Concerns about CB 119057 modifying design review process
Testimony before Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee
Sept 11. 2017
Steve Zemke – Chair – Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest and TreePAC
CB 119057 was submitted to the Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee on August 15 to significantly modifying the Design Review process. The purpose is to shorten and reduce much of the design review process for large projects and make administrative and hybrid decisions decisions instead to speed up developers building more projects to meet housing needs. Exceptional trees would then in some decisions be an administrative or hybrid decision by DCI instead of public review.
Right now we are getting no significant return on trees lost and what you are proposing will accelerate the loss. Below are two recommendations critical to this bill. If you add this in this ordinance it will be a big leg up on also revising a private tree ordinance to help protect and enhance our urban tree canopy. You have to act now. If you do not developers will continue to remove Seattle’s tree canopy and Seattle and its citizens will loss while developers pay nothing for the removal.
– The need to track tree loss by requiring an Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment for all development as recommended by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission. https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/UrbanForestryCommission/FinalIssuedDocuments/Recommendations/ADOPTEDDPDReportingLetter062514.pdf
– Mandate replacement on or off site of all tree canopy lost or payment into a City Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund with tree value based on a professional appraisal as approved by the Council of Professional and Landscape Appraisers.
Starting on page 36 of the proposed ordinance the full design review removes all the current design review criteria and says “the Director may establish by rule, the information that the applicant shall present” Then removed on the next page are an initial site analysis, a drawing of existing site conditions that included all tree over 6 inches and species and a number of other conditions. The existing requirements should be retained and expanded to include the canopy impact assessment,
On page 43 the Administrative design review process also eliminates all the existing site evaluation requirements. They should remain. Then add that “the administrator can add additional requirements.”
The problem remains that DCI’s mandate is to help builders build. Exceptional and other trees will continue to be lost as they are given minimal value in this process. If trees limit the full development potential of the lot they can be removed. The city suffers canopy loss but there is no requirement that the developers compensate the city for the loss of existing canopy.
You need to include a provision that if trees cannot be saved developers need to pay into a Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund to compensate the city for the ecological and environmental benefits currently provided by a healthy urban forest. If developers are not required to compensate the city, it will be impossible to require compensation from homeowners or anyone else in the future for loss of exceptional trees.
Other cities have established tree funds. Here are two examples.
Here for example is language from Portland Oregon’s Tree Ordinance for a Tree Planting and Preservation Fund. https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/?c=66002
11.10.070 Fees. A. Generally. The City Council may establish and amend by ordinance permit, inspection, review, enforcement, in-lieu of planting or preservation, appeal and other fees as necessary to sustain the development permit, tree permit, and other Development Service or Urban Forestry programs. All fees, charges, civil penalties, and fines established by authority of this Title will be listed in the Portland Policy Documents. B. Fees in lieu of planting or preserving trees. Where allowed by other provisions of this Title, a fee may be paid into the Tree Planting and Preservation Fund in lieu of planting or preserving trees. The fee per tree is the entire cost of establishing a new tree in accordance with standards described by the City Forester. The cost includes materials and labor necessary to plant the tree, and to maintain it for 2 years. The fee will be reviewed annually and, if necessary, adjusted to reflect current costs. See Section 11.15.010 for more information on the Tree Planting and Preservation Fund.
“11.15.010 Tree Planting and Preservation Fund. A. Purpose. The purpose of the Tree Planting and Preservation Fund is to facilitate tree planting, to ensure mitigation or tree replacement when tree preservation or tree density standards are not met on a particular site, and to advance the City’s goals for the urban forest and equitable distribution of tree-related benefits across the City. B. Expenditures. Money in the Tree Planting and Preservation Fund may be used only as follows: 1. To plant trees on public or private property, including streets, in the same watershed as the site from which the funds were collected. Planting trees includes the cost of materials and labor necessary to install and establish a tree for a 2 year period; 2. To purchase conservation easements for the perpetual retention of trees and tree canopy. Such conservation easements shall allow the City to replace trees that are removed when they die or become dangerous; and 3. To acquire land to permanently protect existing trees or groves. ”
Woodinville is a local city that has established a Tree Fund. http://www.ci.woodinville.wa.us/Documents/CityHall/Ordinances/Ordinance%20589.pdf
21.50.040 City Tree Fund established.
(1) Fund Established. A City Tree Fund is established for the collection of any funds used for the purpose and intent set forth by this chapter.
(2) Funding Sources. The following funding sources may be allocated to the City Tree Fund: payments received in lieu of supplemental plantings; civil penalties collected pursuant to this chapter; agreed-upon restoration payments or settlements in lieu of penalties; sale of trees or wood from City property; donations and grants for tree purposes; sale of seedlings by the City; and other monies allocated by City Council.
(3) Funding Purposes. The Tree Board shall provide recommendations with each budget to the City Council for approval of how the fund will be allocated. The City shall use money received pursuant to this section for the following purposes:
(a) Acquiring, maintaining, and preserving wooded areas within the City;
(b) Planting and maintaining trees within the City;
(c) Identification and maintenance of heritage trees;
(d) Establishment of a holding public tree nursery;
(e) Urban forestry education;
(f) Urban forest canopy coverage assessment; or
(g) Other purposes relating to tree and woodland protection and enhancement as determined by the City Council. (Ord. 611 § 8 (Att. A), 2016; Ord. 589 § 2, 2016)
There is more in CB 119057 that is of concern but along with the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan and HALA, DCI’s mission and policies are intent on helping developers build faster and more intensely. For 8 years DCI and Seattle Mayors and the Seattle City Council have ignored updating protection for private trees but has been very adept at finding ways to help developers. Trees should have standing in the city, not just developer’s “rights”. Seattle needs an independent city department or agency whose mission it is to save and protect trees and advocate for their role in the city structure and life. Tree protection should be in a separate Department from DCI as DCI’s prime mission to help builders build things. DCI has a severe conflict of interest and this legislation is one more example of reducing protection for trees. The most logical location would be in the Office of Sustainability and Environment which should be expanded to a full City Department.
Seattle is “the Emerald City,” and its canopy is one of the things that makes it special. It’s half of why Seattle city professional sports teams wear green and blue. We can and should increase housing stock, but we can’t allow housing to be an excuse for putting profits over people, or for destroying the livability of our city all.