Updated June 1 with additional testimony.
An overflow crowd filled the Edmonds City Council Chambers on Wednesday evening, with attendees eager to give what turned out be overwhelmingly negative testimony to the Edmonds Planning Board on the city’s proposed tree code.
Prior to the public comment period, Edmonds Senior Planner Kernan Lien provided a history and background on the code, including a review of its major provisions (see My Edmonds News article here. He also provided four potential options developed by city staff to help guide the planning board in its deliberations:
1. Recommend to the city council that an Urban Forestry Management Plan be developed prior to adopting any significant changes to the existing tree regulations.
2. Recommend that an Urban Forestry Management Plan be developed, and that existing tree code sections be consolidated during the broader development code re-write process (near term), rather than adopting the proposed tree code now. Then, following the development of that management plan, the tree code could be re-written, as necessary, consistent with the policy direction provided in the plan. (This was the recommended staff alternative.)
3. Recommend that the draft tree code be adopted, with any specific modifications from the planning board.
4. Recommend that the draft tree code (with any specific modifications from the planning board) be adopted now while an Urban Forest Management Plan is being developed. The interim tree code could then be revisited following the development of the management plan.
During the more than two-hour public comment period, person after person took the podium to criticize the proposed code, variously citing it as taking away property rights, punitive, a disincentive, imposing onerous regulations, requirements and permitting fees, fostering discord among neighbors, reducing property values, and an inappropriate intrusion of government into the lives of citizens. Testimony was frequently emotional, often drawing spontaneous reaction from the audience, which ranged from applause to boos and hissing.
In addition, much testimony spoke to the fact that the tree code had been developed without the overall policy guidance that would be provided by a comprehensive Urban Forest Management Plan, an approach called “backwards” by several commenters.
Stephen Clifton, former City of Edmonds Economic Development Director who also holds a bachelor of science in landscape architecture and has worked professionally on urban forest regulations, was one of many who cited this deficiency in the proposed code. To develop a tree code without the policy background of an Urban Forestry Management Plan is like “putting the cart before the horse. Why has the code proceeded ahead of policies that would guide it?” Clifton asked.
In its discussions after the public testimony, the planning board grappled with the question of the lack of an over-arching forestry management plan combined with the overwhelming public outcry against the proposed code.
In the end, the board essentially went with staff recommendation number 2: that the city council abandon the proposed tree code and move instead to develop a forestry management plan, while consolidating existing tree codes within the larger city code redevelopment effort.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel