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.
firstname.lastname@example.org and Council@seattle.gov
Issues to comment on:
- 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)
- 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).
- Limit removal of trees to no more than 2 per year on developed property.
- Put back the prohibition on cutting down trees greater than 6″ DBH on undeveloped lots
- Base tree permits on diameter and species of trees, not tree canopy measurements.
- 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.
- 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
This is the only scheduled public hearing on the proposed Tree Ordinance update. After this hearing the Planning Land Use and Zoning Committee is currently planning to meet on Wed. Sept 19 to discuss the bill, possibly consider amendments and vote on it. It would then go to the full City Council the next week for a final vote.
This last Friday the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission voted unanimously to urge the City Council:
“to extend the public comment period and allow for more evaluation of the proposed ordinance. Revising the tree code for Seattle is long overdue and nearly a decade in the making, however, the UFC believes fully understanding the potential impacts, incentives, and enforceability of the draft code will take more time than is currently planned for in this process. Please move the final decision on this to 2019 to allow for additional consideration, definition, analysis, and public input on the impacts of such policy proposals. One public daytime hearing on a still being revised draft is not adequate public involvement on a major policy issue affecting all property in the city.”
You can read the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission’s full recommendations here :
“LEG Tree regulation updates ORD D7” and August 16, 2018 Central Staff Memo “Summary of proposed tree regulation bill and identified issues”
Thanks for your support and help.
Chair – Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance – a joint coordinating project of the Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest and TreePAC.org www.friends.urbanforests.org and TreePAC.org
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
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:
Template strikes the below section as last revised by the City
by Eric McConaghy (LEG Tree regulation updates ORD D7)
The text below would be removed from the Seattle Municipal Code in the D& version of the Tree Regulations bill:
I. Tree Requirements.
1. Trees are required when single-family dwelling units are constructed. The minimum number of caliper inches of tree required per lot may be met by using either the tree preservation option or tree planting option described in subsections 23.44.008.I.1.a. or I.1.b., or by a combination of preservation and planting. This requirement may be met by planting or preserving street trees in the public right-of-way. Submerged land shall not be included in calculating lot area for purposes of either the tree preservation option or tree planting option.
a. Tree Preservation Option. For lots over 3,000 square feet, at least 2 caliper inches of existing tree per 1,000 square feet of lot area must be preserved. On lots that are 3,000 square feet or smaller, at least 3 caliper inches of existing tree must be preserved per lot. When this option is used, a tree preservation plan is required.
b. Tree Planting Option. For lots over 3,000 square feet, at least 2 caliper inches of tree per 1,000 square feet of lot area must be planted. On lots that are 3,000 square feet or smaller, at least 3 caliper inches of tree must be planted per lot.
2. Tree Measurements. Trees planted to meet the requirements in subsection 23.44.008.I.1 shall be at least 1.5 inches in diameter. The diameter of new trees shall be measured (in caliper inches) 6 inches above the ground. Existing trees shall be measured 4.5 feet above the ground. When an existing tree is 3 to 10 inches in diameter, each 1 inch counts as 1 inch toward meeting the tree requirements in subsection 23.44.008.I.1. When an existing tree is more than 10 inches in diameter, each 1 inch of the tree that is over 10 inches shall count as 3 inches toward meeting the tree requirement.
3. Tree Preservation Plans. If the tree preservation option is chosen, a tree preservation plan must be submitted and approved. Tree preservation plans shall provide for protection of trees during construction according to standards promulgated by the [SDCI] Director.))
DETERMINATION OF NON-SIGNIFICANCE RELEASED ON NEWEST VERSION OF TREE REGULATIONS ORDINANCE (Version D7)
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:
- Removes any limit on the number of trees that can be removed per year;
- 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
- 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!
1) The Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance public meeting:
Saturday, Sept. 1st from 11:15 AM to 1:15 PM
Green Lake Public Library, 7364 East Green Lake Dr North, Seattle WA 98115
Please come to learn more about what is happening, to voice your opinion and discuss what actions should be taken.
Bring a laptop or device so you can write and send some e-mails on this issue.
