Letter to the editor: Factors to consider in protecting the tree canopy

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Editor:

I write in response to Chris Walton’s commentary about the vanishing tree canopy in Edmonds, which is changing the face of our community.

In no way do I want to be seen as defending developers who scalp property of all vegetation, replace one house with five huge ones and sell off the top soil, leaving nothing but sand behind. But there are a couple other factors here that should be acknowledged.

The building codes allow houses to be built within 5 feet of the lot line and this has much to do with why they take down all the trees off a property to be developed. It is true it is a convenience for the construction crew but that 10 feet of space between houses is likely too narrow for that mature tree to survive. Consider the roots of these huge trees and the fact that they spread out even further than the branches. Those roots will be severely damaged by the digging necessary for the foundations and utilities and causing those trees to die. And with the house covering a huge percentage of the square footage of that lot, there will be much less water making its way to the roots of those big trees. A mature Douglas fir sucks up hundreds of gallons of water each day which it will no longer get, making the death of that tree inevitable.

It might be better to encourage these new homeowners to include smaller trees and shrubs in their landscape, especially those which are better suited to survival in our changing climate. Or, if we really want to make a better environment for tree survival, how about allowing fewer houses on a piece of property and making room for more green spaces?

Sharon Thayer
Esperance

12 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Factors to consider in protecting the tree canopy”

  1. I am in agreement with Ms. Thayer’s comments. I also agree with the recent addition of Barbara Chase’s comments to my original article. This is a complex issue with no easy solutions.
    To me, the bottom line is that we have too many people in this world and not enough resources. We are destroying our environment. Population density will continue to increase and unfortunately, cities will probably continue to relax building codes to allow increasing density. What I find really sad also is our need for bigger and bigger houses. Giant houses built right up to the property lines, and as Sharon says, no room left for trees (nor animals). As I stated before, it is good that we are at least discussing this.

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  2. The other way to look at this is changing the current developers’ mentality that every square foot of soil possible on a lot has to be used for structures and pavement. Maybe the City needs to change the building code to increase the 5 foot limit to 20 feet or more so that all trees on an undeveloped lot don’t have to be cut down. This would also help with current stormwater issues caused by lack of soil for rainwater to saturate into. Further, when trees get so tall that they present a potential hazard for nearby houses, maybe there should be a City ordinance that requires a mature tree must be planted prior to or at the time of the large tree removal so that the current tree canopy can be maintained and not continually decreased. Many people enjoy living in the Northwest because we do have evergreen trees in our communities and don’t look like the “concrete,” polluted cities of southern California (though that is changing quickly as developers seem to be cutting down every possible tree they encounter, whether its’s a problem or not).

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  3. Could you please give an update on the Frontal project near picnic point….I want to cry every time I pass it

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    1. Hi Richard: The Frognal property, while near Edmonds, isn’t located in any of the three cities we cover. (Really more in Mukilteo’s area.) We wish we could cover every issue nearby, but our staff resources are limited. The citizens’ group that has been fighting the project has a Facebook page that has updates: https://www.facebook.com/groups/699268643492967/

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  4. Tree canopy:
    Once upon a time huge conifer trees dominated the land around Puget Sound. There are historical photos of the trees that grew in this entire area and the conifers were Huge. That is not the case now. Without the return of land to the City of Seattle from the Federal government (Fort Lawton, and Sandpoint Navy Base) Seattle would have little open space for its city population. Thank goodness there are shorelines, but our shorelines should be of concern as much as populatioin growth.
    Recently there have been meetings regarding growth and development of the Edmonds area to meet population density by expanding demands of commerce and new height codes. The question was asked; `Why does Edmonds need to grow? A fair question indeed.
    In the five corners area, where there may be new `development’ to expand housing, if an option for five story buildings is permitted, in order for the projects to be feasible. With two small but lovely natural habitat parks in this area, it would be wise for city management to consider what can be done to protect the parks, the trees and the environment. (These things cost money and time and community involvement). I do believe that Edmonds has an active and diverse group of people who have different opinions on this matter and we should all work for the common good of the community, the environment and legacy that will maintain Edmonds for future generations.
    Development companies, are invested in how to grow their money and that is not a bad thing (jobs, new taxing opportunities), but the environment is too often a soft issue for considerations when development takes place. The current economy is supposed to be `good’, if you listen to analysts, but if you look around and are aware of the challenges of big cities, there are good reasons why people leave for smaller communities. Growth should not be totally mandated by Regional Growth Plans. The rents have started to decline in Seattle, and across from the Mayor’s office/Seattle there sits a huge cavity. A Federal Bldg. was given to the city and plans were made but put on hold because of the financial markets collapse (2008)….and is still sitting there because the `developer’ has bowed out. It would make a nice green patch with some space for trees. No, I was never a hippie, nothing wrong with that either. Moved from Seattle to Edmonds 6 months ago.
    Lived in the Seattle for 70 plus years.

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  5. Regardless of setback requirements, the Edmonds Development Code exempts most single family parcels from tree retention and tree removal permit requirements (see ECDC 18.45.030). So even if a developer is only building a small home with very little accessory hardscape (driveway, patio, etc), they can, and often do, wipe every speck of vegetation off the lot at the beginning of the project. Changing setbacks won’t change this behavior; a setback can still be cleared–although larger setbacks would leave some space for new trees, it’s mature tree retention that is the biggest challenge here. In my opinion it’s the tree retention requirements that need to be changed. There seems to be a lack of creativity and ingenuity in Edmonds development with respect to tree retention/working around mature trees, because you don’t have to work around what you can just cut down.

