The Seattle City Council has unanimously passed it’s updated Street Tree Ordinance. There were no amendments – if changes are desired in legislation it’s necessary to get them done in Committee before they come to the full Council for a vote. Thank you to everyone who took time to write or contact the Seattle City Council on this issue.
You can view the adopted Ordinance # 117745 by clicking on this link.
The gist of the bill is that permits will be required to remove or do major trimming to street trees and tree replacement is required for trees removed “if site conditions permit”.
Applying for a permit to remove a street tree does not mean it will be removed.
A tree can only be removed if it is a hazardous tree, poses a public safety hazard, is in a condition of poor health or poor vigor or cannot be successfully retained due to public or private construction or development conflicts.
Notice of an application to remove a tree must be publicly posted at the site for 14 days and public comment will be accepted before the Director makes a decision.
Any person violating the act shall be subject to a fine of up to $500 per day.
In addition any person who destroys, injures or mutilates a street tree may be subject to a fine equal to the appraised value of the tree and if the violation is willful or malicious, the penalty may be trebled.
All tree service providers engaged in pruning, removing or otherwise treating street trees shall register annually with the Department of Transportation.
Any major pruning, removal or treatment of street trees by a Tree Service provider shall be certified by an ISA certified arborist or ISA certified worker.
You can read the full ordinance to get more details. If you have concerns about specific language or its interpretation you should let Nolan Rundquist at the SDOT know as they will be preparing CAMS or Client Assistance Memos to explain details to the public to clarify issues which may be confusing.
Nolan Rundquist, the City Arborist at SDOT has been working many years to get this ordinance drafted and passed and should be thanked for sticking with it. Also the Seattle Urban Forest Commission helped in reviewing the proposal as well as members of the public. And Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin deserves special recognition for leading the Council effort to enact this update.
Next up in the next few months will be the 5 year update of the Urban Forest Management Plan which is being renamed the Urban Forest Stewardship Plan.
The third component of the urban forest updates is the private property tree ordinance proposal. DPD (Seattle Department of Planning and Development) has said they will release a new draft sometime in June and we can expect the issue will be before the Seattle City Council for a vote early next year.
So far this has been the hardest component of the urban forest updates to reach agreement on because of DPD’s bias toward development as its mission rather than the protection of trees. This is why efforts need to be continued to move oversight of trees to the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE). DPD’s prime mission is to help developers build projects, not protect trees. To get maximum protection, tree oversight needs to be in a department where they have an advocate to speak for them and OSE’s mission is most consistent with that.
Keep updated on Seattle tree and urban forestry issues by following Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest
The following comments were submitted by Save the Trees – Seattle to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission regarding the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s latest draft Tree Ordinace. You can see the draft proposal here: www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/trees
Preliminary Comments to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission –
regarding latest DPD draft of tree ordinance
July 18, 2012
Save the Trees-Seattle
Our initial observations: This draft is a disappointment but not unexpected considering DPD’s previous proposal. DPD spends the bulk of the 56 page draft ordinance on specific provisions regarding sites where they are issuing building permits and very little on protecting trees outside the development process.
While there are some good additions, like requiring all projects to add street trees, this provision already exists in most zones. They are adding it for Single Family Residential and Institutions. And while it appears they are now requiring permits to remove exceptional trees which they define as over 24″ in diameter, at the same time they remove any limitations on removing any trees smaller than this and also remove protections for tree groves. Brennan Staley made the comment at the UFC that one analysis showed that only 14% of the trees in the city were over 24″ dbh, meaning that 86% of the trees could be removed outside the development process with no limitations.
Their old definition for removing trees was that they would be saved unless they limit the development potential of a lot. They are now saying an exceptional tree will be saved “unless the location of proposed principle (sic) structure would not allow an adequate tree protection area…” It’s just a different way of saying the sane thing.
By simplifying their definition of an exceptional tree to one 24″ in diameter they are removing protections for many trees that the Director’s Rule 16-2008 on Designation of Exceptional Trees classified as exceptional with a much smaller dbh depending on the tree species. Madrona trees for example were classified as exceptional at 6″ dbh and Quacking aspen at 12″ and Pacific dogwood at 6″. They would no longer be exceptional under DPD’s new proposal.
Currently people are able to remove 3 trees a year from their property. This is way too many but DPD removes all protections for trees less than 24″ in diameter . The current system is not acceptable because the number needs to be less and because we need a permit system to track loss and hopefully slow loss by educating people on the value of our trees. Vancouver, BC, eg, limits removal to 1 per year. Shoreline’s recently passed ordinance varies the number based on lot size.