2) The Seattle Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee (PLUZ) is holding a Public Hearing on the draft 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 e-mail us at email@example.com to let us know if you can testify. Thanks.
additional details (continued from above):
- Other provisions add very complex requirements for property owners to calculate canopy coverage themselves, contain no guarantees or funding for increased enforcement and essentially would leave most of the City’s trees vulnerable to being cut down at a time when increased fires, adverse climate change impacts and problems associated with stormwater pollution are top of mind and serious city and regional issues.
The proposal would add some long needed updates to current code but these changes should be in addition to the current protections, not in place of them.
On balance the proposed new ordinance’s emphasis is on making it easier for development to occur, not on protecting existing trees. Once a mature tree is taken down and replaced by a 2 inch sapling, the full benefits and functions of that tree will not be realized for the decades it takes to replace trees removed. During that time, the City would then suffer from the supercharged effects of climate change in the absence of this mature tree canopy. The City has a notoriously poor record of tree replacement. For 17 years the Seattle Planning and Inspection Department, and its previous incarnations, has not enforced an existing provision in the current Tree Protection Ordinance, SMC 25.11.090, which required developers to replace exceptional trees and trees over 24″ DBH. The City also has failed to create or maintain any record of the thousands of trees that have been cut down n private property and during development for those 17 years.
Here are the links to the current documents regarding the proposed repeal and replacement of SMC 25.11 – Tree Protection 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 It is identified as “LEG tree regulations updates ORD D7” in the upper left corner. (An earlier version D5b is no longer valid).
- SEPA Environmental Checklist for Proposed Ordinance to Repeal and Replace SMC 25.11- Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance August 16, 2018
- Determination of Non-Significance for legislation repealing and replacing SMC 25.11 – Tree Protection Ordinance August 23, 2018
- Summary of proposed tree regulation bill and identified issues – Central Staff Memorandum – August 16, 2018
- Existing Legislation (SMC 25.11 Tree Protection Ordinance ) that Would Be Repealed by the Ordinance
- Notice for commenting on the Determination of Non-Significance – deadline to comment is Sept 6, 2018, deadline to appeal Sept 13, 2018
The operating document is now the August 16, 2018 draft -D7, which is now an Ordinance for Repeal and Replacement,
What is added, changed or removed from SMC 25.11:
· added – requires permits for removing trees greater than 6″ DBH in all zones of city for both developed lots and lots undergoing development. Separate permits established for major and minor tree removal
· added – requires tree replacement if canopy falls below Urban Forestry Management Plan canopy goal for zone that lot is in
· added – requires tree replacement for all lots where canopy falls below Urban Forestry Management Plan (UFMP), either on site, off site or pay 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, including not getting a permit
· added – on site posting required (2 days – minor permit, 2 weeks – major permit)
· major change – going from a concept of permits for tree removal based on the species and diameter of a tree at 4.5′ to measuring the amount of canopy removed. Property owners would have to determine the area of their lot, add the area of their right of way which is city property, measure all the canopy of the trees on their lot and the right of way, measure the canopy of the tree or trees they are removing, subtract it from the overall canopy measurement, then check it with the canopy goals for the zone they live in and if the remaining area is under the canopy goal, replace the tree or trees on site, off site with the ensuing estimated canopy reaching in time the lost canopy or pay a fee in lieu. Right of way tree planting and removal is not covered by this permit however as SDOT has its own tree permit system and City Light can prune and remove trees.
· major problem with this approach as written is that it says no tree replacement is required as long as the trees removed and their canopy does not reduce the lot coverage below the zone goal in the UFMP. Since the zone goal is an average based on the total canopy coverage divided by the area of the zone, not replacing trees removed over the average value for the zone means the actual zone canopy over time will result in a net loss of tree canopy.
· major problem – Using LIDAR studies to measure tree canopy in a zone is not a precise measurement as LIDAR measurements 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. This distorts the actual tree canopy per cent for zone goals and is an additional problem if these measurements are used to determine lot coverage. The accuracy of the measurement decreases with a decrease in the sample area.
· major problem – Trees cross property lines. 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. Also canopy is an area measurement based on branch sizes. Tree canopy volume and leaf density is the true measure of ecological services and that varies with the tree species and age of the tree.
· changed – SMC 25.11.090 required developers to replace all trees over 24′ DBH and that are exceptional. The proposed ordinance 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, requiring developers to replace all exceptional trees removed and trees over 24″ DBH was not 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 in the draft 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 would no longer be 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 or any limits on the size or age of the tree.
