Monday, August 9, 2010
The great Seattle tree debate continues - Seattle P-I
The great Seattle tree debate continues
Seattle tree-preservation advocates said Sunday they'll continue their push for a city tree-cutting permit system, after uniting into a single group that will write its own tree-preservation proposals.
Twenty tree advocates, agreeing to join the Save the Trees-Seattle's efforts, adopted a platform saying tree-regulation proposals by the city Department of Planning and Development included some good incentives but didn't go far enough and didn't meet goals set for it by City Council members.
They agreed to write their own proposal as a counterpoint to DPD's. They also agreed they need a "messaging" effort to get their ideas across to some skeptical elected officials and others.
"Something doesn't have to originate with the mayor or City Council to become an ordinance," said Steve Zemke, chairman of Save the Trees-Seattle and one of the organizers of Sunday's gathering.
While DPD argued that a tree-cutting permit system would be difficult to enforce and have limited economic benefit, tree advocates argue it will discourage destruction of trees and give the city a better method of tracking what's happening with the city's forest.
The platform adopted by the group Sunday proposes permits for cutting trees larger than 6 inches in diameter on public and private property, with notices being posted two weeks in advance of cutting.
This language could change once a committee within the group finishes drafting actual legislation. Tree advocates have long argued that larger trees provide more benefit in cooling and stormwater retention than smaller ones sometimes planted once larger ones are cut.
"Trees are part of our infrastructure," said John Dixon, another veteran of the Ingraham High School tree battles. "We're talking about something that effects everybody's bottom line here." Tree advocates liked the part of DPD's proposal that offered tree-preservation incentives to single-family homebuilders through assignment of points that would be required for a building permit.
But elements the group agreed to change include:
Requiring disclosure of the presence of certain trees on properties before they're sold, such as "exceptional" large trees or others for which cutting permits are required. Advocates hope this would encourage keeping the trees.
Offering drainage-tax rebates to property owners who leave trees standing so the trees can absorb rainwater and reduce the need for drainage systems. So far the proposals haven't suggested a rebate amount.
Continued protections for "exceptional" trees and groves of trees. Exceptional trees are now specified in city ordinances, by species and size, though DPD has proposed eliminating that rule.
City licensing and training of arborists and tree-cutting operations, to guard against trees being cut after being wrongly being diagnosed as dead.
Enforcement of new tree rules by a single agency, likely not DPD because of what tree advocates see as its conflicting mission to foster development.
Imposing the regulations on both public and private property. Tree advocates said DPD's proposal wouldn't cover private land such as residential properties with yards. Calculating the city's tree canopy "cover" based on vertical shade and water absorption, as well as its horizontal shape.
In addition to a 6-member committee to draft proposed legislation the group will also have a 7-member committee that will craft the group's public messages, boiling them down into consumable bites, what Wallingford activist Mike Ruby (cq) called "an elevator speech."
Maple Leaf community activist David Miller, involved in the battle to save Waldo Woods, said some compromises may have to be reached getting to new rules. Some residents will likely demand the right to cut trees to provide sunlight to a garden or a solar-energy collector.
He said City Council members he's spoken with are "scared to death" of regulating tree-cutting in residential areas and of "telling people they can't cut down a tree in their backyard," because of resistance they've already encountered.
Tree-preservation will dominate two public meetings this month:
Wednesday (Aug. 11) at 3 p.m., two committees of the city's Urban Forestry Commission meet at the city Municipal Tower to discuss a response to DPD's proposals. Last week commission members condemned DPD's package as inadequate and poorly crafted but delayed drafting a formal reply. This week's commission session will be in Room 2240 of the tower building, 700 – 5th Ave.
Aug. 17, the City Council's Regional Development and Sustainably Committee holds a public hearing on DPD's proposals. The session is set for 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall, 600 – 4th Ave.
- Larry Lange