Letter to the editor: Diffusing neighborhood tension about trees vs. views

Dear Editor:

I was born and raised in Edmonds. At 10 years old, a trip to the AM/PM for an overcooked hot dog was pure joy. At 16, a job at Anthony’s Beach Cafe provided freedom and independence. I may have led you to your table or fumbled while opening your wine. I looked on in amazement as, day after day and year after year, the “Edmonds Beach Temperature Taker Guy” waded in the water, in his cut-off jean shorts; rain, snow, sleet or hail. As an experienced beachgoer, I can only imagine this to be in part, a daily meditation ritual.

Spending my childhood taking in our gorgeous surroundings of land and sea in Edmonds, is why I’ve never been able to move away from the Pacific Northwest.

In the Fall of 2014, my husband and I decided to purchase a home in Edmonds, to raise our family. The home that we ultimately bid on was minutes away from where I grew up, had space for kids to play, walking distance to the beach and a peek-a-boo view of the water. We were truly shocked when our offer was accepted. The man selling his home had lived in downtown Edmonds for over 40 years and was thrilled to see new life breathed into his home. A young family moving in, brought it full circle.

We’ve lived in this house for over 6 years and while we are thankful to have the potential of a water view, we have had a challenge maintaining it. What is or isn’t allowed to be pruned back, changes year over year. Our neighbors own the trees, and the conversation. The anxiety creeps in every summer as our view starts to disappear, the branches and leaves creeping in and up. Each winter I hope our request to prune their trees, is met with approval. Fingers crossed we can have another year to share with our kids, the ferries, tugboats, cruise ships, sailboats, mountains and sea-life, that visit us on the glistening horizon.

If you have a water view in Edmonds, it’s luck of the draw if you get to keep it, and it depends on who lives next door.

In a time when so much of our life is divisive, I got to thinking; does this conversation have to be tree-lovers vs. view-lovers? Does it have to be tense? Is Edmonds ready to evolve into a symbiotic relationship where trees are valued and enjoyed as part of our view, and the connection to water is valued, and enjoyed as part of our view?

Edmonds is a thriving city, robust with economic stimulus we wish for all cities; maintained parks, roads, a city center full of dining and shopping. Young families moving here every day to continue the rejuvenation.

We cannot pretend that increased canopy growth and a substantial number of new trees will need to exist for our children and grandchildren to inherit a beautiful world. It is in fact vital, and our city is doing a phenomenal job addressing this.

On July 16, 2019, Edmonds City Council adopted the “Urban Forest Management Plan”, which is described as primarily focusing on “managing trees on public properties and in public rights-of-way. The plan also considers some community-wide issues, for example, the community’s total tree canopy, the role of trees throughout the city, opportunities for public education, updating tree regulations, and providing incentives for planting and retaining trees.”

The motto within this 97-page plan is: “The Right Tree in the Right Place”. I think we can all agree on this!

It makes sense to create an ordinance in Edmonds specifically related to private landowners, making sure tree and vegetation do not block someone else’s water view. This ordinance could also include, planting more trees (at the right height and in the right place!) and maintaining our old growth. In addition, having consistency would help diffuse tense dynamics among neighbors.

Lastly, I recognize the privilege that comes along with having and maintaining a water view. I recognize this could be trivial, in times when there are far greater issues to dedicate time and attention. That said, I hope I provided some value for those interested in this topic and a possibly jumping off point to continue this discussion.


Anna West

  1. While I understand the desire to maintain existing views, this is something that is just not within your control Anna when the vegetation is not on your property. I’ve experienced first hand the glare of the millennial homeowner. Fact is, not everyone is going to listen to or respond to your request as a neighbor. The world can be cruel and loosing a view in the Bowl because a bush becomes overgrown is just one of many instances. On the bright side, trees are sometimes cut down where a view can open up when one did not exist before. Even with the best laid plans, life is not always predictable. Live in the moment and enjoy what you do have even if that is a view only enjoyed when the leaves fall from the tree and you see the sparkle of the water through the branches.

    1. Your somewhat condescending comments are not telling Anna, whom I do not know, anything that she probably already doesn’t know. I also have a hunch that you have a property with views that are not constantly threatened.

      On Oct.4th former Edmonds mayor Gary Haakenson posted an excellent commentary: “Why I’m Choosing Kindness”. Perhaps you should look it up and read it.

  2. Branches and trees grow back, that’s what they do. I thought if they grew onto your property it was okay for you to trim them back? What’s a branch or two? I agree with Ron and Gary, choose kindness and enable them to have their view. They have earned it.

