Have your say about proposed Edmonds Tree Code at May 27 Planning Board meeting

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20130203_mossy treeAt 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

32 COMMENTS

  1. Any homeowner with trees should probably get them taken care of now when you can still make your own decisions about your property and what you do with it.

  2. The proposed tree code is very onerous and along with stringent requirements to remove any tree over 6 inches, has a list of approved replacement tree. This new code will definitely prevent upgrading of landscaping in any property and reduce property values. It also is just one more thing that government wants to control on your own property.

  3. Trees are wonderful, in their place. I have visited the redwood forest in California several times and camped in the forest in many places. Trees were welcomed when camping as they provided shade and a magnificent canopy overhead..

    Edmonds is a unique place. It is known for its view. People pay big dollars for view lots and lots with a view are given a higher assessed value than those without a view, and thus pay higher taxes. Urban trees are fine provided they don’t impede someone else’s view. Here, particularly in the bowl, the view should take precedence over trees blocking a view. There are lots of places in this world to grow and enjoy trees, In front of your neighbor’s house if blocking a view is not a considerate act.

    The result is that we have a conflict of interest – trees or view. When the Tree Conservation Board was formed, I inquired about how the members would be chosen. The response was, appointed by the City Council members of someone who had an interest in preserving trees. So at the very start, there was a bias towards trees and less for maintaining a view.

    What value does an arborist provide in making tree decisions? He obviously is a lover of trees or he wouldn’t be an arborist.
    Would his decisions be binding or would the owner have an impartial hearing officer to appeal to?

    We also have the issue of taking from the landowner his rights to determine what trees, if any, he wants to have and how he wants to maintain and trim them.

    I have no trees and none block my wonderful view of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. I speak as a concerned citizen who would be hopping mad if my rights to maintain my trees the way I want to with due regard to neighbors view. Next we’ll be told what color to paint our house (if I had a house).

    • Mr. Gouge, you are living in a country, the United States, that has had its Industrial Revoluton and recognizes some of the huge cost to our environment as China NOW with their Industrial Revolution is recognizing and looking at the cost to the environment and now looking at the science…….

      Its about the greater good of our planet

  4. The country I live in has a public process related to lengthy challenging efforts such as this. I respect the hard work related to this effort. The article above documents the many opportunities for public participation. More opportunities lie ahead.

    Citizens should know that Mayors and staff have established a historical precedent of selective enforcement and/or compliance with the existing City Code related to trees. And I believe that is putting it mildly. Even if we pass a new Tree Code, how do we know Mayors and staff will not just continue their past practices?

    Back in 2009 the City asked me for a right of entry to cut down a tree in a critical area that was partially on my property. Staff didn’t tell me that tree removal was part of a secret proposal they were working on with a developer. Related to this, the Former Public Works Director signed a letter dated August 6, 2009 that stated “…the City has agreed to provide two trees to replace the tree to be removed.”

    Almost 6 years later the City has still failed to do so and it clearly has been and will continue to be my burden to try and get the City to do what it promised to do almost 6 years ago.

    There is more.

    • Mr. Reidy, I believe this is exactly why we need a Code of Ethics ……One does not have to walk far in this town to see WHO gets special treatment from certain those that be, in my opinion…I suspect we would not even be having this issue regarding the random chopping down of trees here if not for some developers and going back quite a number of years with certain developers……..and I would also like to add that SCIENCE now shows that new trees planted are not the same as old trees they are meant to be the replacement for. There is a difference.

      We need a Code of Ethics and then a board that will hold unethical government members, all along including to the top, responsible for unethical behavior, and that includes cronyism which may not always be about distinct monetary gains.

      We also need the same Code of Ethics for staff that go out of their way to let certain developers know WHO may have reported something that may be an important city environmental issue or even downright againt environmental laws…..This is I believe unethical and staff should be also held accountable in regards to a Code of Ethics

      I would like to see the city rather than a bunch of random developers (recent comment regarding something along the lines of every foot is money) and our elected officials and staff be accountable for ethical behavior and held to a Code of Ethics…….regarding this

      My research has shown some people here have lost licences in regards to rules, regulations and laws…….Laws, rules and regulations are what keeps countries civilised and fair, I might add..

      This isnt about socialism or big brother by any means

      • Ms. Ryder:
        It is time that you name some of those people that you frequently allege are receiving special treatment from the city, and what is the special treatment that they are receiving?

        • Ron, I’m still waiting for those pictures of illegal dumping at the Marsh. I think you will never get an answer to your questions.

        • ……I have a real problem when there are people (and others and GROWN men at that) out there putting untruths about me and the above statement is a complete untruth I have not been able to find the photograph, but there is another person that witnessed the illegal dumping at Harbor Square. I did NOT just SEE this on my own and I mentioned this before in response to one of the nasty bullying remarks. …..What does “her typical answer” mean for you to put out such untruths about me …….I do not lie, and you are slandering me when you imply that I do. I hope you keep this in mind…….”The result being that she has NEVER produced anything when challenged”……It is YOU that is producing lies and bully comments about me and slander. …….A number of you think it is funny and it is interesting that this publisher allows this type of bullying and nastiness. It is shameful and you are ALL grown adults…….I have been writing in comments to news sources since I was 18 starting with the New York Times and Washington Post, Seattle Times, etc. and I have never seen this type of ganging up on a commentor and bully behavior. Oh yes, and I have the proof that I am telling the truth with some comments published in national news sources when I was quite young.