DPD does nothing to mitigate loss of non-exceptional trees. The problem remains that tree protection should not be under DPD. It should be administered by a department that has a vested interest in saving trees and can be an advocate for doing that, not a Department whose main mission is to help people develop their property and find ways to make it easier for them to remove trees. Possible Departments with more of a mission to save trees include Seattle Public Utilities, Office of Sustainability and Environment and the Parks Department. DPD could still oversee the process of tree protection during development but not over private trees outside development.
Some good things in the draft:
1. Adding single family homes and institutions undergoing development to list of zones that must add street trees.
2. Requiring an online permit to remove trees larger than 24″ dbh.
3. Implementing tree removal application fee for exceptional trees to help cover cost and evaluation
4. Removing single family home lots smaller than 5000 sf from not being covered by new ordinance.
5. Higher credit given for evergreens saved or planted during development
What is missing from this draft:
1. Protection of tree groves
2. Protection of trees smaller than 24″ dbh, including trees previously classified as exceptional
3. A permit system for trees smaller than 24″dbh
4. Extending the permit system for exceptional trees to include public trees
5. Consolidating oversight, regulation and enforcement in a Department without a conflict of interest like DPD has.
6. licensing and training for arborists and tree removal companies
7. posting completed tree removal applications on line and posting of property
8. requiring disclosure of exceptional trees on property by real estate agents when property is sold
9. incentives to save trees like utility rebates
10. replacement of trees removed so there is no net loss of canopy over time, except some during development for not meeting credits
11 requirement to id all trees on property in development plans.
12. more emphasis on native trees and habitat values in tree plantings and preservation
It is important to note that Portland has approved a much more far reaching ordinance last year to protect their trees citywide that goes into effect in 2013.
At the last Urban Forestry Commission meeting Brennon Staley, the DPD lead for the new draft tree ordinance, asserted that if his version is enacted we would have the strongest tree ordinance of any large NW city. I do not agree.
I forwarded this post last September to the UFC noting that Portland has made significant moves in their urban forestry protection efforts, including protections for private trees on single family lots.
Here are the two pertinent links in that post, You’ll have to log in to the city website to access them. Because the bulk of the new tree ordinance does not go into effect until next year (2013) it appears the new ordinance does not come up easily in a Google search of Portland’s tree policies. This may be the result of an effort by Portland to not confuse the public as to what they are currently required to do.
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/index.cfm?&a=345713 2 page summary
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/350786?&login=1 Title 11 Trees Portland, Oregon
I will be providing more detail on Portland’s law in my public comments later but wanted to give UFC members a chance to check out the links before today’s meeting. We can do a lot more to protect private trees than DPD’s current draft proposes.
Chair – Save the Trees -Seattle
The Seattle School District is going to cut down 27 trees tomorrow Friday Jan 28, 2011 (about one quarter of the NW Grove) at Ingraham High School. For several days the School District has been assembling equipment and preparing to cut down the trees. Tomorrow students have the day off.
Tonight just before dark I went over to check things out once again and asked a worker in a hardhat when they were going to cut the trees down. His response was that “tomorrow the trees would be screaming“. It’s strange but I could not think of a more apt response for the trees.
If Seattle Mayor McGinn has his way, no trees in Seattle will be protected from destruction. Ingraham is only a precursor to many more trees being lost because Mayor McGinn is proposing to deregulate all tree protection in the city. Strange that someone who supposedly ran with a label as an environmentalist has no love for protecting Seattle’s green infrastructure. When we tried to talk to McGinn and his staff about saving the Ingraham trees he choose to ignore us and wouldn’t even schedule an opportunity for us to discuss the situation with him.
McGinn instead has signed off on an initial draft proposal by his Department of Planning and Development to literally remove all protections for trees in Seattle, including tree groves and exceptional trees. The proposal claims that it increases tree protection when it would take us back to before we had any laws to protect trees. The proposal says that instead of laws to protect trees we should trust that education and incentives will protect trees. As if that worked to convince the Seattle School District to save the Ingraham trees. Meanwhile other cities like Lake Forest Park and Kirkland and Issaquah have moved to strengthen their tree ordinances in recent years.
