2023 Seattle Mayor Harrell’s Draft SDCI Tree Protection Ordinance Issues

2023 Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Draft Tree Protection Ordinance – Issues 

We support the following provisions in the 2023 SDCI draft Tree Protection
1. Lowering the upper limit for exceptional trees to 24” Diameter at Shoulder Height (DSH) from 30” DSH
2. Requiring street trees be planted whenever development would add one or more principal dwelling units on a lot
3. Continuing protection for exceptional trees less than 24” DBH and tree groves and heritage trees
4. Continuing prohibition on removal of trees 6” DBH and larger on undeveloped lots.
5. Requiring replacement of all 12” DSH and larger trees removed by developers
6. Requiring an in-lieu fee for developers to replace trees 12” DSH and larger that cannot be replaced on the development site.
7. Requiring in lieu fees be used to replace and maintain newly planted trees removed by developers
8. Limiting removal of 6”-12″ DSH significant outside development to two trees in 3 years.
9. Protected trees and replaced trees are covered by a covenant.
10. Requiring 5-year maintenance for relocated or required replacement trees
11. Requiring 6-day advance notice online of all 6” DSH and larger trees proposed for removal by Tree Service Providers, posting on site on day of work and remaining for 5 days after removal.
12. Creation of 3 new SDCI positions to monitor and assist in implementing and enforcing provisions in the ordinance draft.

Key provisions that need to be revised or added to the draft tree protection ordinance:  

 1.Require 20% lot allowance for “tree preservation and tree planting areas” in multifamily areas and 40% lot allowance for 1-4 units in the neighborhood residential zone as Portland Oregon does in their family residential zone.  Portland passed legislation in 2020 to allow up to 4plexes  in their neighborhoods after the state mandated zoning updates. Portland responded in Nov 2022 to update the tree protection legislation. https://www.portland.gov/code/11/50/050

  2. Remove the guaranteed “85% lot development area” provision.  If the current middle housing legislation passes in Olympia, almost all of Seattle would be affected by this change, with a significant loss of tree canopy city wide. The city needs flexibility to evaluate development and protecting trees lot by lot, not one size fits all circumstances. 

 3.  Require a Tree Inventory of all trees 6” DSH and larger and a Tree Landscaping Plan be submitted by developers, as Portland Oregon does, prior to any building permits being approved. This information fits with collecting in lieu fees prior to issuing building permits and facilitates reporting and tracking of tree loss and replacement, rather than city workers having to pull this information from site plans. Mayor Harrell’s Executive Order asked for data on trees removed and replaced. Getting this information up front from developers is the best way to do this. 

 4. Require developers throughout the total development process to maximize the retention of existing trees 6” DSH and larger with adequate space for trees to grow and survive. The current draft removes consideration of protecting 6”-12” DSH trees and also removes them from site plans. Keep them on the site plans and protect them during development.  Trees 6” DSH and larger represent 45% of trees in the NR zone according to Seattle’s Ecosystem Values Report. Most of these trees are established potential replacement trees for existing large trees that die. Trees 12” DSH and larger only represent 18% of the trees in the NR zone. A diversity of ages and species for trees is essential for a healthy urban forest. 

 5. Retain definitions and use of exceptional and significant trees. Remove the confusing and biased proposed new classification of trees as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, and Tier 4. The use and understanding of trees as exceptional has been in the tree ordinance since 2001 and described in more detail in the 2008 Director’s Rule. 16-2008. Significant trees are understood to be those 6” DSH and larger that are not exceptional. Many other cities, including in this region, use these definitions.  