    1. Hawaii always says you don’t own ocean view unless you are ocean front. Because that is what happens with private property. Same should go here. Sad but true.

  3. It doesn’t seem like the role of the City to get involved in these issues. One can imagine the headache and subjectivity of the City’s staff trying to adjudicate what is and isn’t a view, what trees (or buildings?) need to be cut/moved and where/ when, how remodeling of either property effects the “view”, how to assess damages/fines, etc. If a view corridor is that important (and I agree that it probably is), you might try approaching your neighbors and asking/paying for a view easement.

  4. I grew up in Edmonds too . I am now 76 – and about 20 years ago stopped worrying about trees growing in my view – we need our Overstory to make Edmonds which is known for its desire to be completely green – needs trees to keep us alive and healthy – also it allows me to love neighbors and their trees which r in my view – early on I heard about a “framed view” better to me than a stark view. With all the strife in the world this seems like a frivolous discussion.

  5. I agree with you Anna! Edmonds is a close community that is held together by its people and that means being good neighbors and being kind. Let’s be honest, we all love living here because of the small town feel, the location and the views, so why shouldn’t we do what we can to ensure our neighbors can all enjoy the beautiful views. That’s part of the responsibility of being part of a community.

  6. I think it is time for the City to get involved. If we have a building height restriction why not a tree or shrub height guideline as well. I am sure other Cities on water have dealt with this and have come up with a standard that works. A view easement is a great idea if you have a neighbor who is willing to compromise. Currently it seems in Edmonds your neighbor may ultimately be able to decide your property value and suddenly you are not having an “Edmonds-Kinda-Day”.

  7. Kindness and being a good neighbor sounds wonderful! But, when that fails what is next? I love the trees and greenery in our city but believe we need to have some guidelines. The city controls the heights of our homes, how tall a fence can be as well as the size of signs we can post on our property. How is it okay that a neighbor can plant a hedge that towers 20-30+ feet with no restrictions? I, too, am one of the fortunate that have a partial water view here in the Bowl. I have neighbors and I work diligently to look not only at my view but how my property impacts the views of those around me. Unfortunately we cannot legislate kindness and consideration for others. I hope the City takes up this issue and finds a kind yet civil way that works for all.

  8. I agree with Gayle. I have horse chestnut trees across the street on third north. Of the three of them two are not getting enough water and are unhealthy. The oldest is well established, huge and very healthy. I believe it has deeper roots. I have been hesitant to talk to the owner of the home turned offices. I would be happy to pay for the sickly tress to be removed. Guess if it bothers me I should get at it.

  9. What a refreshing perspective! The reality that opinions and interests will differ is age-old. The belief that we can no longer aspire to community give-n-take has risen to such a fever pitch recently. I imagine we all long to find a better level of live-and-let-live normalcy.

    Can we be community? That’s a hopeful idea. I like it.

    The letter seems to suggest a return to some neighborly give and take, part of what has made Edmonds attractive, informed and nudged by an ordinance which simply codifies our intentions as a community…to act as a community. I like that too.

    Before dismissing it as an impossible dream, maybe it’s worth exploring how other communities have found success, and learn from their challenges.

    For what it’s worth, New Zealand has had such an ordinance in place for 30 years. (Property Law Act 2007, ss 332(b), 335(1), 336(2), 337(1)-(2).

    Thank you for sharing a hopeful outlook.

  10. Does anyone know the resource, if any, of Edmonds mapped route of cutting back flora that intrudes on the vehicle drivers’ views? It is quite dangerous for drivers (even the ones with the audio and video mapping guides) when drivers cannot see the names on street signs, or be able to see around corners due to fauna overgrowth into public areas. It is a bit of a culture shock to me not to see public works vehicles regularly trimming the fauna throughout Edmonds. Thank you to anyone who knows and will share URL links of Edmonds resources on this specific topic.

    1. I do remember in a previous Ask the Edmonds Cop episode, citizens were asked to call public works to report anything that needs trimming.

    2. Hi Lori,

      The City has very specific code that governs this. Please see ECDC 18.85.060 titled: Visibility blockage.

      ECDC 18.85.060(A) states that: Pruning Required. Any property owner who owns property on any street shall prune or otherwise prohibit private trees or other vegetation growing on his property in such manner that they will not block or shade the light from the street lights, obstruct the passage of persons on the sidewalks, obstruct vision of traffic signs, or obstruct the view of any intersection or alley intersection.

      ECDC 18.85.060(B) assigns enforcement responsibility to the director of public works. Our Code says that failure to comply is subject to criminal prosecution as a misdemeanor in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 5.50 ECDC or as a civil violation pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 20.110 ECDC.

