The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (SDCI) has been dragging its heels for years on setting up a permit system for tree removal and replacement. Many other cites require permits to remove trees. Permits help to reduce illegal tree removal and allow cities to track tree loss and replacement.
The Seattle Council urged SDCI in Council Resolution 31902 to consider a permit system to remove trees 6″ DBH and larger (diameter at 4.5 feet above ground). SDCI with OSE held “listening sessions” with 29 people (including 10 members of the development community) and concluded the public didn’t support permits. Twenty nine respondents is not statistically valid,
Meanwhile a poll done by the Northwest Progressive Institute last year found that Seattle voters favored requiring permits to remove trees by a 2 to 1 margin. The results were 57% supporting to 28% opposing, with 15% unsure. (Poll of 617 likely Seattle voters, 4.3% margin of error, 95% confidence level)
Other cities are tracking tree loss and replacement on private property doing it with the same Accela database system that Seattle uses. Even Seattle’s Department of Transportation is using it for their permits for tree removal and replacement of street trees.
A permit system can be set up now without the need to update the current Tree Protection Ordinance. The existing Tree Protection Ordinance states in SMC 25.11.100 Enforcement and Penalties A. Authority 1. that “The Director shall have authority to enforce the provisions of this Chapter 25.11, to issue permits, impose conditions and establish penalties for violations of applicable law or rules by registered tree service providers, establish administrative procedures and guidelines, conduct inspections, and prepare the forms and publish Director’s Rules that may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this Chapter 25.11.” (Note – Highlighting done by author to focus on key phrasing and authority)
Entering permits on a database system allows a city to track tree loss and replacement. With posting requirements and online database systems, people can confirm that trees are being removed under city ordinances and not illegally. Seattle’s tree protection enforcement is currently based on trusting people are cutting down trees legally. That is often not the case. Citizens only option is a complaint-based system which doesn’t work. Once you hear a chainsaw it is almost always impossible to stop trees coming down. Often work is done on weekends and holidays when city offices are closed.
Here are some other cities (and associated information) that are using an online Accela database system to set up permits for removing trees. Also included is SDOT’s link to their system in Seattle.
Lake Forest Park: Accela
Atlanta, GA: Accela
Arborists Division Contacts
Seattle, WA: Accela
SDOT also requires 2 weeks posting of a permit application on the site, reason tree is being removed and city contact information for questions.
Portland , Oregon: Excell
Portland does their permits using Excell online. They require developers to use the system to produce and file a Tree Inventory along with a Tree Plan before a building permit is issued. Seattle should do the same. Seattle currently does not require developers to do a tree inventory or tree plan before a building permit is issued.