The big item on Wednesday’s Edmonds Citizens Planning Board agenda was a detailed review of the latest iteration of the draft Edmonds Tree Code. While the board agreed it was an improvement, there remained several outstanding issues. Opting not to send the revised code to council at this time, the board tabled discussion and a potential decision until its January meeting, giving staff time to fine tune the plan to address these (see the full updated draft tree code here).
Developing a new tree code was one of the original tasks of the Edmonds Tree Board when it was created in 2010. Specifically, the board was charged to come up with a tree ordinance that would “preserve and protect existing trees, encourage planting of additional trees, safeguard trees on parcels where construction or renovation is occurring or planned to occur,” and in addition encourage Edmonds citizens to become “active stewards of the urban forest.” Prior to this, Edmonds did not have a tree code per se, with regulations related to trees scattered throughout other elements of the city code. A major goal of this rewrite was to bring all these pieces together into a comprehensive tree code (detailed background information is available here).
The year-long effort resulted in a draft tree code, which was reviewed by the Planning Board in 2015. The draft sparked considerable public controversy, pitting those who favored a less-restrictive code against those advocating for higher levels of protection and preservation of Edmonds’ urban forest. Ultimately the Planning Board agreed that developing a tree code in the absence of guiding policy framework was like “putting the cart before the horse.” Instead, they recommended abandoning action on the tree code itself and instead develop an Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) to guide the code development process.
Now in place, the main goal of the UFMP is to “maintain or enhance citywide canopy coverage” through updated tree regulations aimed at reducing clearcutting, changes to tree replacement requirements, and penalties for code violations. Further, it adopts a policy of no net loss to overall canopy coverage, ensures protection of trees in environmentally critical areas, and establishes a “tree bank” fund to cover the costs of plantings and other tree programs. The tree bank would be funded by donations and tree code violation penalty fees.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Senior Planner Kernan Lien presented a revised tree code developed within the UFMP framework. Focused primarily on new development (as opposed to existing private homes), the major provisions include the following:
- Tree retention during development including exploring low impact development principles that may provide more flexibility in development to retain trees, specific tree retention standards during development, and providing incentives for tree retention.
- Establishing a tree fund into which development contributions or tree penalties can be tracked and the proceeds spent on tree planting and preservation
- Reviewing penalties for illegal tree cutting
- Moving the main tree regulations for private development into the Natural Resources title of the City’s development code
- Reviewing the existing permitting structure and exemptions for tree removal on currently developed property.
More details are available in the 2020 Edmonds Tree Regulations Topic matrix.
Lien’s presentation included a number of scenarios examining sample development projects comparing impacts under the original code with those under the proposed changes (see the full PowerPoint here).
The presentation was immediately followed by public comments.
Anna West commented that the proposed code does not address preservation of water views, and the potential loss to property values as trees grow and block these.
Bill Phipps pointed out that the code addresses the impact of development on trees, but does not address the issue of trees on already developed land.
His remarks were echoed by Eric Thuesen, who noted that more than 90% of Edmonds is already developed and that “everyone should be part of this – the danger of losing trees is as great on private property and undeveloped property.”
Lora Hein suggested that because the urban forest is vital to health and quality of life, a moratorium should be place on tree cutting until the code can be finalized.
Richard Bologna asked how the fair market value of a tree [which determines the impact fees and fines for code violation] is determined.
Steve Zemke suggested that the code include a timeline on tree retention, requiring that trees retained during development to not be cut for a certain number of years.
With public comments concluded, the Board proceeded with its own discussion of the proposed draft code.
Major points brought out include the monetary fine structure and the “in lieu of” fees that developers can pay allowing them to cut additional trees. Board member Alicia Crank argued that this gives developers a way around the codes, and that “developers tend to be OK with paying in lieu fees” as part of the cost of development.
Other discussion centered on the issue of view preservation, with suggestions that included encouraging owners to think about mature heights before planting a tree and that hedges, which can also block views, be subjected to regulatory control similar to that applied to fences.
In the end, the board was split on whether the fee structure should stay as proposed or should be revised, and the specifics of how to apply the formulas for tree retention and replacement during development to best achieve the overall goal of no net loss of tree canopy. In this regard, board member Carreen Rubenkonig recommended looking at the methodology used by Snohomish County.
In light of these, the board agreed to not send the draft tree code to council, but rather table the discussion until the January meeting. In the interim, Lien will look at similar regulations in effect at the county level and come back with modifications in January.
Full video of the meeting will be available shortly on the City of Edmonds Meeting Portal website.