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  6. Tree canopy and development. The concern for loss of tree canopy is a real issue. The loss of open space is a real issue. The increase in density of populations is the catalyst that is causing actions that are not illegal, but do not support the environment. I do not consider myself a `tree huger’ or `anti development’. I am an advocate for sustainable conservation. We breathe the air without consideration;it is just there and yet there is a an increasing percentage of respiratory problems in all ages of people. Problems are generated when the focus for development mushrooms into collateral damage of the environment. The evergreen conifers that have thrived here for centuries, are dwindling, not just in the cities, but also in our national forests. It is the best interest that we do whatever is needed with reasonable consideration to find a sustainable balance which does not necessarily easily equate into growth of cities, but stability of the environment we impact.

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    1. Roselee. Thank you for your reply. First things first. Health practice for the heaalth of environment must come st the top of our priorities. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  7. I agree with Mr. Walton’s editorial comments on the decimation of the Old Growth Trees by the developer of the property on 9th and Pine Street. It was a disgrace to destroy those trees that have been there probably longer than any of us currently living in Edmonds today. The home or homes could be designed at least around some of the trees, given the fact that some of them were at the perimeter of the property, possibly even against the property line.
    I also attended meetings of the Tree Board where they plainly stated they want to keep old growth trees and encourage builders to not remove them. In addition, they said they wanted to encourage new tree plantings and grow our tree canopy. How do you plan to do that when you allow a builder to recklessly remove 60 foot tall trees? Does he plan on replacing them with 60 foot tall trees? I doubt it. I think that would cut into his profits. Kirkland and Bellevue have very strict policies on cutting down trees, the fines for removal without permission, are very stiff. I disagree with the severity of their tree policy, however, a milder version that requires developers and builders to review their plans with the city before any trees are removed would be in order.
    There’s a home on Firdale Ave between Firdale Village and Brackett Apartments on the way to Costco/99 Hwy that just cut down 7 very large trees from the front of their property. Did all of them have to be removed?
    Some of the benefits of trees are:
    Habitat and food for birds, INCLUDING OUR BEAUTIFUL EAGLES, and other animals
    They absorb harmful gasses, returning to us, OXYGEN
    One large tree can release enough oxygen for four people
    They absorb pollen, dust, and smoke
    They provide shade
    They reduce the strong winds that we experience from our beach front community
    They reduce surface water run off, decreasing soil erosion, and excess sediment in our streams
    They absorb noise and reduce sun glare and ground temperatures
    They also have a soothing and calming effect
    They are BEAUTIFUL
    The benefits are endless.
    Mr. Walton wrote about the heavily treed lot on Spruce Street and 7th Ave. It is near my home. I have spoke twice to Tree Board members at meetings regarding the likely destruction of these old growth trees. I have explained to them that the eagles live in these trees with their young in the spring and summer. They also use them as resting places during the winter, particularly during storms. Those trees provide safety for them. They also protect us from the excessive wind we have on the hill here. I was told to call the police if this builder tries to cut them down. I’m happy to do that, however, if I’m not home when they start cutting, it will be too late. Why doesn’t the City Tree Board visit this property and restrict the builder from cutting all of them down, or at least compromise and require him to save some of them?
    I am copying the Tree Board members, the mayor, and the city council. I urge our citizens to do the same.
    Dawn Malkowski
    Edmonds, WA.

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    1. I absolute agree about the need to preserve our tree canopy but I wish writers would stop referring to trees recently referenced as “old growth” The trees referenced as “old growth” by Dawn are what my logger dad would have called at best “second growth” or more likely “third growth.” The entire hillside above the bowl was logged in the early 1900’s and apparently logged or cleared again when 9th avenue was widened in the 1060’s. We purchased our home nearby in 1971 and those trees were young small trees at that corner at the time. The magnificent 60 foot cedar in our yard was about ten feet tall at the time and had been planted by the first owner in 1958. “Old growth” according to foresters refers to virgin forest trees uncut by man. Keep our tree canopy but please don’t do think that most trees in Edmonds are “old growth.” There may be exceptions in one north end park but only a ring count would tell. If you disagree please count the rings on the relevant trees at the corner of 9th and Pine. They are laying on the ground and the ends are right by the sidewalk. Again, please protect our trees but don’t confuse the issue with notions of a primal forest of giants.

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  8. I was also very saddened by the folks that cut those 7 trees that Dawn references in her comments. Really? This person needed to cut down all of the trees in their front yard?
    Again, of course this person had the legal right to do this. It is just sad and a bit insensitive.

    It just gives me the impression that too many people in general don’t have much appreciation and understanding of the need to protect our environment and give a chance to the other creatures we share with, not to mention how much those trees convert CO2 into O2. We humans don’t really need to gobble up our town’s environment, bit by bit?
    Thanks for pitching in Dawn. If nothing else, perhaps we are at least raising awareness. I am sure there are lots of other views.

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  9. Every rule that you pass to protect “our” trees is going to restrict any new housing that can be built in Edmonds.
    You can’t have it both ways.
    If you have been following the controversy over the proposed new housing/zoning laws, then you know that the city is moving ahead with their plan to radically rezone Edmonds, because there is an “affordability crisis” here.
    I am not saying I support either position, just trying to make the point that tough choices are going to have to be made. Protect tree canopy or provide housing?
    As for the our trees, if the city wants to protect “my” trees I would be glad to sell them to the city. Since everyone [it is claimed] benefits from the tree canopy, seems to me that everyone should pay. Not just the homeowner.

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