ReVisioning Northgate Sends Recommendations on Tree Code Update to Seattle City Council

From: ReVisioning Northgate <aldnorthgate@gmail.com> 
Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2018 5:33 PM
To: rob.johnson@seattlegov.org; mike.o’brien@seattlegov.org; lisa.herbold@seattlegov.org; lorena.gonzález@seattlegov.org; Juarez, Debora <Debora.Juarez@seattle.gov>; teresa.mosqueda@seattlegov.org
Subject: Tree Code: SMC 25.11 and Council’s proposed changes

December 6, 2018

Dear Councilmembers Johnson, Herbold, O’Brien, and González,

City Council Planning, Land Use & Zoning Committee

ReVisioning Northgate is a community group dedicated to advocating for a healthy, safe, and livable Northgate with its surrounding neighborhoods.  We applaud the effort to build a stronger and more enforceable, city-wide Tree Code, SMC 25.11, and of expanding protections to trees on private land.  We urge the Council to keep tree preservation as the uppermost goal in each step of revising the Code, and to make this goal explicit in the final ordinance language.

RVN strongly supports the following:

  • Greater emphasis must be given to protecting large trees and groves of trees
  • The category of “Exceptional Trees” should be maintained, with modifications specified by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission on November 18, 2018    
  • New legislation require developers and builders work with City tree experts to adjust plans that would  require tree removal, with the goal of preserving trees
  • Tree service providers must be made liable for violations of protections 
  • Removed trees should be replaced on or near the original site, in the same block or neighborhood when possible 
  • Better definitions of hazardous trees should be written, with review of these claims provided by the City
  • A City corps of tree experts should be funded to enforce protections, review claims, and work with builders towards the preservation of existing trees.

We urge adoption of several of the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission’s suggested revisions from its letter to you dated August 31, 2018, and its responses to questions from the Council on November 18, 2018, especially that:

  • The prohibition on cutting Exceptional trees be maintained: RVN also urges limiting exceptions to the prohibition, such as that of “precluding full development potential”
  • The measurement unit for permitting be based on size and species, not on canopy cover
  • Exceptional trees include all those greater than 24” DBH , with the exception of invasive non-native species
  • “Habitat value and and ecosystem service provided” be added to protection criteria 
  • All trees removed a year prior to a property’s sale be considered to be under the ordinance, to discourage cutting prior to the new protections taking effect
  • The ratio of replacement be greater than 1:1, to better ensure survival of at least one replacement, and depend on species, increasing with size of the tree removed
  • Best-management practices of fall/winter planting and 5 year watering of replacement trees be mandated
  • No more than 2 trees per year be removed from a developed lot
  • Require a longer posting period: RVN suggests 3 weeks
  • On a single family lot where a unit is to be constructed, the minimum number of trees required by SMC 23.44.008 be maintained, and this requirement be extended to other zones. 

We agree with Councilmember O’Brien that preservation of and replacement with native hardwoods and conifers should be prioritized.  We also urge that if trees are to be removed, they will be replaced by trees that will reach the same size or greater. 

The reduction in diameter (DBH) of protected trees from 12” to 6” is greatly appreciated.  As is the requirement to make tree service providers sign a statement affirming they know the rules. 

We urge that new legislation require developers and builders work with City experts to adjust plans that would require tree removal, with the goal of preserving trees.

The removal of invasive, habitat-threatening trees should not require fees for permitting.  These should be listed as exempt, and should include such species as Ilex aquifolium (English holly) and Laburnum anagyroides (chain tree).

And finally, RVN questions whether the fee to be charged for removing non-hazardous trees is a sufficient deterrent, or if it should be increased. At the same time, we question whether property owners should be charged for removing a truly hazardous tree, if experts agree it should be removed. The rules should be reasonable, and not simply a mechanism to generate fees and encourage non-compliance.

Trees are one of our city’s greatest resources.  They are our allies in cleaning the air, cooling our increasingly warm, dry summers, controlling storm run-off,  and soothing our collective and individual souls.  They are indispensable to our streets and neighborhoods. They define the character of Seattle. 

Thank you.

ReVisioning Northgate     

Susan Ward, Chair 


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