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


Comments are closed.