Thursday, August 5, 2010
Arbor anger: City, tree preservation panel at odds
Arbor anger: City, tree preservation panel at odds
By LARRY LANGE SPECIAL TO SEATTLEPI.COM
A commission set up to help Seattle preserve and expand its stock of trees is at odds with the city agency that might end up enforcing tree-harvesting rules.
And now, out of frustration, a group of citizen activists will try to draw up their own tree-preservation rules starting this weekend.
In their first public comment, members of the Urban Forestry Commission made clear their dislike of a new tree-management system proposed by the city Department of Planning and Development (DPD). The agency proposed a new set of tree-preservation rules that includes incentives for preserving trees on single-family lots when homes are built or replaced, require new street trees near new or replaced homes, allow builders to consider adding trees as part of required landscaping and allow height or setback changes to preserve existing trees.
The department, however, also proposes to do away with current rules that preserve certain "exceptional" large trees. It has opposed one favorite idea of tree advocates: requiring permits to cut trees of a certain size.
Commission members said without those requirements the city won't make any progress in enlarging its stock of trees, which have been largely cut down over the years due to development.
If the commission had voted on the proposal Wednesday ,"I would not only vote no, but hell no," said commission member John Hushagen, the operator of a tree service.
Commissioners, who advise the mayor and City Council, said the proposal doesn't do enough to preserve older trees, doesn't cover private land except when it's redeveloped and doesn't provide enough incentives for landowners to preserve trees.
The incentives, commissioners said, would only apply to trees on about one half of one percent of the land in the city. "What is the DPD proposing for the other 99 percent of the city?" asked the commission chairwoman, designer Elizabeta Stacishin-Moura.
DPD's analysis showed that the tree canopy -- the measured land area covered by trees and their leaves -- actually declined between 2003 and 2007 in residential and commercial areas of the city.
While the canopy is believed to have increased in recent years DPD said its analysis showed the increase came mostly through street trees and other plantings in public rights-of-way.
DPD planner Brennon Staley said the current requirement for preserving large "exceptional" trees of certain species hasn't preserved much of the city's canopy. The current rule says they have to be preserved when construction starts on new developments but owners can simply cut them down before they apply for a building permit.
DPD has proposed a new system of points the city would award landowners for preserving trees at new developments, as a requirement for a building permit. It also proposes a "Green Factor" system that allows developers to use green roofs, vegetated walls and permeable pavement in residential areas instead of trees.
DPD said tree-cutting permits would discourage removal and help the city track the status of its forest but would be hard to monitor and enforce and would be resisted by residents who wanted more light on their property for gardens and solar energy or open vistas for views.
Commission member Kirk Prindle said a City Council resolution asking for the DPD study directed the agency to look at a system of permits and fines, annual limits on tree cutting and continued protections for "exceptional" varieties.
"It seems like (DPD's proposal is) the opposite in a lot of places," Prindle said. Commission members plan to meet again Aug. 11 to discuss a formal response.
DPD is taking public comment on the proposal until Oct. 31, aiming at writing legislation early in 2011. But the City Council plans public hearings on the issue on Aug. 17 and Sept. 17 and 21 and may hold a third hearing in September.
Citizen tree-preservation activists will attempt to write their own tree-preservation proposal and get at least general elements of it to the council by the Aug. 17 hearing, said Steve Zemke, chairman of the Save the Trees-Seattle and an organizer of a Sunday (Aug. 8) meeting to begin the effort.
The session will be from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Broadview Public Library, 12755 Greenwood Ave. N.
Save the Trees-Seattle has fought attempts to cut down part of a grove of trees at Ingraham High School, and it backed the interim ordinance that now limits cutting of some trees and bans cutting of "exceptional" varieties.
Possible elements of the tree advocates' proposal, circulated in e-mails Wednesday, include a permit system, continued "exceptional" species protections, priority for planting of native trees and vegetation, posting of tree-cutting requests on the internet and other public locations and consolidation of city tree management into a single agency. It's now spread among nine entities.
Zemke said the Sunday session will be to organize the effort but that he expects some work on an alternative proposal will also begin.
DPD's mission isn't to manage trees but "to help people build things," he said. Its tree proposal "isn't what the public is going to accept."
The DPD proposals can be viewed online here.