 6. Require for replacement 2 trees for 12-24″ DSH trees removed, 3 trees for 24 – 36″ DSH and 4 trees for above 36″ DSH for more equivalency of the increasing value of services trees provide as they increase in size. One for one replacement is no equivalency for what is lost as trees increase in size.  Require that tree replacement numbers increase with the size and canopy volume 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. Just requiring replacement with a tree or trees that “results upon maturity, in a canopy cover, that is roughly proportional to the canopy cover prior to removal” ignores the services the tree provides and would have continued to provide if not removed.  The fact that removing an 80-year-old tree takes 80 years to reach any equivalency to what was lost, needs to be considered in responding to the climate crisis and climate resiliency needs. No language is added to specifically consider the size of trees removed and the ecosystem services lost when a tree is removed.  One reason to increase the required number of trees to be replanted or pay a higher in lieu fee when trees are replanted is to compensate for the magnitude of the tree loss and the multiple decades and cost it takes to replace them 

 7. Increase in lieu fee schedule to require the $17.87/square inch in-lieu fees to start with 12″ DSH trees rather than 24″ DSH trees. In-Lieu fees need to adequately cover the city’s additional cost of planting and maintaining the trees for 5 years. 

 8. All replacement in lieu fees and fines should go into a One Seattle Tree Fund as stated in Mayor Harrell’s ‘s Executive Order. It should be a dedicated Tree Planting and Preservation Fund like Portland, Oregon has (not into SDCI’s budget). The Fund should be added to this draft. The Fund should report yearly on its budget to the City Council and Mayor. The One Seattle Tree Fund should be overseen by the City Urban Forester located in OSE because the distribution of funds would be interdepartmental. Allow the One Seattle Tree Fund (Tree Planting and Preservation Fund) to also accept fines, donations, grants, purchase land, set up covenants and for educational purposes as Portland, Oregon does. 

 9. The role of the new City Forester position created by the Seattle City Council in OSE should be defined in this ordinance. 

 10. Create an Urban Forestry Division within SDCI with additional staff as recommended in a separate budget provision or expand the Urban Forestry staff and responsibility in the Office of sustainability and Environment for independent oversight of trees. 

 11. 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” DSH and larger, and all exceptional trees, on private property in all land use zones, removed both during development and outside development. The proposed ordinance remains a complaint-based system relying on citizens which has been proven to not be effective in code compliance. SDCI only has 2 arborists who are mostly deskbound.to check site plans and in the field. 

 12. Require SDCI to submit quarterly reports to the Office of Sustainability and Environment on tree removal and replacement as currently required by other City Departments and as required yearly by Mayor Harrell’s Executive Order 

 13. Extend ordinance to cover all land use zones, including Highrise, Industrial, Downtown and Institutions 

 14. Allow city certified inspectors to enter property if necessary to ascertain any illegal tree activity 

 15. Expand the required tree protection covenant to include a replacement requirement for a tree that dies. Make it a permanent “protected tree planting site” for the life of the building. 

17. Remove or clarify language of tree drip line “may be irregular in shape to reflect variation in branch outer limits” Dripline is used to determine tree protection area and branches shortened in some areas may not reflect root structure or may have been removed in certain areas if tree has been limbed up. 

 18. Require that maintenance of relocated and replacement trees include “watering as needed” 

 19. Require street trees be planted if ADU’s are added to a lot. ADU’s, particularly Detached ADU’s, reduce space for trees on site and increase tree removal and are currently exempt from original lot coverage limits in NR zone. 

 20. Remove the 1000 square feet addition to an existing structure exemption requiring planting street trees. Additions increasing the building footprint are removing existing or potential tree planting and preservation space. 

 21. Give the SDCI Director the authority to reduce or waive any fees assessed by this ordinance, taking into account a homeowner’s financial circumstances or ability to pay. 

 22. Split the purpose and intent section. Add to intent “address climate resiliency and reduce heat island impacts across the city” 

23. Require removal of invasive plants, like ivy, scotch broom, and holly from development sites to help stop the spread of invasive species in our city that add to maintenance costs and replacement of dying trees.  24.  

4/3/2023 draft – Please contact Steve Zemke stevezemke@friends.urbanforests.org with any additional issues, concerns and/or corrections, regarding the above document. Thanks 

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