      And of course it is the Mayor’s Duty to see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city.

      1. The City has additional law that relates to this issue. ECC Chapter 9.25 deals with “Street Obstruction”.

        This law makes it unlawful for any person who either owns or has the right to possession, or both, of abutting real property to permit the erection or maintenance of any sign, device, structure or VEGETATION in the following circumstances herein set forth, and in the event of circumstances presently existing which by reason of this section are now in violation of the Edmonds City Code, said person shall immediately remove the same:

        1. In such manner that it obscures or conceals any traffic control sign, signals or other device as to interfere with the full and effective use and visibility of the same to the motoring or pedestrian public;

        2. In such manner that it obscures the visibility of the motoring or pedestrian public as such persons approach a street intersection for a distance of greater than 50 feet in any direction from the intersecting existing rights-of-way lines upon which the property abuts;

        3. In such manner that it encroaches upon any part of a sidewalk, or within five feet of the improved or traveled portion of a public roadway, for a vertical distance of 10 feet above said sidewalk or public roadway;

        4. In such manner as to cause the breaking or otherwise cracking of any sidewalk within the city of Edmonds.

        1. ECC 9.25.010(B) states that : In the event any sign, device, structure or VEGETATION prohibited by this section is not removed by the person who either owns or has the right to possession, or both, of the abutting real property, the director of public works may cause the same to be removed. In the event the director of public works notifies the owner or person in possession of the abutting property in writing to remove any of said obstructions five days in advance and said property owner fails to remove the same within said five-day period, the director of public works may charge said person for the cost of removal of the same. [Ord. 1571 § 1, 1971].

          ECC 9.25.100 Penalties states that :
          Any person or persons who violate or fail to comply with any of the provisions of this chapter, hereafter referred to as “Street and Sidewalk Obstruction”, or any part thereof, shall upon conviction be punished by a fine or by imprisonment in jail, or by both fine and imprisonment as set forth in ECC 5.50.020. [Ord. 1571 § 2, 1971].

          I changed vegetation to all caps in the above two posts for emphasis.

        2. Thank you, Ken, for acquainting readers with those ordinances. They are great ordinances to have on the books, but they are very frequently not complied with and rarely enforced. Citizens need to more actively report violations to the city so that action can be taken to correct the violations. Pedestrians should have sidewalks fully available to them and not be obstructed by thorny bushes and other vegetation occupying most of the sidewalk.

        3. You are welcome Ron. I agree that the ordinances are not complied with often enough and that enforcement is sometimes lacking.
          It is worse than that, however. Pages 44 and 45 of the October 6, 2020 Edmonds City Council Approved Minutes document one citizen’s frustrations trying to get the City to enforce codes related to a tree near the corner of Walnut and 5th Ave. S.
          I have been on the other end of this. I have experienced City Staff code enforce against a concrete slab and require the concrete slab to be set back from a totally unused, unopened easement. In doing so, City Staff chose to not tell me about ECC 9.25 – the Street Obstruction Code that clearly applies to the improved or traveled portion of a public roadway.
          Even if the City’s 7 ½’ wide easement on my property had been an easement that the City had improved, opened or used for some public purpose – imagine a City that would require a concrete slab to be setback from a City Easement! Every driveway in Edmonds would be illegal if it were not setback from the edge of the City’s easement.
          Thankfully ECDC 16.20.030 does not mention flatwork such as driveways and concrete pads. Hopefully, I will be the only citizen in the history of Edmonds ever made to SETBACK a concrete slab or driveway.

  11. Let’s talk about kindness a little bit here. There are lots of ways to be kind. I consider one of the kindest things to do is to stay out of other people’s (my neighbors for example) business. I think that is a mark of character.

    Beyond city code, I do not tell my neighbors where to put their house, how big to build their house, where to plant their trees and how to do their remodeling. That is their business and I stay out of it. I do not resent or judge them for what they have done or not done. I only request that this be reciprocal and I would regard that as an act of kindness.

    Keeping it simple, most of the views in Edmonds past the Sunset area are the result of eliminating the tree canopy. That was done because developers and home owners wanted it that way. The subject letter here confirms my suspicion that the “tree board” is going to lead to landscape laws to protect views. I’m opposed to that. If that is unkind, then so be it.

    1. Mr. Wright,
      I have to take umbrage with your comments about the “tree board”. The Tree board is not writing code, the city is writing code. The Edmonds City Tree Board is working with the code writer as a body but code is based on the UFMP recently passed by the city council. The Tree board simply states their opinion concerning the tree canopy in the city and the need to preserve what we have and look for ways to increase the canopy.

