’s SEPA policy says must be protected. Given the difficulty or impossibility of replacing this amount of habitat on the site, avoidance or reduction of impacts on the grove is required if such measures are reasonable and capable of being accomplished. In this case, DPD did not require and apparently did not evaluate whether the location or the structure footprint could be altered to avoid or minimize impacts on the northwest grove, and this was an error in light of SMC 25.05.675.N.2.

“… the use of other areas on this 28 acre campus, or at least the reduction of the proposed building footprint, would not be unreasonable or unworkable. Therefore the decision will be remanded to DPD to require additional mitigation in the form of relocation outside of the grove, or at least reduction of the addition’s intrusion into the northwest grove.”

Longtime Seattle School District Attorney G Richard Hill of McCullough Hill argues for the Seattle School District that the Northwest Grove is not an uncommon habitat despite correcting previous testimony presented for the Seattle School District by ESA Adolfson that ignored the presence of numerous native plant species found and documented by experts for Save the Trees – Seattle.

The Madrone conifer forest classification found at Ingraham High School comprises only about 2% of Seattle’s total forested public lands. Seattle Urban Nature in their report entitled “The State of Seattle’s Madrone Forest” noted that madrone forests are “rare” and “Because of their limited distribution on public lands and high ecological value, it is important to preserve and protect these areas as well as look for opportunities to acquire and protect remaining intact madrone forests”. SUN states in their conclusion that “unless we begin to actively manage these forests to reduce the impact of habitat loss, invasive species and other urban pressures; we stand to lose an incredibly valuable cultural and ecological resource.”

Rather than view the fact that Ingraham High School has an environmental treasure on its large 28 acre campus by virtue of the NW Forest area being a rare plant habitat that has both educational and ecological value, the School District argues that if they can’t build in the grove they will continue to cut down the understory rather than restore the area. In other words if they can’t have their way, don’t expect them to do anything to protect the rare plant habitat. What a great example of “my way or no way” bullying to teach our students how the real world works.

During the latest Hearing Examiner process, evidence was entered into the record that pointed to the Seattle School District saying one thing to the public and another thing internally. E-mails obtained through public records from the school showed that at the same time the District said they couldn’t build elsewhere on the campus, they were proceeding with planning for a future addition on the North side of the school on the open lawn area. This is one location Save the Trees argued they could build on now to save the NW Forest from being cut down.

One argument they publicly made was that a North side addition could only be a one story building. Yet in their internal e-mails they said the future addition would be a two story addition on the North side. Don Gilmore overseeing the BEX Projects confirmed under oath that it was a two story addition on the north side they were planning for. I guess he just forgot this when he wasn’t under oath and was speaking to the public.

Funny thing how the Seattle School District has been posting on their BEX website the progress on the Ingraham Project but are not posting all the facts. Now that they have received an unfavorable ruling, they have stopped updating the site to include a copy of this ruling. So much for keeping the public informed about the project.

A Building Excellence Hotline that claims to be the latest construction information refers only to the Project starting construction in spring of 2009 and mentions nothing about their adverse Hearing Examiner decision,

This is despite several hundred thousand dollars being added in Oct 2008 to cover “enhanced community outreach services”- part of $650,000 approved for Ingraham, Nathan Hale and Denny Sealth BEX projects. Looks like they only want to let the community know about what’s happening when it’s positive for them. It sure is good to see our taxpayer dollars selectively being spent to keep the public informed of only the School District’s favorable rulings.

Mayor Nickels Joins Chainsaw Gang

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

Mayor Greg Nickels has decided to join the Seattle School Board Chainsaw Gang. In a decision based partly on challenged flawed documents produced by the Seattle School District, Mayor Nickels, through his Department of Planning and Development, has given the Seattle School District conditional SEPA approval to proceed with the Ingraham High School construction project.

The final project permit has not been approved. The public has until Feb 5, 2009 to appeal the city’s conditional SEPA decision. The City’s lack of commitment to save the trees under this decision brings the trees one step closer to being cut. Save the Trees -Seattle will be appealing the flawed decision.

The Seattle School District has proposed cutting down 72 large Douglas fir, western red cedar and Pacific madrone trees on the west side of Ingraham High School that are 75 years old and over 100 feet tall to replace some existing portables. The trees to be cut are seen in the picture above.

Ingraham High School can have both trees and classrooms. The open lawn area on the North side of the school in the picture above has been chosen as a future building site for the school and could be used now to build the proposed addition without having to cut down any large trees.

At 28 acres, the Ingraham High School campus is the largest public high school campus in the city. There are also other locations the addition could be easily built without having to sacrifice a unique urban forest area.

What hasn’t been debated publicly is that at the same time the Seattle School District is shutting down schools across the city because of excess capacity, it is proposing adding an additional 10,000 square feet to Ingraham High School above the 12,000 square feet it is demolishing and replacing. The School District has said it has an extra 3000 high student seat capacity yet is adding, according to its application, 200 more seats at Ingraham High School above the current 1200.

Why when the Seattle School District is experiencing a $37 million shortfall and closing schools is it not re-evaluating the $24 million it is spending for new parking lots and more classrooms at Ingraham High School?

The City’s decision notes that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources has classified habitat containing Douglas fir, Pacific madrone and Salal as a “rare plant community” in King County. Mayor Nickel’s DPD however accepts the School District’s incomplete and false statements that the understory does not have adequate species diversity.

One of the School District’s own arborist reports confirmed the species diversity is there despite the district’s repeated efforts to cut and mow the understory. Salal is growing back in a number of areas in the tree grove once mowing stopped last year. The DPD even confirms the viability of the unique habitat by noting that “the Northwest Tree Stand could eventually be restored.” The critical componet of the habitat is the 75 year old trees. The understory has been mowed repeatedly by the School District but is actually coming back once they put the fence up and stopped mowing.

Save the Trees- Seattle calls Mayor Nickel’s decision hypocritical because he has strongly touted the need to save trees in Seattle and increase our urban canopy. Yet when he has a chance to save a threatened urban grove of trees he fails to act.

Citizens have to spend time and resources trying to save trees across the city because the Mayor and City Council have failed to enact needed stronger tree preservation ordinances. Other cities like Redmond and Lake Forest Park for example require a permit to cut down any tree over 6 inches in diameter. Here in Seattle people can cut down almost anything they want without a permit or city permission. That is one of the reasons the cities tree canopy has decreased from 40% in 1973 to only 18% today.

The Mayor’s actions speak louder than words. His lack of commitment to save trees when given the chance like at Ingraham High School shows he has a stronger preference for more development and parking lots than he does for saving our green urban habitat. His lack of decisive action to save the trees joins him with the Seattle School District in their disregard for protecting our neighborhoods, our natural environment and our diminishing green urban canopy and diverse habitats.

Link to DPD website with decision on application #3009549: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/LUIB/AttachmentProject3009549ID31883009549.pdf