Planning Board: Abandon proposed tree code, develop Urban Forestry Management Plan

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There was standing room only as interested citizens filled the Council Chambers for Wednesday evening’s public hearing on the proposed Edmonds tree code.

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.

Tim Hovde of Edmonds soundly criticized the proposed tree code as an inappropriate government intrusion into individual property rights.
Tim Hovde of Edmonds soundly criticized the proposed tree code as an inappropriate government intrusion into individual property rights.

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.

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Former Economic Development Director Stephen Clifton offers testimony.

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.

Long time Edmonds resident Dawna Lathi spoke as an advocate for trees as an important aesthetic attribute, and that while they may go in and out of fashion we must consider carefully before removing a part of our visual surroundings that could take several lifetimes to replace. "Think of treasures such as Chartres Cathedral, which the French revolutionaries were dissuaded from destroying in the 1790's," she said. "Our trees are a similar resource that should not be sacrificed to passing whims." (When this article was first published, Ms. Lathi was misquoted. My Edmonds News regrets the error.)
Long-time Edmonds resident Dawna Lathi spoke as an advocate for trees as an important aesthetic attribute, and that while they may go in and out of fashion we must consider carefully before removing a part of our visual surroundings that could take several lifetimes to replace. “Think of treasures such as Chartres Cathedral, which the French revolutionaries were dissuaded from destroying in the 1790s,” she said. “Our trees are a similar resource that should not be sacrificed to passing whims.” (When this article was first published, Ms. Lathi’s remarks weren’t included so we are publishing them now at her request. We apologize for the earlier omission.)

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

 

17 COMMENTS

  1. Does anybody know the status of the 2008 Evergreen Communities Act (ECA; ESSHB 28441 and RCW 35.105)? This act seeks to assist municipalities and jurisdictions across the state to better manage existing urban forests and plan for improvements to urban forests to increase the value of the ecological, social, and economic services that urban trees provide. The ECA created the Evergreen Communities Partnership Task Force (the Task Force) to develop model urban forest management plans and model ordinances to provide this assistance, as well as an awards program to recognize all communities that plan and manage their community forests. Funding for work directed by the ECA, however, was suspended for the State Fiscal Biennium 2009-2011.

    I am trying to determine if funding was restored and whether or not the Task Force ever developed model urban forest management plans and model ordinances.

    RCW 35.105 seems to be in place.

    MRSC has an informative page on Urban Forestry. Information can be found at the following link:

    http://mrsc.org/Home/Explore-Topics/Environment/Natural-Resources-Topics/Urban-Forestry.aspx

    Great to see the large turnout last night – hopefully we will see more citizen involvement in general as we move forward with very important issues like the Code Rewrite.

  2. Edmonds needs a water view committee. Not a tree committe. Look around there is plenty of trees by private citizens.

  3. Thank you to the citizens that turned out to the Edmonds Planning Board Meeting on the proposed Tree Code by the Edmonds City Council Tree Board and the hired consultant, using taxpayer dollars.
    You spoke loud and clear about your personal property right on this overreaching action by the tree board. It does not stop at this meeting, you need to send your comments to the city council and stay informed on the staff code re-write. You need to speak at the city council meetings and hearings on this issue and other issues.
    I believe even the current tree code is too far reaching into our pocket books and our property rights, permits and fees are way to high and we don’t need staff to tell us about trees or our property in America.We should ask ourselves and the council why do the need a Tree Board Commissions or any other Commission? Is it for the council people to hide behind, overregulated by committee, raise fees and taxes and increase the size of government? We the people elected the council to represent us, only the council.
    Stay involved about this issues and other issue’s and watch what the council is doing to our fine city, do they really represent your views?

    Fred Gouge
    Port of Edmonds Commissioner District # 1
    Elected by you to make the decisions about the waterfront property the people own, not by an appointed board to hide behind!

    • Well said , Fred. I hope that readers heed your recommendations and routinely pay attention to what’s going on with our city government – because if they don’t it can be to their detriment.

      There are now many choices to keep abreast of what City Council and the Planning Board are doing: you can attend their meetings, you can watch their meetings live on channel 21, you can watch a tape of their meetings on channel 21, you can watch a video of their meetings the next day on the city’s website, you can read the minutes of their meetings on the city’s website, and of course you can read a comprehensive summary of their meetings here on MyEdmondsNews.

    • We have laws, rules and regulations that guide us as a Society period. While yes, many of us may find a particulor law perhaps inconvenient or that we disagree with but we have these laws rules and regulations to guide us.

      And, as I have stated before one of those Federal laws is the Federal Management and Bird Treaty Act, which has. to do with the number of birds that were heading toward EXTINCTION because of some of our personal actions.

      I am still waiting to see the permit the PORT OF EDMONDS has that allowed the removal of TWO active heron nests at the port, with eggs in the nests…….

      It is this type of action that leads us to have to have laws, rules and regulations.

