City of Edmonds probing tree damage involving ex-Golf Savings Bank CEO

The tree in question before it was cut down.

The City of Edmonds has launched an investigation into the destruction of public property after contractors working on a condominium project significantly damaged the root system of a 60-year-old Douglas Fir tree located partially on city right of way, requiring the tree’s removal the next day, city officials said.

The condominium project is owned by Woodway resident Charles Ainslie, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Mountlake Terrace-based Golf Savings Bank. The city sent a cease and desist order to Ainslie to prevent him from “any activity that damages, injures, wastes, clears or cuts any tree on City of Edmonds property,” according to City Attorney Scott Snyder. The order also put Ainslie on notice that the city is pursuing both criminal and civil actions related to damage, Snyder said.

The incident reportedly occurred on Walnut Street between Third and Fourth Avenues, where the tree in question was integrated into the backyard fence line of an Edmonds home. The property and the fence had been in the family for 60 years and the current homeowner wasn’t aware that the tree, estimated to be 65 feet high, was located on a city easement, according to Edmonds City Councilmember D.J. Wilson.

Wilson and Councilmember Diane Buckshnis met with the homeowner following the alleged incident, and Wilson briefed the Council on July 6, after which the council approved a motion directing the City Attorney to pursue legal action.

Photo showing the tree as part of the fence line. The condominium project is in the background.

During his July 6 council briefing, Wilson showed photographs that documented both the tree’s location within the fence line and how the area appeared after the tree was removed. “They took out the woman’s fence, took out the tree,” Wilson said. “They had a number of birds and bird houses, there were a number of nests,” which the workers tossed into the alleyway during the tree removal process, he added.

The condominium project owned by Ainslie is located across the alleyway to the east of the fence line, Wilson said, and on the morning of June 28, the homeowner heard a chainsaw noise coming from her backyard and went out to investigate. She discovered a group of workers cutting down her fence next to the tree.

“She went out and said, What are you doing, and folks who are working on this building back here said it’s none of your business, this tree is on city property, don’t worry about it, Wilson told the council.

The homeowner, who runs a licensed day care on property, had 12 children in her care at the time and watched helplessly as the contractors came on to her property to remove the tree, which was completely cut down and ground up within a few hours, Wilson said. The contractors rebuilt the fence after removing the tree, but the shade that the tree provided to the children at the facility is gone, Wilson added.

This photo was taken June 29 as a worker (wearing an orange vest) was cutting branches off the tree, preparing it for removal.

Shortly after the tree was removed, a man identifying himself as Charles Ainslie visited the homeowner and offered her cash for permission to cut down three additional trees on her property, which she declined, Wilson told the Council.

Because the homeowner operates a day care, she declined to be interviewed on the record for this story, citing privacy concerns. My Edmonds News was unable to reach Charles Ainslie for comment.

City of Edmonds Engineer Rob English said the city gave the contractors permission to remove the tree for safety reasons on Tuesday, June 29, but that was only because the tree’s root system was significantly damaged by the contractor the day before.

The root cutting allegedly occurred without city permission on Monday, June 28, after a representative for the contractor hired by Ainslie had come to City Hall asking how they should handle an apparent conflict between a large tree located on city right of way and development plans for the construction project, English said.

Staff at the counter told the contractors’ representative it would have to be investigated, English said. The next morning, city engineering staff went out to the site and discovered that the contractors had already cut a significant amount of tree roots in preparing to build the driveway entrance to the development.

“They were given specific instructions not to proceed but they did anyway,” English said.  “At that point, the decision was made to allow the removal since the tree was now a safety hazard.”

The day care play yard after the tree was removed.

When asked about the procedure for notifying the homeowner about the tree cutting, English said that the city would rely on the contractor to make that notification, especially in a situation where they had to be on part of her property to take down some of the tree.

Parents of children who attend the home-based day care on the property were “shocked and extremely upset” when they learned about the loss the tree, said Stan Hanson, father of two children who have been coming to the day care for several years. “I couldn’t even recognize the play yard because it was completely different,” Hanson said. “They lost a really nice oasis back there where they could play. It was completely transformed in 24 hours.” The parents have established a tree fund to help the homeowner replace the tree, Hanson said.