· 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.
The most recent ordinance change was made in the last 2 weeks of summer (coincidentally during the worst smoke pollution we have ever experience), with only ONE hearing date scheduled for September 5th, a day after people return from a federal holiday.
Unfortunately with the major changes proposed and the lack of real public outreach and discussion of possible alternatives and their impacts, the city needs to slow down and allow a careful evaluation of these changes. It should prepare an environmental impact statement. Rather, it issued what is called a Determination of Non-significance under our state Environmental Policy Act law, called SEPA. This ordinance will have major and anticipated, catastrophic impacts on the future of the trees and urban forest of this city.
A strengthened tree ordinance would have restored 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.
The city has chosen not to do that for some reason despite urging by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission, citizen groups, environmental experts and individuals. However, as written right now, it would 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 of just the canopy removed when the tree was cut down and not counting the canopy that would have increased if the tree had not been removed.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.
Implications for Seattle’s Tree Canopy goals
Using canopy goals in the 2013 Urban Forest Stewardship Plan (UFMP) 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.
The City’s Own Tree Regulations Research Project Points Out Weaknesses
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 7,000. Most of these have trees associated with them. There is ONE arborist working for the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) where the tree regulations are developed.
The proposal for major tree permits under the current draft, most of which would occur during development, would require a detailed tree inventory and tree report identifying trees on site by species and size, so identifying exceptional trees would not be a problem. People could use an app like Find It, Fix It that the city has for repairs to send a photo of the tree and a close up of its leaves or needles to help identify it when they request a permit to remove a tree.
The city has not kept track of trees lost or replaced during development and appears not willing to really do so here as it does not propose one system for tree permits and keeping track of results but will let trees be removed during development by being “included with another SDCI approval.” That approval system has not tracked tree loss and replacement to date and under its current Accela data system being used is continuing that trend even though it has the authority under SMC 25.11 to issue permits and keep track of them.
The ordinance also purports to have a parallel permit system for “minor” tree removal permits. This permit does not require tree identification and the City claims that “it will be too difficult to determine tree species.” Rather, it has foisted an arcane tree canopy measurement and calculation system onto the property owner but which all but guarantee an unenforceable gaming of the system. Again an app allowing property owners to send pictures of the tree to the city with their application for a permit would solve this problem.
Council member Johnson’s Trees for All Timeline now has scheduled only 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 September this proposal will be back before the Council in January as they deal with the budget for next year in October and November.
Please Act Now By Writing
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 thoroughly and carefully evaluated and revised. firstname.lastname@example.org and Council@seattle.gov . 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. All trees removed must be replaced to ensure a no net loss of canopy over time.
The city needs to slow down and allow adequate public debate and discussion on this major citywide issue that will have a significant impact on our urban forest. It needs to do an environmental impact statement, evaluating the current ordinance, the proposed replacement ordinance and a third alternative. Since the city has released a determination of non-significance in its SEPA decision, unless the city withdraws its conclusion, it will be necessary to appeal their decision to the city hearing examiner, asking that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be conducted. That must be done within 3 weeks of the release of the DNS, which would be September 13th.
Draft Seattle Tree Protection Ordinance (Version 5b) needs improvement and needs to add back current protections that were removed!
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 email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Join the Coalition for a Stronger Seattle Tree Protection Ordinance
Join the Coalition for a Stronger Seattle Tree Protection Ordinance
Action Needed Now to Protect Seattle’s Trees and Urban Forest
Dear Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Council Members,
We urge you to provide strong leadership now to significantly strengthen Seattle’s tree ordinance to protect our trees and urban forest.
Seattle’s urban forest is an integral and vital part of our city. It provides many benefits and amenities to those living in our city. Trees help clean our air and enhance public health, reduce stormwater runoff, mitigate climate change, decrease the impacts of heat and wind, provide habitat for birds and wildlife and give us a connection with nature in our neighborhoods.
Seattle’s rapid growth is reducing these beneficial impacts as trees are removed, particularly during development across our city. It is urgent that you act now to stop the loss of trees, particularly exceptional trees and tree groves, and to promote environmental equity as we increase our tree canopy.
