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Trees: when we love them, when we don’t

John Barber warns us about the proposed new tree ordinance

“Seattle City Council has put a new ordinance to regulate the cutting of trees on the fast track, looking at approval in mid-September. With very little public discussion, the Seattle City Council is proposing a major revision of tree cutting regulations. The new rules would apply to the cutting of trees in residential areas, as well as to-be-developed parcels.

According to John Barber, the chair of the LCC Parks and Greenspace Committee, the sore point here is that the City has only half-heartedly or not at all, enforced existing rules for tree cutting and replacement, mainly letting developers clear cut properties for new commercial and apartment buildings. The proposed new regulations are unduly complicated, more difficult to interpret, and may actually weaken the current rules.

The Leschi neighborhood has prided itself on its wooded character and sought in the past to prevent clear-cutting of lots for new construction. Many large trees have been cut, painfully so, due to the many advantages trees contribute to the urban environment. They like intercepting storm water from heavy rainstorms, collecting polluting particulate matter from forest fires and diesel pollution, providing cooling shade during the increasingly hot days of summer, sequestering carbon to help ward off global warming, and providing a pleasant green buffer to reduce the stress of urban life.

The LCC Committee is promoting an alternative ordinance based on “No Net Loss of Trees,” a system of permits and replacement of trees lost. The website and Facebook page for Friends of the Urban Forest provide a comprehensive resource for learning about the issues and science of tree regulations.”

Our story: The trees attracted us to Leschi. We were living under Douglas firs and only rhododendrons would grow in the acid soil. The setting was beautiful, like an arboretum, but the moss and mold problems were a bit much. The house we bought in Leschi had no large trees over the roof, but it was blessed by trees on the undeveloped steep ravine to the west of our property. Little did we know what would develop.

We knew the property could not be sold and built on as the closest strip was the property of SDOT; it was an undeveloped street (Aldine Place) and it seemed unlikely that SDOT would bother to develop an incredibly steep street to upper Leschi when they already had Lake Dell. The property beyond SDOT’s had been purchased by Parks for “future” development as a park that would eventually connect with the Leschi Natural Area and provide a wildlife habitat strip.

The trees in this ravine are uncared for and they are old. One never sees SDOT workers or Parks workers unless one of us residents has called with a problem: like the big tree that came crashing down on our property, blocking the passage of the folks who live behind us. SDOT and Parks reps come out quickly to determine which entity “owns” the tree, but after much deliberation, they always come up with the same response. Well, it is a tree on Parks (or SDOT) property, but it fell on your property and therefore it’s your responsibility. WHAT? We are not the persons who own this tree nor are we the persons that neglected to care for it all these years! This is like fighting City Hall. In the end, one calls their insurance company only to find out that they don’t cover this unfortunate event either. So in addition to very high property taxes, one gets to assume the cost of someone else’s tree that just managed to fall on our property. Bingo! You’re “it”! This has happened to us once, but happened to our neighbors twice!

We can only hope that John Barber’s Leschi Tree Manifesto will require those who “own” trees on their property assume responsibility for them. Join us for Chapter Two in October.

~Diane Snell

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