      Again, no man is an island

      We need management of our environment no matter what form

      • This comment is relevent because birds also live in TREES nd it is about our environment and the protection of it, with all due respect to the publisher

        I noticed no reference at all at the meeting in regards to the importance of trees in our environment such as erosion control, HOMES for our birds, trees keeping our air clean and more….l

  4. And a huge thank you to planning board member (chair), Mr. Tibbott for his article and his outreach to make the public aware on this issue. He also did a masterful job of managing that meeting last night. Thanks!

  5. Did anybody discuss what the county has in place permit wise for removing trees I know you can take a few out but there are some county rules. This idea of people required to get a permit for to remove a few trees from there property is crazy. Oh well its nice to see people get worked up pretty easy to do around here

  6. Though not elected, I serve with others on the Planning Board with the intent to support the City of Edmonds. In my first year with this Board – having served over 7 with the Architectural Design Board – I find the Board Members to be careful in their deliberations and attentive to the impact on we citizens. The outcome of last night’s meeting reflected this concern. We recommended the creation of an Urban Forestry Management Plan (UFMP) to encompass our own interests and those expressed last night. Yes, we are hopeful for a significant policy document which will reflect how the trees in our community serve diverse interests. We are appreciative of the deep involvement and commitment of the Tree Board. Their proposal provides a platform for discussion on this important element of our town. The Planning Board voted for this discussion to continue during the creation of an Urban Forestry Management Plan which could then inform any future change to the City’s tree ordinances.

  7. So the UFMP will include the desires of the public which means no permit to remove a tree right? Or are they simply kicking this down the road?

  8. I am not sure what an Urban Forestry Management Plan will consist of. But I hope there will be an education component.
    Many people (including me) move to the area and do not know what trees are appropriate. The only list of trees I saw on the city web site were street trees. There are many trees appropriate to home gardens which are not good street trees. Some shrubs can be used as small trees. I have a red twig dogwood for example which is 25 feet tall, taller than some trees. Sometimes landscapers recommend trees which will soon outgrow the site. Nurseries often have the size at 10 years instead of the potential height which is quite misleading. I’ll be following the developments in an Urban forestry Management Plan.

  9. Every Council, committee,commission or board wants to make some impact. How they do it is by passing regulations. Every regulation and every group that recommends a regulation must be staffed by professionals that we pay a handsome salary.
    Notice as your taxes continue to increase with the myriad of mostly unwanted regulations that are fostered upon us. We need a tree board that needs extra staff. I hear we must have a diversity committee because one bigot yelled a racial slur down on Sunset, more staff more taxes. More committees, more regulations more taxes and less personal freedom.

  10. Many of the trees growing in Edmonds yards are Douglas Fir. This tree is a forest tree and not appropriate for a private yard. Many of these firs are over 100 feet tall and are reaching the end of their productive lives. They are subject to rot and become dangerous during wind storms. These trees are very expensive to have removed. My neighbor has six huge old evergreen trees close to her house and cannot afford to have them taken down. Every tree has its place, but small yard is not a place for every tree. Edmonds is full of dangerous trees and I hear no mention of how the average homeowner is going to be helped dealing with them.

    • Here, here! We have been considering removing two enormous Doug Firs in our yard for quite some time. When we heard news of the proposed tree code and possibly onerous and expensive permit process, we decided to move full steam ahead and have them removed as soon as possible so that we won’t be prevented from doing so in the future. Over the winter one lost a very large limb and had it fallen just a few feet in another direction, it would have gone right through our roof. Homeowners should not have to pay exorbitant permitting fees or be subjected to the whims of the city approvers in order to protect their homes from significant damage!

  11. Cliff – Following is my effort at documenting the 3 part motion passed by the Planning Board the evening of May 27, 2015. Part of the motion was to DEFER any action on the currently prepared draft:

    The Planning Board recommends to City Council with respect to the Tree Board recommended draft of Chapter 23.20 ECDC (which stands for Edmonds Community Development Code – Tree Conservation is the title of that chapter):

    A. Defer any action on the currently prepared draft. Complete development and adoption of an Urban Forestry Management Plan (UFMP) for Edmonds as proposed within the Comp Plan.

    B. That existing tree code sections be consolidated under existing policy guidelines during the ECDC rewrite process currently in progress.

    C. Following development of a UFMP, consideration of a potential revised tree code could be written consistent with policy direction provided in a new UFMP.

    This is consistent with Planning board Member Carreen Rubenkonig’s May 28th post which included the following:

    “We recommended the creation of an Urban Forestry Management Plan (UFMP) to encompass our own interests and those expressed last night. Yes, we are hopeful for a significant policy document which will reflect how the trees in our community serve diverse interests. We are appreciative of the deep involvement and commitment of the Tree Board. Their proposal provides a platform for discussion on this important element of our town. The Planning Board voted for this discussion to continue during the creation of an Urban Forestry Management Plan which could then inform any future change to the City’s tree ordinances.”

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