We urge you to act now by updating our current tree ordinances and regulations as follows:
- Adopt a policy of a net increase of Seattle’s tree canopy each year to reach the city’s current goal of 30% tree canopy. This requires maintaining and strengthening current protections for both significant and exceptional trees, tree groves, Heritage trees, environmentally critical areas and natural areas.
- Require the replacement of all trees removed that are 6” DBH and larger with equivalent sized trees (e.g. small, medium or large) – either on site: or pay the replacement and maintenance mitigation costs into a City Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund. Allow the Fund to accept fines, donations, grants and for acquiring land and setting easements and Tree Protection Trusts.
- Expand the existing tree removal and replacement permit, 2-week notice and posting system used by SDOT – to cover all public and private trees 6” DBH and larger on both public and private property in all land use zones. Allow removal of no more than 1 significant non-exceptional tree per lot per year.
- Establish one citywide database when applying for tree removal and replacement permits and to track changes in the tree canopy. Post online all permit requests and permit approvals for public viewing. Expand SDOT’s existing tree map to include all the trees in the city that are removed and replaced.
- Require a detailed Urban Forest Canopy Assessment for all development projects prior to any development beginning. This detailed tree inventory should be entered into a public database. Replacement trees should be based on equivalent tree size at maturity.
- Expand SDOT’s existing tree service provider’s registration and certification to include all tree service providers working on trees in Seattle.
- Consolidate tree oversight into one city entity: The Office of Sustainability and Environment, as was recommended by the Seattle City Auditor in 2009. Give OSE the additional authority needed to ensure that trees have an independent advocate for their protection to avoid conflicting goals in other city departments.
- Emphasize native trees and vegetation, particularly conifers, to maximize sustainability and environmental services. Require the removal of invasive plants during development. Increase incentives for protecting trees and provide public assistance for property owners who need help complying with the city ordinance. To increase compliance increase penalties, fines and enforcement. Ensure environmental equity in maintaining and increasing our tree canopy across the city.
Note: Above is the final version of the Letter to the Mayor and City Council that organizations are being asked to sign onto as part of the citywide coordinated effort to show strong support for updating Seattle’s existing Tree Protection legislation.
In the current proposal as outlined by Council staff on May 16, 2018, Councilmember Johnson, is not proposing to require developers to replace most trees lost during development while requiring homeowners to replace all trees larger than 12 inches DBH. Yet development is where most trees are being lost. Everyone needs to be treated the same, not letting developers evade most mitigation for trees lost. Also the threshold needs to be 6″ DBH, not 12″ DBH, which would only cover 18% of the trees on single family lots. Seattle appears to have not consistently complied with SMC 25.11.090 requiring developers to replace all trees greater than 24 inches DBH and exceptional trees cut down during development. There is no database we can find of trees removed and replaced by the city under 25.11.090. There is no mention of a requirement for developers to comply with this position on the city’s website or in their handouts and no mention of fees required by developers to pay the city to replant trees developers removed. The city needs to strongly enforce the current provision and strengthen it. See UFC letter below.
Please copy and paste the letter text above the note and include it in an email you send to the Mayor and Seattle City Council in support of updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. They need to hear from you.
Be sure to add your own concern about developers needing to comply with the current ordinance provision SMC 25.11.090 and seemingly being exempt in the proposed ordinance update that homeowners would have to comply with. Urge that the city start at 6 inches DBH for requiring replacement which would cover 45% of the trees in single family zones. Developers and homeowners should be treated the same.
Our suggestion is that you also state that you support the recommendations as made by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission (see below) and discuss the specific concerns of your neighborhood or organization.
Send to email@example.com and council@Seattle.gov
When your organization signs on to the letter above please send notification as a bcc to Steve@friends.urbanforests.org along with the person signing for the organization and their position. We will post letters from organizations on the friends.urbanforests.org website to document the concerns of individual organizations.
If you need someone to speak to your organization regarding this issue please let me know and we’ll get someone to come.
Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance
Steve Zemke – Chair firstname.lastname@example.org
More information – we try to post as much as we can n www.friends.urbanforests.org for reference and also post news on Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest Facebook page.
