Please Amend draft SDCI Tree Protection Ordinance to Strengthen Protection for Trees

Send Letter to Mayor Bruce Harrell and Seattle City Council:

Dear Mayor Harrell and the Seattle City Council,

Please act to update Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. It’s been 13 years since the Seattle City Council first urged the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to update the ordinance. We appreciate the recent enactment by the Seattle City Council and Mayor to adopt registration of Tree Service Providers in the city as a first step. We also appreciate action finally by SDCI to release a more complete draft of an updated Tree Protection Ordinance.

The draft Tree Protection Ordinance is currently under a Hearing Examiner appeal by the Master Builders of King and Snohomish County and six development companies. Their goal is to delay and potentially weaken the ordinance. We believe that Seattle needs to protect its existing trees while planting more trees in underserved areas with low tree canopy to address adverse climate impacts while also increasing affordable housing. It is not a question of one or the other. We need to do both.

Trees and the urban forest comprise vital green infrastructure needed to keep our city and people livable and healthy. Trees reduce air pollution, storm water runoff and climate impacts like heat island effects, while providing essential habitat for birds and other wildlife. They are important for the physical and mental health of our residents. A robust urban forest is critical for climate resilience and environmental equity.

Seattle’s rapid growth and increased density combined with an outdated tree ordinance are reducing these beneficial effects as trees are removed without serious consideration of ways to incorporate more of them in the development. Unless exceptional there is no real effort to save them. And what replacement requirements were in the ordinance since 2001 appears to have seldom been enforced. It is urgent to act now to reduce this continued loss of existing trees, particularly large mature trees and tree groves. It is important to promote environmental equity by retaining as many trees as possible and replacing those removed for climate resiliency.

We support the following provisions in SDCI’s draft ordinance.

1. Lowering the upper limit for exceptional trees to 24” Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) from 30” DBH.
2. Continuing protection for exceptional trees less than 24” DBH and tree groves and heritage trees
3. Defining any tree 6” DBH and larger that is not exceptional as a significant tree
4. Continuing prohibition on removal of trees 6” DBH and larger on undeveloped lots.
5. Requiring replacement of 12” DBH and larger trees removed by developers
6. Creating an in-lieu fee for developers to replace trees 12” DBH and larger that cannot be replaced on the development site.
7. Requiring in lieu fees be used to replace and maintain newly planted trees
8. Limiting removal of significant trees outside development to those less than 12” DBH
9. Protected trees and replaced trees are covered by a covenant for life of project

Here are key provisions that need to be added to the draft ordinance:

1.Expand the existing Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Tree Removal and Replacement Permit Program using the Accela database system to include SDCI to cover all significant trees 6” DBH and larger, and all exceptional trees, on private property in all land use zones, both during development and outside development.
2. Require SDCI submit quarterly reports to the Office of Sustainability and Environment on tree removal and replacement as required by other City Departments
3. Require 2-week public notice posting, as SDOT does on-site, and add online, of any 6’” DBH and larger tree removal and replacement permit requests and keep posted on a lot for 1 week after removal
4. Require that tree replacement numbers increase with the size of the removed tree such that in 25 years or less they will reach equivalent canopy volume lost – either on site or pay a replacement fee that also increases with the size of the tree removed
5. All replacement in lieu fees and fines should go into a dedicated Tree Replacement and Preservation Fund (not SDCI budget or city general fund), that yearly reports on their budget to the City Council and Mayor.
6. Allow the Tree Replacement and Preservation Fund to also accept fines, donations, grants, purchase land, set up covenants and for educational purposes.
7. Require 5-year maintenance of replanted trees
8. Allow removal of no more than 2 Significant non-exceptional trees in 3 years per lot outside development
9. Require developers throughout the total development process to maximize the retention of existing trees with adequate space for trees to grow and survive.
10. Require a Tree Inventory of all trees 6” DBH and larger and a Tree Landscaping Plan prior to any building permits being approved.
11. Extend ordinance to cover all land use zones, including Industrial, Downtown and Institutions
12. Keep requirement that all 6” DBH and larger trees be on site plans
13. Require tree replacement or in lieu fees by developers for trees removed 1 year prior to property purchase
14. Allow city certified inspectors to enter property if necessary to ascertain any illegal tree activity
15. Provide adequate funding in the budget to implement and enforce the updated ordinance
16. All trees replaced are protected trees and not subject to removal
17. Require removal of invasive plants, like ivy, from development sites



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