What’s Next for Seattle’s Tree Ordinance Update?

The Seattle City Council heeded public input and has decided to slow down their rush to update SMC 25.11 – Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance by the end of September . This will give more time for public input and scrutiny. The public needs to continue to send in their concerns and suggestions on how to make the ordinance more effective. The Seattle City Council and the Mayor are currently focused this month and next month on adopting their 2019 Budget. They will again take up the Tree Protection Ordinance after the Budget is adopted.

You can help us get a stronger ordinance by continuing to contact the Mayor and the SeattleCity Council with your concerns and suggestions. Their e-mails are:

jenny.durkan@seattle.gov and Council@seattle.gov

Below are our  suggestions  of changes needed in the current draft they are working with labeled as version D7 that we believe would significantly strengthen the draft ordinance.

Major changes to draft Ordinance being proposed:

Retain the emphasis in the current ordinance by adding back to the draft ordinance the  priority of saving existing trees rather than concentrating on how to remove trees and replace them. This means protecting exceptional trees from being removed unless they are  hazard trees.

Exceptional trees are the largest trees of their species and the survivors over time. Exceptional trees should be defined as trees that are exceptional because they are a Heritage tree as defined by the city or rare or exceptional by virtue of their  species, condition, cultural/historical importance, age, habitat value, environmental or ecological services provided to the city and/or are part of a grove of trees.The upper threshold for becoming exceptional should be 24 inches DBH.

Use a tree diameter and tree species criteria for issuing a tree removal and replacement permit. The tree canopy approach proposed in Draft D7 requiring property owners not just to measure the canopy of the tree to be removed but all the trees on your lot is a time consuming process that ignores property lines, the size and importance of the tree involved, and would result in the loss of many exceptional trees over time.

Limit removal to a maximum of two significant trees, non-exceptional trees per year. Prohibit the removal of any trees over 6 inches DBH on an undeveloped lot. Allow any exceptional tree that is determined to be a hazard tree to be removed.

All significant trees (trees greater than 6 inches DBH), including hazard trees, that are removed on any lot, whether  a developed lot or a lot undergoing development, in any zone in the city must be replaced either on site, off site or a fee in lieu paid for the city to replace the tree. 

The goal is not just to have no less loss of canopy but to increase it. Tree replacement requirements shall increase as the diameter and canopy volume of the tree removed increases. An example of such a system would be would be 1 tree for a 6-12 inch diameter tree, 2 trees for 12 -24 inch trees,  3 trees for 24 -36 inch trees and 4 trees for trees greater than 36 inch DBH. The reason for the number of trees increasing is that the goal is to try to replace the lost canopy volume over a 20 year cycle and also that all trees do not survive over time. Replacement trees should be targeted to increase conifers, native tree species and trees determined to respond best to climate change.

Property owners outside development should be able to apply for a minor Tree removal and replacement permit for the removal of 1 or significant non-exceptional trees or a hazard tree. Developers will have to apply for a major tree removal and replacement permit which includes preparing a detailed tree inventory for  the site and a replacement landscaping plan. Developers shall, like homeowner be required to replace all trees they removed, either on site, off site or pay a fee in lieu system. If the lot canopy cover is below the goal for that zone, developers shall, at a minimum,  be required to retain and  plant sufficient trees to ensure that the lot reaches the zone canopy goal.

These are some of the major changes under consideration by tree advocates. Feel free to contact us with your suggestions. Send to steve@friends.urbanforests.org.

See reference material below:

Draft D7 of the “Tree Regulations Update Ordinance” 

Policy considerations regarding proposed tree regulation bill 
Council memo -September 19, 2018 the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee

Adopted letter  – Re: Draft Tree protection ordinance update – Seattle Urban Forestry Commission – August 31, 2018

 

Seattle City Council Delays Action on Draft Tree Ordinance

Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance

Great news. The Seattle City Council has decided to slow down passage of an update to Seattle’s existing Tree Protection Ordinance. The Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee was rushing to get something passed before the Seattle City Council started their yearly October/November Budget Process. They will now next meet in December with possible action the first of next year. This is a positive step to allow more review and changes before a final decision is made

Your support and efforts have helped to make this possible. We need your help now to help fund our containing efforts. Contributions made to TreePAC will go to support our efforts. Click on the link below to help:

Click here to Donate

Thanks

TreePAC and neighborhood groups urged the Seattle City Council to slow down. One key issue was that the Council’s latest draft removed existing protections for exceptional trees including Heritage Trees and tree groves, undeveloped lots,and limits on the number of trees that could be removed per year. This represented a step backwards in protecting Seattle’s trees. These protections need to be put back in the proposed ordinance.