  12. Completely agree with Marilyn on this. We are fortunate to have a view as well; and are open and receptive to our neighbor’s wishes to have greenery, etc. trimmed in our yard if it impacts their view (in fact they annually have a gardener who comes into our yard to trim back things that impact their view). As others have said though, what if this is not met with kindness and willingness on behalf of your neighbors? It definitely makes sense to take into consideration implementing an ordinance in Edmonds specifically related to private landowners to help ensure they are able to maintain their views. These kinds of ordinances exist in other cities to protect property owners from having their view obstructed and should be considered here as well.

  13. Anna,
    Perhaps you should consider moving to Innis Arden, it has covenants in place requiring community members to maintain, at owners cost, tree heights. Additionally, Innis Arden looks spiffy and cohesive because homeowners are required to gain approval to improvements, like exterior paint colors.
    Edmonds is NOT a HOA, therefore community members have freedom of choice.

    1. The day I have to pay for a permit to plant a tree or conform to a law making me trim a planting is the day my home goes on the market. That’s one reason I’m spiffing it up now. A quick, top dollar sale has a ring to it.

      This landscape law idea is just nuts for an entire city. If you want to live where there are HOAs, build/buy in a planned neighborhood. That’s what they are for.

      1. In point of clarification of my comment above. I totally agree with Ron W.’s comment about the need to get rid of and/or trim any vegetation or things that involve safety and traffic. That is a whole other issue and certainly an aspect of being in the interest of the public good.

  14. Cindy, I agree that advising those encouraging a community conversation to get out of town is an option, but I don’t agree that it’s the best one.

    I found no words in the letter about valuing ”spiffy and cohesive’…I did read an Edmonds native encouraging a community conversation about how best to preserve and enhance the value of TWO attributes precious to all of us: life-sustaining greenery (which we need more of), and an ever-present reminder of the life-sustaining sea. Attributes with some built-in conflicts.

    It seems that’s a healthy conversation to have. Of course, it would be so much easier if it weren’t for the humans….

    This is not really a discussion about trees and water. It’s a discussion about how our community wants to balance landowners’ freedom and community good.

    I’d love to see the outcome be a stronger sense of community co-existence. Which means (unlike the culture we’re enduring at the moment) looking out for your neighbors at least nearly as much as ourselves.

  15. I read all of these views and realize once again how differently people will see a situation. We live on over an acre of property down in Shell Valley and love all of the trees and land we have. All of the many different animals that come here to visit or eat and drink. We are blessed. Yes I wish we had water views but I have to get mine from Roger and his many photographs he sends into Next door neighbor. We are limited on our property to cut some of the trees because they are on “steep slopes” we don’t like that but live with it. I do not want the city to reach into our property/lives any more than they are now. Our neighbor cut some branches that were on his side of our fence because he did not like them over his roof. We were a bit troubled he did not come to us to talk to us but we just ended up cutting the remaining branched back to the tree trunk to make things look better. Sorry for you troubles but trees do continue to grow and that is a fact of life. I hope you find peace in all of this.

  16. Thoughtful letter, Anna. Some good points and the debate over this is worthwhile for a town as blessed as ours with so many properties that are lucky enough to have such great views of the sound. I tend to agree with Gayle – there are building height restrictions and set backs required of buildings, some fair & reasonable ordinance about tree size and maintenance is worth exploring.

  17. Thank you for sharing and getting this conversation started, Anna!

    I agree – you’ve opened up a discussion that runs deeper than trees and water. Your words speak to the importance of building a sense of community and respecting one’s neighbors.

    I think it makes sense to enact an ordinance so that more residents can enjoy the beauty Edmonds has to offer.

  18. One of the creeds of the “tree board” is the idea of “the right tree in the right place.” That sounds good and noble for all; but it fails to address the fact that the meaning of the statement can be a huge matter of opinion.

    When we start making laws, and city codes about that, we are on a slippery slope. When you cancel out the development factor (past and present) in all this; you would have to recognize that the right trees in the right place were huge Cedars, Hemlocks, Alders and Maples just a very short distance from the so called water view that many seem to think is some protected right if you live in Edmonds.

    I happen to have a water view because I bought my old family home, and I lucked out, because most people valued the water view more than the tree view. Personally, I like and enjoy both. There are two. kind of scrubby looking, mountain ash trees on private property across the street that supposedly block some of my view. I love watching the squirrels and birds use those trees for life and they don’t bother me a bit. I’m not about to insult the tree owners by asking them to cut or trim them or offer to pay for them to do it. I strongly oppose any city ordinance to make them do it. The trees are part of my view until the owners decide they don’t want them anymore, and that’s just how it should be.