Draft Updates to Seattle’s Tree Regulations, Seattle City Council Central Staff, May 11, 2018 – memo discussing proposed updates
Enforcement of SMC 25.11.090 – Seattle Urban Forestry Commission, July 11, 2018
Comments to the May 11, 2018 Council Staff Memorandum “Draft Updates to Seattle’s Tree Regulations” Seattle Urban Forestry Commission June 6, 2018
Tree Regulations Update “Trees for All” proposal recommendations – Seattle Urban Forestry Commission, May 9, 2018
Tree Regulations Research Report – March 31, 2017 Report
MHA EIS Hearing Examiner Appeal Testimony June 28, 2018
Question – Who are you?
My name is Steve Zemke. I am a member of the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission serving in the wildlife biologist position. I am not speaking representing them today but as the chair of TreePAC, an urban forest conservation advocacy organization. I am the Chair of other organizations including the Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance and Friends of the Seattle Urban Forest.
Question – What are your qualifications?
I have a BA in Biology from Case Western Reserve University and a MA in Biology from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. I spend an additional several years at the University of Washington’s College of Fisheries doing graduate work.
I have been involved in efforts over the last 10 years in Seattle pushing for updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. I put forward the original idea of Seattle having an Urban Forestry Commission that Councilmember Nick Licata introduced, and the Seattle City Council passed in 2009. [SMC Chapter 7.32, Ordinance 123052]
I have attended almost all of the bimonthly Urban Forestry Commission meetings since it was formed in 2009 and am currently serving a second 3-year term as a commissioner. I have also attended the yearly Urban Forestry Symposiums held at the University of Washington since they started.
Question – What is your experience dealing with impacts on Seattle’s urban forest?
I have been involved in or aware of numerous examples where development proposals, including by public agencies, have resulted in significant loss of trees, including groves. Some examples include:
Question – Are you familiar with the MHA EIS?
Yes I responded to the draft EIS with comments regarding the adequacy of the EIS in addressing it’s impact on Seattle’s urban forest as discussed in Section 3.6 Biological Resources.
Question – Do you have some exhibits that will help inform your testimony today?
Yes, here is the list of exhibits I rely on and will refer to:
__ Chapter 25.11– City Exhibit 098
__ Tree Protection Regulations – Tip 242 – City Exhibit 060
__ Director’s Rule 16-2008 – Designation of Exceptional Trees – City Exhibit 061
__ 2016 Seattle Tree Canopy Assessment – City Exhibit 053
__ Mayor Burgess Executive Order 2017-11 – Scale Exhibit 048
__ Tree Regulations UFC Presentation Nov 1, 2017– SCALE Exhibit 054
__ Tree Regulations Research Project Final Report March 31, 2017 – Exhibit 57
__ Draft Updates to Seattle’s Tree Regulations – City 064
__ Urban Forestry Commission on MHA draft EIS 08 2017 pdf – SCALE exhibit 50
__ Tree Canopy Assessment Sustainability & Environment Subcabinet April 9 2009– FNC Exhibit 32, COS0032951
__ Clarification of Canopy Cover Assessment Statistics March 23, 2011 – FNC Exhibit 25, COS0032199
__ MHA EIS conclusions about impacts of the four alternatives on Seattle Tree Canopy, summary of sections from FEIS Section 3.6
Question – Is Seattle proposing adequate mitigation in the EIS for trees removed?
In the MHA EIS, statements such as in 3.6.3 Mitigation Measures do not match what is really happening to trees in Seattle during development:
“This section has identified comparative differences in the potential for adverse impacts related to disturbances of ECA’s [environmentally critical areas] and canopy by potential future development. However, none of these identified impacts are considered to be significant adverse impacts.”
I do not agree.
At the same time the city states in the EIS that “The city does not have a threshold for determining significance of tree loss.” p 3.338. That is a major problem.
The following sentence in the MHA EIS says —
“Assuming that all tree protection regulations are implemented with future development under the new zoning, the change in tree canopy cover under the preferred alternative is not considered a significant impact.”
This statement is highly speculative and does not match what is happening on the ground in our city. There is no guarantee that major changes will actually be passed by the Seattle City Council.
Nine years ago, the City Council in Resolution 31138 urged the Department of Planning and Development to submit legislation to increase protection for trees and tree canopy. Nine years later there is still no update enacted to do such.
Question – What is the City doing to update the Tree Protection Ordinance and regulations suggested in the MHA EIS?
