Developers should not be exempt in new ordinance to protect Seattle’s trees 

Press Release – Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance 

June 4, 2018

 Developers should not be exempt in new ordinance to protect Seattle’s trees 

by Steve Zemke and Susanna Lin

Look around at any development site in Seattle, and you will usually find it clear cut of any trees or vegetation that used to be there. Given the record breaking development boom we are experiencing, and the City Council preparing to add more density with upzones across Seattle, and it becomes clear that protecting our trees in the face of rampant development should be of the upmost importance.

With the current proposal to increase density through zoning changes in 27 urban villages and multifamily zones across Seattle, the City was required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS to evaluate the negative impacts this increase in density may produce.

The EIS produced by the City says that the Tree Protection ordinance and regulations are sufficient to deal with trees during development. Yet the Tree Regulations Research Project done internally last year by the City said that “Current code is not protecting trees.” “We are losing exceptional trees (and groves) in general.” “Development and hardscape increase result in tree loss. Conifers and large tree species are coming out with deciduous and dwarf species are coming in.” The inadequacy of our current tree protection is one of the issues in the MHA EIS appeal.

While the Tree Regulations report was cited in the bibliography, its conclusions are not discussed in the EIS and its conclusions are contrary to what the EIS said. In the draft EIS they mentioned in the bibliography the Tree Regulations Research Project report, but put no link to it. It was not publicly available. The report contradicted what the City said in the EIS. The report was finally secured through a public records request after failed attempts to have it discussed by the city at the Urban Forestry Commission.

With increased development occurring, our trees and urban forest are being removed at a faster pace but adequate mitigation is not in place to replace the benefits trees provide like cleaning our air we breathe and reducing storm water runoff. Seattle needs to require developers to replace trees removed or pay a fee to the city to replant them. The city needs to update its existing tree ordinance to require this. 

Councilmember Rob Johnson has a proposal to update to Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance, which would require private homeowners to get permits to remove trees and replace trees removed but would not require developers to do so, according to the draft outline in a memo he had Council staff discuss last week before the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee.

Here are the recommendations the Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance made:
Action Needed Now to Protect Seattle’s Trees and Urban Forest

Here are the recommendations the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission made:
Tree regulations update “Trees for All” proposal recommendation 

Here is the memo from City Council Central Staff and Rob Johnson that needs strengthening:
Draft Updates to Seattle’s Tree Regulations

Tree Regulations Research Project – Final Report  March 31, 2017

Councilmember Johnson is trying to get this passed by August, the same timeline he is working on for the MHA upzone legislation. Johnson in his memo from Council staff, however, proposes exempting developers from having to get permits to remove trees and replace them on site or pay the city to do so elsewhere. He also supports a 12″ threshold DBH rather than 6 ” DBH which would cover 45% of the trees on single family lots.

E-mails to the Mayor and City Council are needed now as Councilmember Johnson is proposing releasing a draft on June 20th at the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee. We are trying to put pressure on the Council to do the right thing by:

  • Including developers in all zones in tree protection requirements
  • Doing canopy assessments prior to issuing construction permits
  • Requiring permits to remove any tree over 6 ” DBH
  • Requiring replacement on site or pay into a city Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund for all trees removed
  • Requiring all Tree Care Professionals to be licensed as SDOT already does
  • Remove the exemption of lots less than 5000 sq ft from complying with the current Tree Protection Ordinance.

Additional material added 6/5/2018

Tree Canopy Assessment– Sustainability & Environment Sub-Cabinet

Clarification of Canopy Cover Assessment Statistics 3/23/2011



Developers should not be exempt in new ordinance to protect Seattle’s trees  — 1 Comment

  1. Developers shouldn’t be exept from requiring permits for removing trees or be exempt from replacing trees they uprooted. The issue of affordable housing doesn’t have to be a treeless one. Keep Seattle a part of the Evergreen State.