At 7 p.m. next Wednesday, May 27, the public will have a chance to provide input and comment as the Edmonds Planning Board moves toward making its recommendation to the City Council regarding the proposed new Edmonds Tree Code. The draft tree code is the product of a year-long process marked by open houses, public hearings and much work by city staff, consultants and citizen volunteers. It proposes a host of new permitting requirements, enforcement, penalty and mitigation provisions, standards for canopy cover, density and replacement, and sets maintenance and protection guidelines.
“Overall the fines are going down in the proposed code,” said Edmonds Senior Planner Kernan Lien, who has worked closely with the Tree Board and others throughout this process. “But the additional regulations mean there will be more opportunity for unauthorized cutting.”
While some citizens welcome the additional attention and protection this would give to Edmonds’ urban forest, others see it as imposing a new set of potentially onerous regulations that would unduly restrict what property owners could do in their yards, gardens and homes. Another issue of concern is the lack of an over-arching Urban Forest Management Plan for the City of Edmonds that would set broad goals and provide policy direction for the proposed tree code, with some arguing that this needs to be in place first, and others arguing that it does not. And beyond this, the whole subject of trees and tree-cutting can trigger strong emotions.
“There’s no doubt that trees are an emotional issue,” said Tree Board Chair Steve Hatzenbeler. “It becomes even more complex in a city like Edmonds where trees can come into conflict with our water and mountain views. There’s no question that these conflicts have and will continue to color the debate on this issue.”
In the works for several years, developing a new tree code was one of the original tasks of the Edmonds Tree Board when it was created in 2010. Specifically, the board was charged to come up with a tree ordinance that would “preserve and protect existing trees, encourage planting of additional trees, safeguard trees on parcels where construction or renovation is occurring or planned to occur,” and in addition encourage Edmonds citizens to become “active stewards of the urban forest.”
“For years, the city hasn’t had a tree code per se,” said Lien. “Rather, regulations relating to trees are scattered throughout other elements of the city code. A major goal of this rewrite is to bring all these pieces together into a comprehensive tree code.”
One of the inaugural Tree Board members was current City Councilmember Joan Bloom. “Early on I collaborated with other Tree Board members in working to draft a new code,” said Bloom. “We soon learned that this would be a very big job, well beyond the scope of citizen volunteers.”
Accordingly in 2014 the City Council approved $25,000 for this effort, and this combined with an additional $10,000 grant from the State Department of Natural Resources was used to hired a consultant to draft a comprehensive tree code. To help guide this effort, the Tree Board held an open house on August 14, 2014 to gain citizen input and direction. The findings of this open house are summarized here.
Combining this input with the results of a comprehensive study of tree codes from other cities and jurisdictions, the consultant put together a first draft and presented it to the Tree Board in September, 2014. The minutes of that meeting are available here. Additional discussion was held in subsequent meetings, the minutes of which are linked from the Tree Board minutes and agendas page here.
The Tree Board next held a public hearing in December 2014 to gain additional input, and in February 2015 forwarded the updated draft to the Edmonds Planning Board for review.
The Planning Board discussed this extensively in subsequent meetings (minutes of these meetings are available here. Additional documentation that was presented at these meetings, including a point-by-point comparison of the proposed and existing regulations in a number of scenarios, is linked to the Planning Board agendas from February, March and April which are available here.
In summary, it’s certain that the proposed tree code would have far-reaching implications. It would impose a host of new and more far-reaching regulations on homeowners, developers, and average citizens. Permits would be required for many activities that do not require them today. It would create an added administrative burden for the City for enforcement, interpretation and permit issuing, which would likely call for more staff and budget. Without a comprehensive public education process, which would also require budget and administration, it would be easy for average citizens to run afoul of the new law.
Is it worth it? Are the additional protections the new tree code would provide to our urban forest, local ambiance, species diversity, and other benefits justified by the extra regulation it would impose? This is the question before the Planning Board, the citizens of Edmonds, and the subject of next week’s public hearing.
The next step will be for the Planning Board to make a recommendation to the City Council regarding adopting the proposed tree code as an ordinance, and the upcoming public hearing provides an opportunity for citizens and other stakeholders to provide the Board with comments and input to consider as it makes this decision. Based on this, the Board could recommend that Council adopt the draft as it is, adopt with changes, or not adopt. The Board could make its recommendation to Council at any time after the public hearing, but it could take days or weeks.
Whether or not you like or agree with the proposed tree code, there is no question that it represents considerable hard work by some very dedicated citizen volunteers. Shane Hope, Edmonds Director of Developmental Services, summed it up. “The tree board and other volunteers have really gone above and beyond in this effort,” she said. “The community owes these folks a huge debt of thanks for their effort, thought, and just plain old-fashioned hard work toward making our community the great place it is.”
Assuming the Planning Board recommends adoption, the Council will begin deliberations, and could adopt a Tree Code Ordinance as soon as late summer.
— By Larry Vogel