    1. “The trees are part of my view…” My thoughts exactly Clint. Trees shouldn’t be at war with views, and vice versa.

  19. In Ken’s post above he mentioned the code enforcement issue for the tree near 5th and Walnut. Progress is happening, stay tuned.

    1. Thanks Darrol. My understanding is that the tree near the corner of Walnut and 5th Ave. S. caused the breaking or otherwise cracking of the sidewalk, a sidewalk within the city of Edmonds. Such was reported to the City. Once reported, it was the Mayor’s Duty to see that our laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced. Our law and ordinance clearly state the following:

      ECC 9.25.010(B) In the event any sign, device, structure or vegetation prohibited by this section is not removed by the person who either owns or has the right to possession, or both, of the abutting real property, the director of public works may cause the same to be removed. In the event the director of public works notifies the owner or person in possession of the abutting property in writing to remove any of said obstructions five days in advance and said property owner fails to remove the same within said five-day period, the director of public works may charge said person for the cost of removal of the same. [Ord. 1571 § 1, 1971].

      Per our law and ordinance – it should not have taken very many days to correct this situation. That is the duty of the Mayor.

  20. Is it also the duty of the mayor to enforce the cat lease law? Or how about all the elements in the dog lease law?

    1. Yes – the Mayor is the responsible party and this is a known fact when people file to run for the office of Mayor. This has been the law in Edmonds since 1983.

      Edmonds City Code 2.01.010 establishes the Duties of the Mayor. Please note the word “shall”, which means it is mandatory:

      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].

      I didn’t draft the law or vote to pass it in 1983. I am simply pointing out what the law says. If Edmonds City Code 2.01.010 doesn’t work in Edmonds, maybe the 2020 City Council should review it and possibly change it. Unless it is changed, I think it reasonable for citizens to expect the office of Mayor to perform its duties per the Edmonds City Code.

  21. Does this have something to do with the “right tree, in the right place?” And, why are we planting trees in the middle of sidewalks and placing a fountain in the middle of the road? I suspect the “tree board” lobby and the “arts board” lobby have been instrumental in these “accomplishments” for the beautification of Edmonds, and making our town a playground destination rather than just a nifty town to live and work in. Soon we will have a “view board” too, to make sure no one is tramping on someone else’s view “rights.” Ain’t progress grand.

  22. Well stated Mr. Haug— history and context should not be ignored. Also appreciate Mr. Wright’s warning to be clear about our objectives as we define “right” trees and “right” places, lest this become a battle of unmoored opinions.

    A question: what have been the guiding principles related to Edmonds’ decades-longstanding 25’ building height limits? I don’t think it’s density directly, since the limit applies to single family dwellings. Did the height limits have to do with keeping Edmonds on a human scale? Did the idea that taller buildings would inhibit views ever come into play?

    If so, I suppose we have been co-existing for decades already with guidelines and ordinances that preserve views. Further affirmation this is an appropriate conversation to be having now. And that saying “leave if you don’t like it” may not be a relevant solution.

    Seattle City Light hired an arborist in the 1980s under the same mantra — “right tree, right place” — in that context related to avoiding trees that grow into power lines (and ultimately get chopped down, wasting years of growth) or root systems that damage underground utilities (causing us to lose power, sewer, water etc).

    It’s easy to like rules that serve our own self-interests. Can we create guidelines that allow everyone to “give” a little today, so the longer-term “take” is better for our children and grandchildren?

    In a word, can we be community?

    Maybe as Mr. Wright points out, the guidelines should be less about species…and more about selecting and maintaining species that can be trimmed to view-preserving heights.

  23. Adding view to a property increases the property taxes paid. This lower taxes for others. The reverse is also true. The tree board is actually on record of urging the city to deal with dangerous trees.

  24. The height regulations came out of the fight over what the height of the Ebb Tide Condo ON the waterfront should be. The specter of ever higher buildings marching up the hillside; changing the character of the city forever; came out loud and clear.

    A well known local attorney discussed this with my Dad and I at a city council meeting then, saying, “these guys want to make a killing on their waterfront property and will make a fortune even with a not so tall building, so why should we let them wreck the town?” That sentiment has prevailed pretty much to this day.

    I don’t know where the concept of “view corridor” came from or even if it is really a thing. The concept does conger up the notion that the “view corridor” is a common value and something that should be preserved by regulation. So the question is: is the view corridor a real thing that should be preserved by fiat; or is it just a road already protected by set backs?

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