          There are many young adults that read this news source, and it is incredible what you are all teaching young adults by this type of behavior in regards to your comments and bullying. Quite frankly, it is a reflection on you who are making these types of comments and bullying.

        • I have removed the last comment that Ms. Ryder referred to because it made a generalization about her that can’t be proven right or wrong. But I don’t believe that one commenter requesting a response from another commenter to earlier questions is bullying. We all should be able to back up our assertions with facts when questioned, especially when our earlier assertions imply someone is involved in wrongdoing.
          Teresa

      • Ms. Ryder, I have long been a proponent of the need for a Code of Ethics. I believe that Code of Ethics must also apply to Directors and City staff.

        However, even without a Code of Ethics, the Mayor is responsible for enforcing the Employee Code of Conduct and he is also required under the Edmonds City Code to perform the following DUTIES:

        “The mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city, in charge of all departments and employees, with authority to designate assistants and department heads. The mayor shall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city, and shall have general supervision of the administration of city government and all city interest.” [Ord. 2349 § 2, 1983].

        That the City has not kept a written promise to provide two trees (promised in a letter signed by the former Public Works Director almost 6 years ago) says a lot about City of Edmonds government.

        That August 6, 2009 letter even stated that “The City can either provide you with two trees for you to plant in any location within the subject parcel or the City can replant the trees in the general vicinity of the tree removal.”

        Looks like I made a big mistake trusting the representations in this letter.

        The same letter also told me that “As a reminder, you will be responsible for the removal of the other diseased tree identified by the arborist as its location is entirely within your property boundaries.”

        That tree had some signs of disease but it certainly wasn’t hazardous. Not knowing better at the time, I obeyed the Public Works Director’s letter and met my “responsibility” to remove that tree.

        • Sorry for the error, my reply above about ethics and the application of our laws was suppose to be a reply to Ms Ryder above. If MEN can place this in the right place fine. Otherwise this statement will clear up my intent for the reply.

        • So Ken, in August of 2009 the City gave you the choice of providing you with two trees or they way plant 2 trees. Which option did you chose?

        • I made a verbal request years ago that they replant the trees. Why do you ask? What importance is my request related to the fact that they promised 2 trees years ago and have never provided the trees? The city requires tree replanting in critical areas to be done in months…have a meeting to attend or I would provide you examples. You can research the latest tree fine and required restoration plan (by June 1 I think) if you want more info.

      • I recall in the hill side cutting of trees the city followed the law very well. We are a nation of laws after all. I recall fines were imposed and the law was followed.

        At the council retreat the each council member and the staff who were present were allow to voiced their opinions via placing dots against a set of goals for the year and one of the Goals stated was, ” Finish code of ethics, complete Council code of ethics, complete elected code of ethics” The results: Staff, no votes, Council 1 vote (Bloom).

        To put the voting into prospective, There were 38 goals listed. Each Council person and staff had more than one vote to cast. Council cast 52 votes, staff cast 50 votes for a total of 102 votes spread across the 38 goals.

        So very little support exist for an completing an ethics policy among council or staff, one vote our of 102 cast.

        • Valuable trees can be lost in a variety of ways. Surrounding my home, I have lost trees as follows:

          1. City staff acted under a proposed legal settlement with a developer to cut a tree down by a deadline date. City Staff did not tell me all the reasons they wanted a right of entry to come on my property and cut down a big leaf maple tree.

          2. 15 mature cherry trees in a critical area/street easement were cut down over a weekend.

          3. 14 small trees and shrubs were removed related to the installation of utilities. City staff refused to make sure the Landscape was restored to same or better condition – which was a condition of the related permit.

          4. City staff chose to not rule a preliminary plat application incomplete for failure to show the location of tree-covered areas on the plat as required under ECDC 20.75.060.N. As a result, a healthy tree in a critical area was lost to so called vested development rights.

          Darrol, we may be a nation of laws but if those required to see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced don’t do so, where are we?

        • In Court. That is the check on legislative, and administrative power. It is why there is a judicial branch of government.

        • Diane – I believe our courts shouldn’t be burdened with simple, clear violations of law. Truly, why should a judge have to rule that an application did not show tree covered areas as required when a staff person can drive to the site in minutes and confirm that the tree covered areas are not shown?

        • Ken,
          It is the function of the courts and judges to resolve even such obvious violations of the law. Your complaints with the City aren’t frivolous, and without a Judge/Jury to enforce the laws, the City hasn’t done much to help you out. It is, of course, your choice how to best proceed for you. But the Courts are there to see that laws are followed burdensome or not.

        • I hear what you are saying Diane and I do appreciate that the courts are there. At the same time, our City Code does require the Mayor to perform the duties documented in ECC 2.01.010. The word used in the Code is “shall” which makes it mandatory.

