Seattle School District Refiles Construction Proposal to Build in Rare Plant Habitat

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School


Despite the Seattle Hearing Examiner’s decision that the NW Forest area at Ingraham High School is a rare plant habitat, the Seattle School District has resubmitted plans to build there anyway. Their concession is to remove a proposed courtyard which still will force cutting down 30 old conifer trees that are 75 years old and about 100 foot tall.

The frustrating thing here is that under current law, as interpreted by Director’s Rule 16-2008 on Designation of Exceptional Trees, the Seattle School District would not be able to build in this grove of trees. Unfortunately the Seattle School District, rather than bowing to current public policy, would rather just bully its way forward and cut the trees because it filed its application before the new Director’s Rule went into effect.

The Seattle Hearing Examiner noted that their previous “proposal would reduce by half an uncommon habitat that the City’s SEPA policy says should 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.”

The Seattle School District’s refiled application is full of very questionable and subjective interpretation of why an addition in the NW Grove of trees is their best option. One of these is an evaluation by Don Gilmore, the person who oversees the BEX Program and who has the most to lose if he were to admit he made a mistake in selecting the proposed site.

Another is the Ingraham High School Principal Martin Floe who states this is the best location after having been part of a closed door design review process that excluded the public and neighbors from having input before the site was selected. He also threatened a teacher who tried to get students to save the trees by writing letters by saying this was political and not part of her job. He then rallied students to cut the trees down in a DPD public meeting held at the school and called neighbors NIMBY’s. He of course forgot that neighbors are also taxpayers that foot the bill to operate and build public schools.

You can view the documents on the School District’s website regarding their revised proposal. Of course, the adverse decision by the Seattle Hearing Examiner is not included in their public documents.

The City of Seattle still has the authority under SMC 25.05.675 to prohibit the Seattle School District from cutting down the trees. The problem is that the DPD approved the original design, ignoring input that the site was a rare plant habitat that city law said should be protected. The same people are now reviewing the new design. DPD has a mission to approve building projects and gives tree protection only a fleeting glance.

Diane Sugimura, DPD’s Director is an appointee of Mayor Nickels. Maybe it’s time for Mayor Nickel’s to assert some green power and stop this unnecessary loss of trees. If the trees are cut it is under Mayor Nickel’s watch. So far Nickels has talked the talk a lot but the real action of saving trees is lagging far behind. Under Nickels watch the last 8 years we have continued to lose our trees. Much more action is needed!

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