While the City Council is proposing an update now, there is no draft available for the public to review or for this Hearing Examiner process concerning the adequacy of the MHA EIS to see. There is only a Council memorandum with generalities—no specific ordinance. It is just an outline of concepts. Furthermore, the content that is in the outline does not propose changes that would result in significant improvement to the existing ordinance’s impacts. And it does not reference SMC 29.11.090.
For Single Family and Residential Small lots during development it proposes increasing a tree point system of 1 for 1000 square feet to 750 square feet and having an in lieu fee. For LR, MR, C and industrial it says, “no changes proposed” and some tweaking of green factor. Green factor is about maintaining or replacing some minimal green on a lot after trees has been removed during development but does not at all account for replacement of trees removed in any equivalence during development as required by the current ordinance in SMC 29.11.090.
The problem is that DCI and all its former named incarnations of City permitting agencies since 2001 when the original Tree Protection Ordinance SMC 25.11 was passed, have not been complying with all of the mandated directives of that ordinance. The ongoing lack of compliance and ordinance enforcement is not acknowledged in the MHA EIS.
In addition, I can find nothing in the FEIS that addresses how well or poorly other City programs have impacted or would impact the City’s tree protection and tree canopy goals. The two most important of these City actions are the Design Review program and the proposed ADU (accessory dwelling unit) ordinance with a DEIS comment period that ended Monday of this week.
The current draft updates proposed as outlined in the Council memo continue this subterfuge of disregarding the language in SMC 25.11.090 and saying the city will soon have an ordinance that works to mitigate for any adverse impacts of land use decisions on trees or tree canopy.
Question – Are there places that the provisions of 25.11.090 are mentioned?
It is mentioned in The Tree Regulations Research Project final report (Exhibit 57 – on page 3), “Exceptional Trees and those larger than 24 inches need to be replaced unless they are hazardous” It is also in the Tree Regulations Research Project March 27, 2017 slide presentation – (Scale Exhibit 58 – slide 4). And its in Tree Regulations UFC Presentation Nov 1, 2017 – (SCALE Exhibit 054 p 3) )
The Tree Regulations Research Report was not available to the public even though it was included in the draft EIS MHA references. There was no link to the document in the references in the draft EIS nor was it available in a Google search. It took a public records request to make this document available to read. Even the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission could not get it and was first briefed on it in Nov. 2017, long after the comment period for the draft EIS ended.
I requested in my letter on the draft EIS that a link be added to the reference but that was never done. My comments were never considered until after the final EIS was published. They were not included, and it turned out they had “lost” them. They found my e-mail after I asked why it was not in the final EIS. They then added it to the online version after the final EIS was published but never provided the link as asked.
The findings of the Tree Regulations Research Project were not discussed in the draft EIS and contradicted their statements that the current tree ordinance and regulations are working. Among the findings were these conclusions:
“Current code is not supporting tree protection.”
“We are losing exceptional trees (and groves) in general.”
Under land use and construction permits they noted:
“Development and hardscape increase result in tree loss. Conifers and large tree species are coming out with deciduous and dwarf species coming in.”
There are many options proposed for increased protections for trees in the Tree Regulations Research Project.
Question – What do SMC 25.11.090 and 25.11.100 direct DCI to do? (City Exhibit 098)
“25.11.090 – Tree replacement and site restoration.
A. Each exceptional tree and tree over two (2) feet in diameter that is removed in association with development in all zones shall be replaced by one or more new trees, the size and species of which shall be determined by the Director; the tree replacement required shall be designed to result, upon maturity, in a canopy cover that is at least equal to the canopy cover prior to tree removal. Preference shall be given to on-site replacement. When on-site replacement cannot be achieved, or is not appropriate as determined by the Director, preference for off-site replacement shall be on public property.
B. No tree replacement is required if the (1) tree is hazardous, dead, diseased, injured or in a declining condition with no reasonable assurance of regaining vigor as determined by a tree care professional, or (2) the tree is proposed to be relocated to another suitable planting site as approved by the Director.
SMC 25.11.100 – Enforcement and penalties.
A. Authority. The Director shall have authority to enforce the provisions of this chapter, to issue permits, impose conditions, and establish administrative procedures and guidelines, conduct inspections, and prepare the forms necessary to carry out the purposes of this chapter.
B. It shall be a violation of this chapter for any person, firm or corporation to remove, clear or take any action detrimental to trees contrary to or in violation of any provision of this chapter. …..”
