Letter to the editor: What city staff should consider when rewriting draft Edmonds tree code

Editor:

I would like to recommend that the Edmonds City Council consider the following in giving advice to city staff for amending/rewriting the draft tree code. The draft is in serious need of rewrite because of its lack of focus on big trees (i.e., 8″ diameter or more) and unnecessary complexity and exceptions that create huge loopholes in the city’s effort to preserve its tree canopy.

(Note: I didn’t provide the below as a public comment at last night’s council meeting because many in the public are feeling more and more that the mayor, the council and city staff are not acknowledging “informed” public comments).

Protection: Focus the tree code regulation on protecting big trees and preventing them from being cut down to the maximum extent possible with due consideration for public safety and residential development where/when it is possible without reducing existing tree canopy and wildlife corridors in Edmonds.

City should not be involved if someone wants to cut down an apple tree or prune small trees and shrubs on private property (unless they are in critical areas).

Focus should be on reducing/stopping the cutting of big trees throughout the City regardless of type of parcel.

Big trees should be clearly defined in the tree code (e.g., those with 8″ diameter or greater) and the tree code should pertain only to big trees.

Replacement: Require replacement of every big tree removed with “ecologically equivalent” number of same or similar species of big trees.

Evergreen trees must be replaced with same or similar species of evergreen trees.

One approach for replacement is to have the sum of the diameters of the replacement trees equal the diameter of the big tree removed.

The replacement trees should be planted on same parcel or in same watershed and contribute to the existing tree canopy in that watershed except for watersheds where “views” are an established priority for that watershed (e.g. the Edmonds Bowl in the Shellabarger watershed).

Tracking and enforcement: To enforce prevention of big tree removal and allow for tracking of the existing tree canopy in Edmonds, a permit system must be implemented for all big tree removals.

Removal of big trees should be prohibited without a permit issued by the City of Edmonds.

Permit application fees should not apply to developed parcels requesting a permit for removal of trees for public safety purposes or instances where trees are impacting utilities.

The tree code should establish conditions for permit issuance based on purpose and locations of proposed tree cutting.

The tree code should allow discretion by the City Development Director on permit conditions but only for discouraging big tree removal.

Permits should not be issued for removal of big trees on developed parcels except in instances of public safety or where trees are impacting utilities.

Undeveloped or subdivided lots proposed for development should be limited on the percentage (e.g., 50%) of big trees that can removed from that lot.
Incentives: The tree code should include economic incentives to discourage the removal of BIG trees.

A big tree removal fee (e.g., $3,000 to $5,000 per tree) should be established for undeveloped or subdivided lots as an incentive to developers to retain as many big trees on the lot as possible.

Tree removal fees should be placed in a Tree Fund that is used by the city to improve the existing tree canopy.

Joe Scordino
Edmonds

  1. Thank you for a well thought out statement, which shows a knowledge of the issue, the abuses and considered remedies.
    Refreshing.

  2. Thank you for your work on this Joe. The specifics you provide should make it easy for the council and staff to improve the code.
    Your recommendations also give guidance to those of us who want to encourage improvements to the code, but aren’t sure what to ask for. Input from scientists like you is extremely valuable.

  3. Thank you for your work on this Joe. The specifics you provide should make it easy for the council and staff to improve the code.
    Your recommendations also give guidance to those of us who want to encourage changes to the code, but aren’t sure what to ask for. Input from scientists like you is extremely helpful.

  4. Thank you Joe for your specific concerns on the draft tree code. I totally agree that the current draft code is inadequate, especially in preserving Edmonds tree canopy for native tree species and larger diameter trees. I am writing each of the city council members and intend to reference your letter as supporting guidance on the multiple shortcomings in the written draft.

  5. “Permits should not be issued for removal of big trees on developed parcels except in instances of public safety or where trees are impacting utilities.”

    Not sure what the intent of this is. My lot is covered in trees that either I or the previous owner planted since the house was built in 1984. Back in the 90’s my wife and I decided to replace much of the lawn with trees/planters and we also decided to let the landscape trees grow. We’ve got a couple of live Christmas trees we planted in the yard that would now qualify as “big trees”.

    There is at least one aspen and a maple that are growing close to the house and will eventually have to be heavily pruned or taken down. Are you saying I should not be allowed to cut any of those trees that I planted myself to improve the yard? Are you saying I will have to hire a consultant to prove to the City that it is reasonable to take those trees down? I don’t plan to but this proposed prohibition on tree cutting seems awfully intrusive.

    I hope the City does not adopt this heavy handed provision of your recommendations. The intent of the tree code should be to encourage more trees to be planted, not to penalize those of us who already did the right thing and planted a lot of trees.

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