The Seattle City Council had completed an Environmental Checklist as required by the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The Seattle Department of Construction and and Inspections (SDCI) then issued a Determination of Non-Significance( DNS) regarding the draft Tree Ordinance.

The Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance, along with TreePAC and other environmental and neighborhood groups, filed an appeal to the City Hearing Examiner regarding the city’s DNS. We believed that the draft tree ordinance as written would have had a significant negative impact on the city’s trees and urban forest.

As we were gearing up to start the appeal process, SDCI decided last week to withdrew the DNS. This successful challenge by us means that the city will now have to do a new SEPA Analysis based on a revised draft ordinance.

Our goal now is to work with the City Council and the Urban Forestry Commission and Coalition supporters and others to push for stronger tree protections in the proposed bill.

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission outlined their concerns in an August 31, 2018 letter to the City Council:
UFC letter – Recommendations regarding Draft Tree Protection Ordinance D7

The Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee Sept 19, 2018 memo:
Policy considerations regarding proposed tree regulation bill

Please urge the Seattle City Council to support the recommendations of the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission. Send your comments to jenny.durkan@seattle.gov and council@seattle,gov.

As more specific language and amendments to the draft are developed we will keep you informed.

Again thanks for your continued support. Your efforts have helped to make possible all that we have done. Contributions made now to TreePAC will go to support our ongoing efforts. Click on the link below to help:

Click here to Donate now

Thank you!

Steve Zemke – Chair
Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance – a joint Project of TreePAC and Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest

Appeal of DNS on proposed Seattle Tree Ordinance update filed, City withdraws DNS


The following appeal of the determination of non-significance (DNS) regarding the proposed draft tree ordinance D7 by the Seattle City Council was filed on Sept 13, 2018. On Sept 24, 2018 the Department of Planning and Development withdrew the DNS.

BEFORE THE HEARING EXAMINER

FOR THE CITY OF SEATTLE

In Re: Appeal by TreePAC, Greenwood Exceptional Trees, SCALE (Seattle Coalition for Affordability Livability and Equity), Beacon Hill Council Seattle, Fremont Neighborhood Council, Mt Baker Community Council, SUN (Seniors United for Neighborhoods), University District Council, and Wallingford Community Council, of the August 23, 2018 Determination of Non-Significance by Chanda S. Emery AICP, Senior Planner, Department of Construction and Inspections. NOTICE OF APPEAL Non-Project Action Amending Seattle Municipal Code (SMC), including repealing and replacing Chapter 25.11

I. INTRODUCTION

Appellants are public interest and community based organizations in Seattle with an interest in working with the City of Seattle to improve the structure, implementation and effectiveness of the City’s codes regarding the protection and restoration of the City’s urban forest and its functions expressed as tree density, health, diversity, and distribution.

Each appellant will be adversely impacted by enactment of the proposed ordinance notwithstanding the determination by the responsible official that it is not likely to have any significant adverse environmental impacts. Together Appellants represent many thousands of Seattle residents who will be significantly and adversely impacted by the proposed non-project action amending Seattle Municipal Code (SMC), including repealing and replacing Chapter 25.11.

Continue reading

E-mails needed now – Contact Council and Mayor on Updating Tree Ordinance

 

Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance
Dear Tree Protection Advocates,

The Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee will be meeting at 9 AM on Wednesday, Sept 19th.  There is a 20 minute section at the end of the meeting devoted to the proposed tree ordinance update.  There is a 10 minute public comment period at the beginning of the Committee meeting. Attend the committee meeting if you can but sending an e-mail addressing their questions in the new Council memo and any other concerns you have is our suggested priority action now.