According to Snyder, depending on the outcome of the investigation, the city could pursue criminal action, civil action or both. The city has retained an expert to determine the estimated value of the tree, which can be accurately determined through photographs. If the city decides to pursue civil action, under state law it can seek three times the tree’s value.

  1. This could just be another situation of a developer lining the pockets of the local hired officials (town council) to do what they want. Fortunatley, the town council of Edmonds seem to be much smarter than that. I DO not feel for the contractor at all who should of had the area (tree) evaluated and removed accordingly, I do however feel very sad about the children that have lost a beloved tree, shade and their own personell “Oasis” within this daycare. R.I.P. the tree that could.

    T.Ecker- Seattle.

  2. Mr. Ecker:

    The pockets of Edmonds City Council Members are never “lined” by anyone. And even if they were, city staff would never carry out any improper action.

  3. I am curious as to why no one was able to stop it before the tree was chopped. The property owner apparently tried, but you can’t talk to a man with a chainsaw in his hand (apologies to James Taylor’s “Smackwater Jack”). It will be interesting and informative to find out what exactly happened, clearly the property owner was wronged and in a major way.
    As a point of fact about the Council: Mr. Wilson and Ms. Buchshnis, were and are very concerned about this incident and responded to the property owner at the time,…and Mr. Wilson presented the issue at a Council Meeting. If the other members were involved, I am not aware of it but I am sure they are all very distressed by this incident.

  4. Former Councilman Wambolt,

    It is very courageous of you to stick out your neck and speak for Edmonds’ City Council and city employees. We sincerely hope you are correct. However, repeated ethics violations from politicians and government employees across the county are grounds for at least some questioning, would you not agree? Do you personally know every city employee who might have been involved? Do you know the finances and behind-the-scenes goals of every Council member?

    I suspect that in this case, the city simply had a full plate and wasn’t able to monitor the situation. Having been married to a contractor for many years, I can easily see someone willing to cause a little damage “accidentally” in order to achieve their goals. That doesn’t make every contractor evil. This can’t have been a completely innocent mistake–even if the contractor didn’t intend to damage the tree (despite wanting it out), the employees who did the damage either knew what they were doing or should have sought approval the moment they hit large roots. If they said nothing to their supervisors, they bear much of the responsibility.

  5. Beth G.

    It really didn’t take any courage to write what I did. City staff take their direction from the Mayor. And the Mayor needs direction from at least 4 council members before he’ll do anything that’s in contradiction with an existing city code.

  6. First, I’d like to thank certain people here for immediately jumping on the bandwagon. It’s good to know that you know what developers think and can speak on their behalf. It’s also good to know that contractors will do anything for a dollar, and that the city government can be bought and paid for.

    The Ainslie family that * I * know are among the most thoughtful, community-minded individuals in our area, dedicating time, effort, and energy to our local groups.

    To speak with malice – or to put words or evil intentions – into the mouths of others speaks more to character of the authors of these comments than anything. Good to know that you all jump directly to the bottom of the barrel.

    God forbid that any developer would actually BUILD during this harsh economic climate. We wouldn’t want Mr. Ainslie to actually EMPLOY people in our community, would we?

    The root system of trees are often seriously disturbed and damaged during the development of neighboring lots. It isn’t the fault of the property owner that he should have the right to develop his land. To leave the tree standing after its root system was compromised is a safety hazard for all.

    Yes, I feel for the neighbor – and the addition of small children into the story certainly had the emotional impact the writer intended.

    But let’s not throw the reputation of a developer, a construction company, and city officials under the bus. It’s embarrassing to those of us who live and work in this community.

  7. Add me to the folks jumping on the bandwagon. The damaging of this tree – thus requiring its removal – sounds nothing like an “accident.” The developer clearly wanted it and other trees out of the way. I’m guessing a view is involved?

    Reminds me of the Point Edwards developer “mistakenly” cutting all the trees on a steep slope. Sure, they were fined and required to make modest amends, but what did that matter given the prices those condos sold for?