        • We are in Edmonds, just trying to move forward. Laws are messing sometimes. I have personally witnessed violations to the dog and cat lease laws but we do not have enough resources to see that every law is enforced all the time. One option would be to vote for candidates that support your views.

          This statement is not intended to minimize your “beef” with the city. My point was that in the case of the trees at Point Edwards, I think we followed the law and issued a fine.

          I also just wanted to know which option you selected when the city offer to plant or give you 2 trees.

      • See my reply intended for Ms Ryder below under Mr. Reidy. Sorry for the mistake. Must be only the selected few who can post correctly.

  5. It sounds like “Big Brother” is hard at work in Edmonds!
    For an example of what we’re talking about, stop by 6th and Dayton.
    (I’m sure my neighbor will not be happy to see this but it is what it is. Sorry Wayne.)
    Or look up 558 Dayton st. on Showmystreet.com

    http://showmystreet.com/

  6. This is socialism folks. A system where we get to own our property pay the taxes on it and the government controls the use of it.
    We are not moving toward socialism we are deep in it. The new proposed tree ordinance is clearly a taking off the top of our rights as property owners with no compensation but instead forced penalties. It’s absurd and it’s reality. Brace yourself.

  7. A long time ago Joni Mitchell recorded a song title “Big Yellow Taxi.” One of the lines in it was, “They took all the trees, put ’em in a Tree Museum, now they charge the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em.” Sound like Edmonds is saving us from such a fate. I hope a random wind storm doesn’t topple one of my tall fir trees. I am sure the Code will have a “Survivors will be fined” clause.

  8. Tere, Wish you would provide some specifics for some of your accusations, I would hope that you would email or call the city council on the ethics policy. I have been preaching on deaf ears to the council for over 3 years. Would help if more citizens would express there opinion. This is totally a council dicission The directors and employees do have a ethics policy as part of there employment agreement and the professional organations they belong to

  9. I have carefully read responses to both tree code articles. My inescapable conclusion is that the present extremist proposal will be dead on arrival should it ever gets anywhere near the Council. I can only imagine the crowded Council chambers of objectors as this flawed proposal goes forward, shades of former building heights increases meetings. There has to be a better way for our law abiding city to do this business.

    Recently, I have detected a renewed desire on the part of the Building Dept. to provide an improved level of service and cheerful responsiveness to the public it serves. Great, and it also apparent the city needs a reasonable property rights respecting tree code. Both of these events would be welcomed by most citizens if done with care, unlike the current proposal.

    Before modifying, rewriting, or salvaging the current efforts selected staff members and perhaps two members of the Tree Board should attend an available seminar on Americanism and its relationship to city codes. Subjects included would be a review of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and most importantly a study of the basic nuances of property rights in our great little city. Who would be better a better point man to do that than the City Attorney?

    Anyhow, hopefully someone in the city or Council, or the Planning board will find an idea somewhere in the foregoing. The responsible and law abiding citizens of Edmonds will certainly appreciate any such efforts.

    Ray Martin

  10. Early in the comments reference was made to conflicts between views and trees. There is another conflict between solar access and large evergreen trees. It may be solar panels or it may be people who want light on our dark winter days. Others may want to have a vegetable or fruit garden which needs sun. These are all reasonable desires. Another concern is just simple ignorance of how large trees become. I often see trees such as Leyland Cypress being planted in places which are inappropriate in an urban garden where a tree that wants to be 80 feet is placed. I would like people to have more information about trees. That seems a reasonable goal of the tree board.

  11. The Tree Board has spent hours and days with a consultant preparing a draft Tree Conservation code for the consideration of the Edmonds City Council. I too have spent hours reading their draft and really haven’t thoroughly understood its full ramifications.

    There are two competing interests by people living in the bowl area, and in some view areas outside the bowl. Many selected to live here because of the wonderful view. There are few places in the world where you can find such a wonderful view. If you poled these people in the view areas I will be willing to bet that few of them chose their location because of the trees.

    On the other hand, there are many places where there are lots of trees. Those who want to live among the trees and are willing to let the government determine what can be cut or trimmed and when a tree is removed, require a plan to show what replacement trees you will plant and where they will be on your own property, could live there.

    Why don’t we form a committee to generate a proposed code for the Preservation of the View which would maintain or improve the view? It would only apply in certain areas where the view exists or could exist if not for trees, which area could be fairly easily defined. The View Preservation Committee draft code might contain such things as prohibiting of trees higher than the site building roof top, and allow topping or limbing up. I can’t imagine the View Preservation Code would be as long as the Tree Conservation Code and it would only require hiring one additional city employee – the tree people get two. Oh, we would grandfather existing trees that were now higher than the roof top.

    Now we have the competing interests represented. Both drafts should be considered at the same time.

    I strongly oppose the Tree Conservation Code because it doesn’t consider the rights of people who favor a view over trees in geographic locations where a mountain or water view is present.

    People who value their view must make the City Council aware of their opinions by either attending the Council meeting at 7 PM this Wednesday evening, or submitting a written opinion to Kernen.Lien@Edmondswa.gov

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