Here is the new Seattle City Council memo:

Policy considerations regarding proposed tree regulations bill – Sept 19, 2018

This needs to be compared with the Seattle Urban Forestry Committee recommendations of August 31, 2018.

LEG Tree regulation updates ORD D7 and August 16, 2018 Central Staff Memo Summary of proposed tree regulation bill and identified issues

*The questions below are cut and pasted excerpts from the Council memo. Suggested answers to the questions are in bold type.

Continue reading

Action Alert – Public Hearing on Tree Ordinance Update This Wednesday, Sept 5th

The Seattle Land Use and Zoning Committee of the Seattle City Council is holding a Public Hearing on its proposed draft Tree Ordinance:

 Wednesday, Sept 5, 2018
9:30 AM to 11:30 AM (sign up starts at 9 AM)

Seattle City Hall, City Council Chambers,
600 4th Ave, Seattle,WA 98104

Please come and testify or send a letter to the Mayor and City Council.

jenny.durkan@seattle.gov and Council@seattle.gov

Issues to comment on:

  1. Allow more time for possible changes. analysis of impacts, and public input on the current tree ordinance draft by delaying final action to the beginning of 2019 as recommended by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission (See more detail below)
  2. Put back existing protections for Exceptional Trees –  “An exceptional tree is a tree that: 1. Is designated as a heritage tree by the City of Seattle; or 2. Is rare or exceptional by virtue of its size, species, condition, cultural/historic importance, age, and/or contribution as part of grove of trees “.  Lower the threshold for large exceptional trees to 24 ” diameter at 54 inches high (DBH).
  3. Limit removal of trees to no more than 2 per year on developed property.
  4. Put back the prohibition on cutting down trees greater than 6″ DBH on undeveloped lots
  5. Base tree permits on diameter and species of trees, not tree canopy measurements. 
  6. Require all trees 6″ DBH and larger that are  removed to be replaced on site or off site or a replacement and maintenance  fee be paid to the city.
  7. Require 2 week posting and yellow ribbons on trees for all permits for removal;, include on line public posting of applications and permit approvals.

You can see a more detailed explanation of the pros and cons of the proposed Tree Ordinance here: 
Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest Analysis of Pros and Cons of Draft Tree Ordinance

Ordinance Language for Repeal and Replacement of SMC 25.11 – Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance  now called the Tree Regulation Bill – August 16, 2018  
Continue reading

Coordinating Committee – Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance

Coordinating Committee –

Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance

John Barber

Tawny Bates

Maria Batayola

Richard Boerth

Richard Ellison

Katy Griffith

Corinne Holister

Wendy Oberlin

Kevin Orme

Heidi Siegelbaum

Lance Young

Steve Zemke

Comments on Draft Tree Ordinance (Draft D7) – David Moehring

RE: Draft Tree Removal Ordinance
Comments by David Moehring 8/31/2018
PLEASE KEEP IN THE CURRENT TREE REQUIREMENT of SMC 23.44.008 in ITS ENTIRETY IN ORDER TO AVOID NEGATIVE IMPACTS TO THE SEATTLE ENVIRONMENT:
Please enter into the public record for the September 5th Hearing.
 Copy to:

The Honorable Rob Johnson, Chair of Planning, Land Use & Zoning Seattle City Council