    I do NOT know the Ainslie family, so I do not know how thoughtful and community-minded they are. But actions like this don’t speak well for them.

  8. Anyone who has been in construction know that if you are digging up roots over 4 inches that you need to stop and bring in an Arborist. I wasn’t there and didn’t hear the conversation but as I’ve told my children over the years it’s the perception of your actions that you need to look at. If it looks wrong don’t do it. Simple as that.

    Did they do the wrong thing? I think it will come out in the investigation. I applaud Council-members Wilson and Buckshnis for going out and looking at this and bringing it to the councils attention.

    I have my idea of what should happen if they find wrong doing but since I am not the judge and jury I will just have to wait like the rest of you.

  9. Not to sound like an old timer but I have more than a few gray hairs and have lived in Edmonds for 42 of the last 45 years. First of all, any bone head knows you can’t cut tree roots without screwing up a tree. That’s why we hire professionals. Unfortunately, most “professionals” these days have 2-24 months experience and zero wisdom when it comes to edge cases such as this. The contractors screwed up, period. The tree is gone, too late. The contractor is a little wiser, we are out a tree. Say what you will, but these are the facts.

    I will cast no stones directly at Charles Ainslie because if it we not him, it would be somebody else, but it sounds like a pump and dump to me – one can expect this type of neighborhood related collateral damage from ignorant projects such as this. Did we actually need another condo? Really?

    This seems like a tragic case of life imitating art.


    Dear Blog Editor and Blog Readers

    Due to the gross inaccuracies contained in the blog article regarding the cutting of a tree on Walnut Street, I feel compelled to set the record straight. The article is slanderous and irresponsible for many reasons including the following:

    1. I do not own the condominium project or the property on which it is being built, and I have never had an ownership interest in it;

    2. I do not have any ownership interest in the company that does own the property or project;

    3. I am not the contractor or developer for the project; nor is any member of my family;

    4. My company, Builders Financial Services, is only the construction lender for the project and we do not make the development decisions including any decision on tree removal;

    5. Neither I nor Builders Financial Services directed that the tree in question be removed;

    6. The tree in question was located on City Property and the City issued a permit to the developer which required construction of City street improvements that necessitated the removal of the City’s tree;

    7. I have been told that the City was well aware of the tree removal before it occurred and agreed that it should be removed;

    7. I do make visual inspections of the property to monitor progress for purposes of the loan and this is the reason I am occasionally present at the property;

    9. The fence shown in the picture is also located on City property (not the adjoining property);

    8. I never offered the adjoining neighbor money to remove trees located on her property. I did inquire if the trees could be pruned at no expense to the homeowner;

    9. Before these slanderous statements were published in this Blog, no one ever contacted me to verify any of the information, including the most basic of facts: Did I own the property or project, or did I direct that the tree be removed;

    10. It is personally very disappointing to me that the City and this Blog would immediately jump to wrong conclusions without any reasonable investigation. My family and I have had a long standing personal commitment to the betterment of our Edmonds community, including significant personal financial contributions to the Edmonds School District which are continuing. Sue Venable of the Edmonds School District can easily confirm my active support for this community; I have daughters that are actively teaching and volunteering within the Edmonds community. We all are disturbed by the lack of the journalistic integrity of the writer and the mean spiritedness of the responses. It’s a shame that assumptions are so easily made without critical thinking playing a role in their outcome.

    11. While it would be nice, I do not expect an apology from this Blog or the City. However, I do hope this Blog treats future stories with a greater degree of maturity and responsibility.