Reference to these tree ordinance requirements is absent from the City’s website in reference to developers having to comply with this provision. It is not mentioned in the Tree Protection Regulations – (Tip 242 – City Exhibit 060) or Director’s Rule 16-2008 – Designation of Exceptional Trees – (City Exhibit 061) or other public documents that I have seen.
If the Council’s outline of a new tree ordinance is adopted to replace the above provisions in SMC 25.11.090, it is likely that protection of large trees will become even weaker. These large and “exceptional” trees in the code (SMC 25.11.050), tend to be native conifers like Douglas fir and western red cedar. Their numbers have been declining and there are only a few thousand left in the entire City.
Question – Did you find an indication of City work to evaluate the effectiveness of the City’s ordinances to conserve trees and tree canopy?
Yes. When I was reading the draft EIS, I came across a citation in the references to a research project concerning the effectiveness of the City’s tree conservation ordinances in the bibliography to Section 3.6. On page 5.6 I found this reference:
City of Seattle. 2017a. Tree Regulations Research Project—Phase II Final Findings and Recommendations. March 27, 2017.
But when I looked in Section 3.6 itself, I could not find any reference to it or where it informed the analysis of impacts or need for mitigation. The Urban Forestry Commission asked for and obtained the referenced document and related presentation material.
I believe it was as a result of the Urban Forestry Commission’s action obtaining the research project documents that led to the issuance of Executive Order 2017-11 on October 13, 2017, a month before the publication of the MHA Final EIS. Two of the “Whereas” clauses in the executive order explicitly reference the MHA a reason for the obvious need to improve the City’s tree ordinances to avoide continued significant adverse impacts of development on our trees and tree canopy.
Question – Have you carefully reviewed Mayor Burgess’ Executive Order 2017-11 Tree Protection (Scale Exhibit 048)?
Section 1 B says:
“SDCI will require consistent documentation for required tree removal review on private property including mitigating canopy cover loss of trees removed, and monitoring of planted trees for survival. Informational materials and resources for developers, property owners and the public related to trees and vegetation management shall be updated to reflect this emphasis.”
This is not happening. When I checked with a land use planner last week at the SDCI intake desk for permits for projects to ask what documentation was being kept to monitor tree loss and canopy replacement she noted the only place trees are marked is on the site plans. She showed me the new Acela computer data base for several projects and looked for any data input related to trees. There was none. She even checked suggested additional fields that could be added for input and there was none relating to trees.
She said there was only one arborist responsible for reviewing trees on projects. She noted that it would be very easy to input data on tree species and DBH for trees removed and trees planted and be able to get monthly or yearly updates on what was happening but that they were not doing it.
There also appear to be no updates on printed material or the SDCI website regarding this issue.
Question – Are there other sections of Burgess’s Executive Order that don’t seem to be implemented yet?
Another section of Mayor Burgess’s Executive Order – Section 3 Expanding Compliance Options states:
“SDCI will develop a new Director’s Rule or propose legislation for required tree replacement. The in-lieu payment option may apply to cases where tree mitigation is required. Fees from any-in-lieu payment will be used for mitigating the loss of tree canopy cover through replanting and reforestation while prioritizing addressing racial and economic disparities in accessing and enjoying the benefits of urban trees.”
This only seems to be maybe partly complied with during development when one looks at the Draft Updates to Seattle’s Tree Regulations memo – (City Exhibit 064). It proposes tree permits and replacement of all trees removed over 12 inches either on site or mitigation in the form of a fee in lieu for the city planting them elsewhere. But this would apply to private property already developed. It is only suggested as an option for single family zone during development as a complement to a point system.
Regardless, these improvements to the City’s tree ordinances are all speculative since the new ordinance is at the very stages of development.
Question – What about the 2016 Seattle Tree Canopy Assessment (City Exhibit 053)?
Several issues here. The LIDAR Study stated tree canopy was at 28%. What isn’t mentioned is that what is being measured is vegetative cover at 8 feet high. That includes many bushes and shrubs like the lilac in my back yard or the laurel hedge on my fence line. The Army Corp of Engineers measures trees at 20 feet high. At 20 feet, Seattle’s tree canopy is closer to 26% according to an inquiry made to the OSE.
