Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School
For the past 16 months a group of dedicated people working under the umbrella of Save the Trees – Seattle has been working to save the NW Forest Area at Ingraham High School. While a final resolution has not been reached, the end to the Seattle School District’s intransigence is much closer.
The Seattle Hearing Examiner’s ruling released last week on Ingraham noted that the NW Forest is a rare plant habitat and that it should be protected under Seattle City environmental law. Because DPD did not consider proper conditioning for the loss of rare plant habitat, the Seattle Hearing Examiner reversed and remanded that part of DPD’s decision.
We are not in the woods yet because the Seattle School District has 21 days to appeal the decision to the King County Superior Court. And while the decision says one way to mitigate the impact is to move the project out of the NW forest area, the hearing Examiner also suggests that a smaller footprint for the project in the grove could be considered. We do not believe that the project can be further downsized but we need to be prepared to take further legal action if necessary to save the trees.
Through the support of many citizens across the city we have paid off our legal bills for getting to where we are. We are in a much stronger position now with the evidence in the Seattle Hearing Examiner’s record and the decision. We will continue the legal battle if the Seattle School District does not end its misguided and senseless effort to destroy the NW Forest area at Ingraham when viable alternative building sites exist.
We have on tap Keith Scully of Gendler and Mann ready to represent Save the Trees – Seattle. Keith successfully secured the Injunction to prevent cutting down the trees last year when the Seattle School District withdrew their construction permits for Ingraham, trying to use a loophole in city law avoid further environmental review of the project.
This loophole in city law has now been repealed by the Seattle City Council and a stronger tree protection law has been put in place that will prevent tree groves like Ingraham’s NW Forest area from being cut down in the future.
The Seattle Hearing Examiner confirmed that the NW Forest area at Ingraham is a rare plant habitat comprised of a conifer/madrone/salal association. Seattle Urban Nature has assessed that only 52 acres exist in Seattle.
The decision starts with consideration of SMC 25.05.675.N.2 which states
“a. It is the City’s policy’s policy to minimize or prevent loss of wildlife habitat and other vegetation which have substantial aesthetic, educational, ecological and/or economic value. A high priority shall be given to the preservation and protection of special habitat types…
b. For projects which are proposed within an identified plant or wildlife habitat or travelway, the decision maker shall assess the extent of the adverse impacts and the need for mitigation.
c. When the decisionmaker finds that a proposed project would reduce or damage rare, uncommon, unique, or exceptional plant or wildlife habitat, wildlife travelways or habitat diversity for species (plants or animals) of substantial aesthetic, educational, ecological and/or economic value, the decisionmaker may condition or deny the project to mitigate its adverse impacts…
d Mitigating measures may include but are not limited to:
i. relocation of the project on the site;
ii Reducing the size or scale of the project; …”
The Seattle Hearing Examiner noted that her “review in this case is limited to whether the Director committed a clear error in her decision on the SEPA conditioning for the project.”
The Hearing Examiner stated,
“Appellants have argued that DPD erred by failing to treat the NW grove as a rare or uncommon habitat under SMC 25.05.675.N.2. It is not clear whether DPD considered the grove to be rare or uncommon, but the northwest grove is an uncommon plant habitat under the SEPA policy. … The northwest grove is uncommon on account of the conifer/madrone/salal plant association which is present, and the relative scarcity of that association.
The proposal 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 evaluate whether the location or the structure footprint could be altered to avoid or minimize impacts on the NW grove, and this was an error in light of SMC 25.05.675.N.2.
The record is limited since no alternatives were required to be analyzed in the DNS, and the project was not subject to the City’s design review process, where designs are typically scrutinized for reasonableness. Appellants point to the alternatives rejected by the District as mitigation measures: building a second story on the existing LMC building; placing the addition in the north lawn area; or moving it to the south where the portables are located. Appellants also note that the planned courtyard area places the addition further into the grove”….
“… on the record here, 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.”
Save the Trees- Seattle believes the only reasonable and viable alternative is to relocate the building outside the grove, like on the open north lawn area. DOT Arborist Bill Ames suggested in an e-mail early on that “Tree removal in the NW corner of the site (the new addition) seems excessive and can be modified in favor of the existing trees. One option would be to site the addition nearer to the existing building and creating a walkway, as opposed to the proposed courtyard, between the new and existing building.”
The Seattle School District said this was not possible as current fire code regulations say any new building must be separated from the existing building by the width they made the courtyard. They do not want to add the building directly onto the existing building because this will block existing classroom windows.
In addition a number of the madrone trees are currently on the east side of the NW Forest area and would be cut down no matter how close the addition is to the existing structure.
The reality is there is no need to cut down any of the NW Forest. The Seattle School District asked Integrus Architecture to draw up an Ingraham Master Plan for how the school could expand in the future. They picked the north lawn site as a preferred site to put a future two story building and e-mails.
We discovered through a public records request to the Seattle School District e-mails confirming placing utilities on the North Lawn area so as to be prepared for this option. The current proposed building should be moved to this site now. The school can have both its new classrooms and save the trees at the same time.
There is of course no guarantee that the Seattle School District will take this easy solution to the problem. That is why Save the Trees –Seattle urges people to contact the Seattle School Board and Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson and urge that they end this battle now by moving the building site to the north lawn or some other location.
Save the Trees – Seattle