    Charles J. Ainslie

    1. The writer of this story did try to contact Mr. Ainslie via his home phone number on Wednesday, July 28, and spoke to a woman who answered the phone. When told that Mr. Ainslie was not available, the writer then identified that was writing a story about a presentation made at the July 6 Edmonds City Council meeting regarding a tree-cutting incident and requested to speak with Mr. Ainslie to obtain his side of the story. The writer was told that Mr. Ainslie would be given a message to return the call. Mr. Ainslie did not return the call, and an additional phone call made later that week was not answered.
      The information about the tree cutting, including Mr. Ainslie’s purported role in the incident, is part of the public record via the city council presentation. The homeowner did not want to be interviewed on the record because she operates a day care and was concerned bout the well-being of the children there. I am happy to talk with Mr. Ainslie at any time and print his side of the story. My phone number is readily available under the “Contact” section of this website.
      Teresa Wippel, Publisher
      My Edmonds News

  11. The word “vindication” comes to mind. Now let’s see if the word “apology” leaves anyones lips around here.

  12. Mr. Ainsley makes a good case for himself, not that he should have to. It appears from what he has stated that the City issued a permit to cut down the tree (and that should be public record and easy to verify). It seems that the plot thickens, and Mr. Ainsley should be commended for courageously giving his side of the story here. Rather than just ripping into him, look to the what he is saying.

    How about looking at the issue a little more globally and leaving him out of it?
    If the fines for wrongly cutting a tree are so low that it is financially an attractive option to just cut the tree and pay….who is at fault for doing exactly that? To prevent it from happening shouldn’t the fines be enough to deter such action. Didn’t anything change after Point Edwards???
    (now go ahead and tell me I am for tall buildings, hate apple pie, and am a negative person…slither…slither. on my cheap harley which I can afford since I am obviously on Mr. Ainsley’s payroll)
    Thank you Mr. Ainsley. Facts are difficult to get in blog comments.

  13. Mr. Ainsley says one thing, the city and the adjoining homeowner say another — I guess we will have to wait for the results of the investigation.

  14. Quoting Diane T: “It appears from what he has stated that the City issued a permit to cut down the tree (and that should be public record and easy to verify). ”

    Yes, the public record shows that the city did issue a permit to cut down the tree. AFTER they initially said NOT to do it. And ONLY because the roots were then damaged by the workers following the city stating not to cut it down.

  15. Diane, you raise a great point. I would hope that the city would consider revising the structure for fining anyone who illegaly removes a tree. It should be a criminal action. It almost sound childish, but with no real deterant why would they stop. To some it is just a tree blocking a million dollar view, to others it is natural habitat, and not something easily replaced or easy to put a price tag on for restitution.

    I would encourage you to read the city council meeting minutes from July 6th section 12A. After the tree was compromised by the contractor who had been previously told not to do anything to the tree. The tree was ok’d for removal as it was a safety hazard. Which in turn gave the contractor what he wanted the whole time.

    We will have to wait for the investigation to be complete to hear all the facts that are officially docuemented. I would think official statements to the authorities should add some clarity as surely no one involved would like to go on the record with false statements. I think that their will be some discovering of what was omitted from Mr Ainslies statement above. What is the truth for the situation right now might not be what the intended future was or is going to be.

  16. When the police complete their investigation their report will show that permission was only given to remove the tree after its root system had been illegally damaged.

  17. We can respectfully disagree on this. The intent of the call was clearly stated, and the writer actually spoke to a live human being who said the message would be relayed. I think we can agree that an accomplished business person knows the value of returning phone calls about important subjects. As mentioned earlier, My Edmonds News will continue to update this story — including the results of the police investigation and legal action as they become available — and welcomes any and all information that has not yet been reported. And Mr. Ainslie is welcome to respond directly any time to me at his convenience. My phone number is listed on the contact portion of the home page.
    Teresa Wippel, publisher
    My Edmonds News

  18. Teresa, you’re right, we can respectfully disagree. I don’t feel that two phone calls, only one of which actually resulted in leaving a message with an “unknown woman” was reasonable considering the implications of your story on an individual’s intgegrity and public standing. A quick look on Google would have given you a business address for Mr. Ainslie. Perhaps a stop in person to his office with a copy of the article you were about to publish would have generated a response. It would have at least lent credibilty to a true attempt to contact Mr. Ainslie. How about a stop at the condominium complex in question to speak to the person in charge?

    I have no idea what actually happened here or who was involved. I suspect no one associated with this blog truly does. My only point is that this type of inflammatory story designed to cast an individual in a negative light should have been more thouroughly investigated before being published. One message doesn’t cut it. I’ll stop taking your time now.

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