Unfortunately, even with current regulations,trees already have no standing in Seattle and no voice because DPD (Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development) gives priority to helping people build whatever they want rather than saving trees and green space. The benefits of trees to clean the air and provide oxygen and reduce storm water runoff and provide habitat to animals and screen noise and pollutants and provide visual delight is given no value when DPD says that trees can be saved except when they limit the development potential of a lot.
DPD has a conflict of interest in both trying to help people develop their lots and save trees. Trees almost always lose because DPD assigns them no economic valve despite the services they provide the city. Trees need a voice of their own and should be protected by assigning tree regulatory authority to another city department like Seattle Public Utilities which sees their value in dealing with storm water runoff. They know that as we lose trees we increase man made infrastructure costs to make up for the lost services of our urban forest trees.
. Neighbors and others who want to keep our city green with trees must become a more vocal advocate for trees. Save the Trees – Seattle is working with a city wide group of tree advocates called “Save Our Urban Forest Infrastructure” to enact stronger protections for trees and our urban forest so we don’t become the Emerald City in legend only.
Of course the School District has been quiet on specifically when they were going to cut the trees down. At 9:37 PM tonight I got an e-mail from School Board member Sherry Carr in which she said she was just told by facilities that the trees would probably be cut down tomorrow.
One of our members, an arborist, told us that the trees can probably be cut down in 2 hours or so. After 70 years of life and good service to the City of Seattle, it’s weird and sad how quickly it can all so needlessly end. The Seattle School District had prepared an Ingraham Master Plan showing they could build the addition on the open lawn on the North side without having to remove any of the tree grove.
Yet the School Administration under Superintendent Goodloe Johnson and the Seattle School Board has turned a blind eye to environmental issues, choosing not to help increase Seattle’s tree canopy but instead gouge a chunk out of it by removing some of the city’s oldest trees. What a great lesson for Seattle students about how to live in a world where we are increasing threatened with drastic climate change and environmental degradation as our population and use of the world’s resources increases to have an ever expanding economy based on consumption.
Chair, Save the Trees – Seattle
In a brief decision, King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle recently ruled against the appeal of Save the Trees-Seattle to prevent clear cutting a quarter of a grove of 70 year old, 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and western madrone tress in an uncommon plant habitat at Ingraham High School in North Seattle. This was despite the fact that only a few hundred feet away the Seattle School District had identified in a Master Plan a large open lawn area as a future building site.
The decision clearly says that in Seattle trees have no legal standing. Judge Doyle’s decision in essence says that development of any property in the city trumps tree protection and preservation. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s stated policy is that they are all for protecting trees unless it limits the development potential of a lot. In this instance Judge Doyle is saying it does not even matter if there are alternative locations close by on the site that the building could be moved to or even if habitat is uncommon.
Despite Seattle City law saying that priority should be given to protecting uncommon, unique, or rare habitat, the Judge’s decision ignored a Seattle Hearing Examiner’s decision that the NW Grove is an uncommon plant habitat in the city of Seattle. It is a remnant of a conifer madrone forest in the City of which only 52 acres remain elsewhere. The species diversity present at the Ingraham site, some 14 different tree and shrub species, is comparable to that at the other major site where this plant community exists, namely at Seward Park in South Seattle.
What is disturbing about the decision is that it supports DPD’s tacit authority to ignore City tree protection laws and gives more impetus to DPD’s current proposal to actually remove from current city law, all protections for trees outside development. In any given year only 1% of city property is being developed. That means that 99% of the City’s trees in any given year would have no protection.
DPD’s proposal was reviewed by Mayor McGinn before it was released. It would remove all protection for exceptional trees and for tree groves. It is a death warrant for our city’s trees and will make it impossible to reach our goal of increasing the city’s tree canopy over the next 20 years or so.
The proposed clear cutting of the trees at Ingraham High School is just a continuation of the unofficial policy of the City of Seattle to prioritize development by any means over protection of our urban forest infrastructure. And now DPD wants to formally make it City law to prevent citizens from even questioning the misplaced priorities of the City.
Citizens need to speak out against this senseless slaughter of trees and our urban forest infrastructure without regard for the social, environmental and economic costs of this loss and the loss of what citizens value in living and enjoy in a city with trees and a vibrant urban forest.
Send an e-mail to Mayor McGinn and all 9 members of the Seattle City Council and urge they reject DPD’s proposal and instead work to add additional protections to the interim ordinance passed last year by the City Council.
Councilmembers’ e-mail adresses:
Send a letter: Mayor’s Office, Seattle City Hall 7th floor, 600 Fourth Avenue, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749
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