The Honorable Mike O’Brien

The Honorable Lisa Herbold

The Honorable Lorena Gonzalez

The Honorable Sally Bagshaw,

The Honorable Lorena Gonzalez

The Honorable Debora Juarez

The Honorable Teresa Mosqueda

The Honorable Lorena Gonzalez

The Honorable Kshama Sawant

 Dear Mr. An and Mr. McConaghy,
Please explain how and why the “Draft Tree Protection Ordinance” and program mislabeled “Trees for All” results in the proposed removal of  tree protection – making it easier for new home builders to remove trees without replacing them.
There are too many examples of reduced tree protections being proposed within the new ordinance. Please provide a citywide open forum. It is unjust to allow just ten (10) minutes of researched feedback on this significant issue! Most important, how may a City Council propose reductions in tree protection while disregarding the State requirements for an environmental impact study?
A Case in Point:
The proposed ‘tree protection ordinance’ weakens tree protection the most where the most of Seattle’s “urban forest” exists – single-family zoned lots which hold almost two-thirds of Seattle’s trees. Although the City proposed changes places additional burdens on existing home owners, it removes all barriers to tree removal from new home builders. Yet, Seattle does not suffer so much the residents yielding chain saws. The damage is done by the home builders clear-cutting established groves and significant trees. The new ordinance allows this to happen with the complete removal of section 23.44.008 paragraph ‘I’ from the Seattle Municipal Code.
For years, Seattle codes required that NEW houses on single-family zoned lots maintain their heart of the urban forest. If, however, this environmentally smart code section is not maintained as it is today, retaining existing trees and/or planting new trees in a size that is proportionate to the lot area will no longer be required. …. the significant risk of striking this current tree retention and refurbishment requirement,…. Specifically, if one builds a new house on a typical 5,000 square foot lot, then they also must retain and/or plant enough trees so that the total of all trees measured are at least 10-inches in width (measured at a set location). If that 5,000 square foot lot already has and will retain existing trees that at least total 10-inches in width – then no additional new trees are required to be planted. That seems in part a fair incentive to retain existing mature trees that do so much more for the micro-climate of Seattle than some convoluted “green factor”!
Why might some councilpersons likely be promoting the removal of this enduring tree retention / replanting code section? We all need to know. I suspect that without the existing trees being in the way on residential development lots (where most of Seattle’s Urban Forest exists), it makes the forthcoming changes to Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) easier to be achieved.
For reference, I have copied and pasted the relative text that is shown by Mr. McConaghy to be completely struck from the Seattle Municipal Code — which will definitely have a potential for significant environmental impacts.  This text is at the bottom of the message – below the illustrative diagram.
Yes, Trees for all …including new development sites!
 David Moehring AIA
3444 23rd Ave W
Member, TreePAC

DETERMINATION OF NON-SIGNIFICANCE RELEASED ON NEWEST VERSION OF TREE REGULATIONS ORDINANCE

Its Time to Update Seattle’s Tree Ordinance

DETERMINATION OF NON-SIGNIFICANCE RELEASED ON NEWEST VERSION OF TREE REGULATIONS ORDINANCE (Version D7)

Summary:

Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson’s relentless push to repeal Seattle’s current Tree Protection Ordinance SMC 25.11 has advanced with the release on August 16, 2018 of final language for the proposed new Tree Ordinance (Version D7 – https://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council/rob-johnson/trees-for-all)

Unfortunately the Seattle City Council’s latest version of an update to the current Tree Protection Ordinance  has changed to what we consider a “Tree Removal and Mitigation Ordinance.” There is a big difference between proactive tree retention/protection vs mitigation, which occurs after a tree is cut.  The current proposed ordinance:

  1. Removes any limit on the number of trees that can be removed per year;
  2. Removes the prohibition against cutting down exceptional trees (which are the largest of their species) on developed lots. The definition of exceptional trees includes Heritage trees and tree groves; and
  3. Removes the current prohibition of cutting down any tree over 6″ in diameter (DBH) on undeveloped lots. 

Other details are seen below the meeting announcement – Please try to attend either or both of the meetings below and make your voice heard!
Continue reading

Draft Seattle Tree Ordinance Needs Improvement

Draft Seattle Tree Protection Ordinance (Version 5b) needs improvement and needs to add back current protections that were removed! 

 On August 1st Councilmember Rob Johnson released the first draft of an updated Seattle tree ordinance and a new Council memo.

Draft Tree Regulation Update  – August 1, 2018

Central staff memo – proposed tree regulation bill  – August 1, 2018

SMC 25.11 – Tree Protection Ordinance being repealed

The draft tree ordinance is not a finished product as there are sections referenced but missing and links and numbers missing in the text.