In addition, the study notes on page 2 that a separate study done using historic data from Google Earth between 2007 and 2015 that there was approximately a 2% loss in canopy. The results between the two methods are not compatible and point out the difficulty of getting a precise measurement and what it means.
The real question is the quality and quantity of tree loss during development and how can we lessen tree loss and mitigate when it happens. The 2016 Seattle Tree Canopy assessment looked at the question of loss during development, but the results are “not statistically valid” because only 10 sample plots being developed were examined in 8 zones. That’s like asking 10 people in each zone or 80 people total who they think should be elected for Mayor or to the City Council. Even with that caveat they stated “a mini-assessment of 80 random parcels found that development led to canopy cover loss.”
Question – Did you find other data the City had regarding tree loss during development?
A more detailed assessment -Tree Canopy Assessment Sustainability & Environment Subcabinet April 9 2009 – (Fremont 32 COS0032951) done on 2,262 redeveloped parcels between 2002 and 2007 pointed to a significant loss of 29% of trees removed on these parcels. 40% of existing trees were removed on SF lots and 70% of existing trees on MF lots. Current development is much more intense across our city and more lots are being divided and less land is available on site to keep or replace trees.
The city needs to be called to task for ignoring SMC 25.11.090 and start replanting all exceptional trees and trees over 24“DBH removed during development. Other cities like Portland, Oregon and Atlanta, Georgia have set up permit and tree replacement programs for trees removed during development as well as for already developed properties.
Seattle should lower the threshold to 6 inches DBH as recommended by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission. The current draft in Councilmember Johnson’s committee does not do this; it uses a 12 inch minimum, which will eliminate protection for a huge number of Seattle’s trees.
Changing to 6 inches would help to make up for the canopy replacement lost due to not implementing SMC 25.11.090 over the last 17 years! Here in our region Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Redmond and Sammamish have set up tree permit and replacement systems.
Question – Have you evaluated the EIS conclusions regarding the likelihood of significant impacts?
Yes. Each of the four alternatives in the FEIS has a statement concerning the likelihood of significant impacts.
To start with, the initial statement, in the “no action” alternative, concerning the impacts of the current code and the City’s enforcement of it (or the lack of enforcement) says, “The resulting change in canopy cover is assumed to be static.” and “This study [2016 canopy study prepared for the MHA EIS] does not quantify tree loss resulting from current development patterns.”
This is a troubling statement because it implies that there are not adverse impacts on trees and tree canopy happening under current legal and on the ground conditions. This is clearly not true. (SMC 29.11.090 is clearly not being complied with).
By making this statement, the EIS is failing to establish a baseline against which to compare the three very similar action alternatives.
Each of the statements concerning the likely impacts of the actions alternatives contains the words “not considered a significant impact.” The MHA proposal is explicitly intended to increase development capacity on substantial acreage all over the City. It is absurd to say that these changes will not have a significant increased adverse impact on Seattle’s urban forest.
Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance meeting – please attend
Saturday, July 7, 2018 10:15 AM – 12:15 PM
Beacon Hill Library,
2821 Beacon Ave S, Seattle
Current timeline according to Councilmember Rob Johnson is to release a draft ordinance by the end of July, complete a SEPA analysis in August, have public hearings in August and possibly a vote by Sept 15th.
Coalition Agenda for July 7th will discuss:
- meeting with Councilmember Rob Johnson
- status of draft legislation issues
- major campaign discovery regarding current ordinance
- upcoming press conference – probably next week
- e-mail campaign to Mayor and City Council
- increasing Coalition members – currently 30
- media outreach
- volunteer help needed
- brainstorm ways to increase visibility of campaign
Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting
Wed, July 18, 2018 9:30 AM
Seattle City Council Chambers, 600 4th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104
Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance
Saturday, July 21, 2018 11:15 AM – 12:15 PM
Queen Anne Library, 400 W Garfield, Seattle
Note all Coalition meetings are open to anyone who wants to attend, your support is needed for us to be successful. We welcome your help.
more information – links also posted to www.friends.urbanforests.org
Rob Johnson’s Trees for All Tree Ordinance Timeline June 20, 2016
June 6, 2018 Urban Forestry Commission response:
Chair – Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance
Carolyn Rodenberg – 150 Trees and Me
Kevin Orme – TreePAC