While it incorporates a number of positions that the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission and numerous other organizations  urged the city to include, like tree permits for all trees 6 ” DBH and above and fees to replace trees in all zones, it also removes major tree protections that are in the current ordinance. It repeals much but not all of the current ordinance without including the repealed language in the draft which makes it difficult for people to track the changes.

Reading the bill by itself, it appears to be a good draft until you  realize what has been removed. You have to search though

to ascertain what was repealed and what was kept.

What  is added, changed or removed:

  • added – requires permits for removing trees greater than 6″ DBH in all zones of city
  • added – requires tree replacement if canopy falls below Urban Forestry Management Plan canopy goal for zone that lot is in
  • added – requires fee in lieu if trees cannot be replaced on site
  • added – tree care providers must sign statement they  have read and are familiar with tree regulations
  • added – increases penalties for illegal tree removal
  • added – on site posing required (2 days – minor permit, 2 weeks – major permit)
  • major change –  going from a concept of tree removal to canopy removal.  Canopy is a much less precise measurement  dependent on LIDAR studies which are really a vegetation cover analysis, not a tree cover analysis. The 2016 LIDAR analysis measured canopy at 8 feet which can include a lot of shrubs like laurel bushes. And while a tree trunk may be on one lot, the tree’s canopy can actually be on two or more lots depending on location of the trunk.The city should stick with tree removal, not canopy removal which crosses lot lines.
  • changed – SMC 25.11.090 requiring developers to replace all trees over 24′ DBH and that are exceptional. It replaces it with requiring developers to replace all trees over 6′ DBH but only up to the canopy goal in that zone. This will result in a net loss of trees where the original canopy is greater than the average for the zone. (Note – SMC 25.11.090 was very seldom enforced by the Seattle Building Department it appears since it was passed in 2001).
  • removed – designation and protection of exceptional trees which are the largest trees of a species. The current ordinance said developed  property owners can not remove exceptional trees unless they were hazardous. The change significantly reduces protection for large trees. From Director’s Rule 16-2008 – “An exceptional tree is a tree that: 1. Is designated as a heritage tree by the City of Seattle; or 2. Is rare or exceptional by virtue of its size, species, condition, cultural/historic importance, age, and/or contribution as part of grove of trees and trees …”
  • removed –protection of tree groves (they were added as exceptional in 2008). Tree groves no longer protected.
  • removed – a limit of 3 trees per year being removed  which were significant (over 6 ” DBH) but not exceptional. Draft sets no limit on number of trees that can be removed.
  • removed – prohibition of cutting down any tree over 6″ DBH on an undeveloped lot. Limit would now be by zone allowing a fully treed lot to have its  canopy reduced significantly without requiring tree replacement above the canopy goal for that zone, eg  100% canopy cover to 20% in the multifamily zone would be allowed with no replacement required.

A SEPA Analysis is required under state law. It would require filling out an environmental checklist which is not very detailed.  The City would probably come back with a determination of non-significance    With the major changes proposed and the uncertainty of what the impacts of a drastically revised draft as currently written would be, requiring an EIS would make sense. There  will be a two week comment and appeal time.

If the city responds by putting back the removed provisions mentioned above from the current ordinance and required tree replacement for all trees removed over 6″ DBH either on site or off site in all zones, regardless of whether it is a major or minor permit,  while keeping the canopy goals for coverage of lots, then  this would be a strengthening of the existing ordinance. However, as written right now, it appears to  significantly reduce  protection for existing large trees and allows canopy coverage to decrease in zones. A Douglas fir that is 80 years old that is cut down takes 80 years to replace an equivalent canopy. Every tree removed is a loss to the existing canopy coverage and only over a long period of time can it be replaced. Not all trees replaced survive.

According to the Tree Regulations Research Project Phase 1 Summary, the city deals with about 10,000 permits/year. A recent Seattle Times article put the building permit number last year (a busy one) at 7000.  Most of these have trees associated with them. The proposal for major tree permits under the current draft, which are probably mostly during development, would require a detailed tree inventory and tree report identifying trees on site by species and size so identifying exceptional trees would be no problem.

The question is how many minor tree permits are expected and my guess is far less.  It really does not seem it would be a big problem identifying tree species for minor permits, making the “too difficult to determine tree species” not a credible argument compared to the benefit of protecting exceptional trees.

Using canopy goals in the 2013 Urban Forest Stewardship Plan would result in lower goals than actual canopy cover measured in 2016 LIDAR Study in 2 zones. Institutional canopy cover measured in 2016 was 25%, UFSP goal is 20%. Multifamily canopy cover measured in 2016 was 23%, UFSP goal is 20%. LiDAR study also showed higher canopy cover in Developed Parks and Parks Natural Areas than listed as canopy goals.

The Urban Forestry Management Plan is currently being updated and the zone goals could increase. Canopy measurements are actually an average value across a zone meaning lots with more trees average out with lots with less trees – all lots do not have identical canopy.

Trees for All  Timeline now is for a single Sept 5, 2018 public hearing and possible vote by the Planning,  Use and Zoning Committee on Sept 19, 2018. If the full Council does not vote by the end of Sept this proposal will be back before the Council in January as they deal with the budget for next year in October and November.

Now is the time to let Mayor Durkan and the Seattle City Council know that the current draft is not acceptable as proposed but needs to be further revised. Current protections that were removed need to be added back. The ordinance  needs to be based on individual tree removal, not canopy in terms of replacement.

You can send comments to jenny.durkan@seattle.gov and council@seattle.gov

Why Seattle’s Green Factor is Green Washing

What is Green (Space) Factor and why is it Green Washing in Seattle?

“The Green Space Factor (GSF) is a planning policy tool that originated in Berlin and has been adopted and adapted in a number of other cities in Europe and North America to encourage urban greening. GSF schemes work by assigning a factor of between 0 and 1 for various surface cover types, with sealed surfaces given 0 and the most natural cover, 1. To calculate a GSF for a site, the factor for a particular surface cover is multiplied by its area. This is repeated for each surface cover type. The multiplied sums are added together and then divided by the overall site area to give an overall GSF score for a site of between 0 and 1. A planning authority can set a minimum target (typically 0.3, although this varies according to the type of development and class of land use). This can provide certainty to developers as to what is expected from new developments in terms of urban greening. It can also identify planning proposals with insufficient quantity and functionality of greening in order to encourage improvements to a proposal. It can also be useful in determining the scale and benefit of subsequent improvements to plans.”

Why Seattle’s GreenSpace is Green Washing?  They take land with trees on them and remove them to develop a lot.

“A GSF is usually applied to development proposals on previously developed land which has little or no existing natural surfaces. GSF schemes are not an alternative to planning policies that are intended to ensure the protection of a sufficient quantity of existing parks, natural habitats and other green open spaces, however GSF can be used as a tool to show how development may change a site or as a way of comparing proposals for a site.”*

Both quotes from Urban Greening Factor for London, Greater London Authority 7/24/2017

*The highlighting of the second paragraph is mine. Green factor is not meant to be a substitute for a requirement that trees removed from a site and not replaced on site must be replaced elsewhere, which is a policy the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission is on record supporting and what SMC 25.11.090 was intended to do.

Unfortunately for the last 17 years Seattle’s Building Department (currently called Seattle Department of Planning and Development)  has  not consistently enforced this provision or kept a record of where trees planted as a result of this provision might be or of their survival if they were planted. There does not seem to be a fee system to pay the city to replace any of the trees removed if developers can not replant on site which raises the question if the city has planted any trees under 25.11.090.

With the current ordinance updates being considered, the Urban Forestry Commission is recommending that all trees 6 inches DBH and larger removed during development must be replaced on site or a fee in lieu be paid to the city to replace the trees elsewhere. The goal is to be certain our urban forest continues to increase in canopy cover and that is difficult to do if we are achieving a net loss of trees over time.

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission on July 11, 2018 wrote a letter to the Mayor, City Council and City Auditor urging DCI to enforce the provisions of 25.11.090 and lower the threshold to 6 inches DHH when they update SMC 25.11 – Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. Re:SMC 25.11.090 -Tree Replacement and Site Restoration