Residents weigh in on draft tree code; council agrees to more discussion next week

The Edmonds City Council, city staff and Mayor Mike Nelson listen Tuesday night to residents’ testimony on the draft tree code.

The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night held a public hearing on draft tree regulations and took another look at a proposed ordinance that would allow hotels as a permitted use on the city’s waterfront — but didn’t make a decision on either item.

The council had discussed the draft tree code at its Jan. 26 meeting, and on Tuesday residents had a chance to comment on the proposal

The proposed code aims to improve tree retention with new development on private property. It would also implement low-impact development principles, would establish a tree fund into which development contributions or tree penalties can be tracked — with the proceeds spent on tree planting and preservation — and provide updates to definitions, the city’s existing permitting process and the penalties for tree cutting.

With a focus on trees impacted by new development, the priorities are first, to retain existing trees; second, to replace trees that are removed; and third, to ensure developers pay for trees that are removed but not replaced — otherwise known as a “fee-in-lieu of” option — at a cost of $1,000 per tree.

City staff has said that the draft tree code regulations won’t be enough to prevent further tree loss;  instead, it will be key for the city to incentivize planting trees on private property, such as through a tree giveaway program or providing tree vouchers.

The current proposal doesn’t address tree regulations for existing private properties. It instead focuses on clearcutting for development because, staff said, that was the primary concern expressed by residents. The city has acknowledged that other steps would need to be taken to further protect and enhance Edmonds’ tree canopy, possibly including a “heritage trees program” to recognize significant trees citywide, plus financial incentives — such as a reduction in property taxes or stormwater or utilities fees —  that the city could provide homeowners to ensure trees are retained.

During the public hearing, opinions ranged from those who didn’t think the proposal went far enough in protecting the city’s tree canopy, to those who worried about the loss of water views if replanting involved trees that grew too tall. Larry Temple said that he and his wife moved to Edmonds 18 years ago, and they live in a 5th Avenue North condo that includes a view of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and the ferry. While Temple said he understands “the ecological need for trees, especially with global warming, we need to have something in there (the proposal) about tree heights.”

“The water is an asset that is unique to us,” Temple added. “They don’t have that in Mill Creek. In Mill Creek, their view is the trees. But here we really have something we need to protect, besides the trees.”

Offering a different view, Edmonds resident Marjie Fields — who described herself as “an acknowledged tree hugger,” said the code as written appears to be “a partial code” that is difficult to support because there is no timeline for when other important aspects of tree regulations — including those related to stormwater runoff and nuisance trees — will be added to the current proposal.

“I’m really worried about our great hopes for a meaningful tree code,” Fields added.

Bill Phipps, who serves on the Edmonds Tree Board but said he was speaking as a resident, encouraged the council to approve the current code and not “kick it on down the road,” adding “it’s a good start.” Phipps encouraged the council to set up a tree bank to plant replacement trees and establish a tree loss notification system so the city can track tree loss on private lots “to account for all the trees lost in Edmonds.”

Phipps also sought to reassure residents who feared the loss of their water views, adding “the aim of this tree code is not to plant large conifer trees in the Bowl area.”

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she believes the draft code needs more attention, and should be sent back ot the Edmonds Planning Board for further work. “Personally I don’t like to have a half-completed code,” Buckshnis said. It’s important that the code focuses on “net ecological gain” rather than “no net loss,” she added.

There were also concerns that delaying the code too long could be problematic because the council — in anticipation of tree code approval early in 2021 — passed in November 2020 a four-month moratorium on subdivisions containing eight or more “significant” trees per 10,000 square feet of lot size.

In the end, the council decided to discuss the tree code further at next week’s meeting.

The purple area represents the commercial waterfront zone, where the council is considering a change to the zoning codes to allow hotels.

The next topic on the agenda was a draft ordinance to amend the Edmonds Community Development Code to add “hotel” as a permitted use in the commercial waterfront (CW) zone.

The council had a presentation on this item a year ago — in February 2020 — as a recommendation from the Citizens Economic Development Commission, but no action was taken. The measure would amend the Edmonds Community Development Code to add “hotel” as a permitted use in the city’s commercial waterfront zone. The opportunity would only apply to existing office or residential buildings in the zone, if a property owner was interested in repurposing their building for that reason.

Economic Development Director Patrick Doherty noted that revisiting this idea now makes sense because the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic could necessitate a change in building use. For example, Doherty said, an office building owner who experienced a drop in tenant lease renewals because employees are continuing to work from home could be interested in transitioning to a hotel, and the city wants to be ready to accommodate such a plan.

Councilmembers agreed that while the idea had merit, they wanted to have further discussion on it before taking a vote.

In other action, the council recognized the work of the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission, which approved 15 recommendations at its Jan. 28 final meeting for the council’s future consideration. There were also seven policy proposals that the council could consider later, Development Director Shane Hope said.

Recommendations included policies for neighborhood villages, different housing types, vehicle parking, city programs and partnerships. The council will review each policy– with more research and public input — over the next year before deciding whether to implement any of them, Hope said.

The city council established the Housing Commission in 2019 to develop, for council consideration, “diverse housing policy options designed to expand the range of housing (including rental and owned) available in Edmonds—irrespective of age, gender, race, religious affiliation, physical disability, or sexual orientation.” The commission consisted of 15 members and eight alternates — all local residents — appointed from different areas of the city after a community-wide application process.

Information on the Housing Commission and its recommendations can be found at

Edmonds photographer Bill Anderson, left, received a standing ovation during the Dec. 3, 2019 council meeting for his efforts to photograph the Edmonds Marsh and its wildlife. (My Edmonds News file photo)

Finally, at the end of the meeting Mayor Mike Nelson announced the passing of beloved nature photographer Bill Anderson, who died Tuesday morning atfter a long battle with cancer. The city in December 2019 honored Anderson — a long-time contributor to My Edmonds News — for his work to photograph the Edmonds Marsh and its wildlife. Anderson received a standing ovation during the meeting after then-Mayor Dave Earling proclaimed Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 as Bill Anderson Day in Edmonds. The proclamation acknowledged the efforts of Anderson — assisted by his son Daren — to capture the beauty of the marsh and document its environmental contribution to the area. Anderson was also recognized for his long-time volunteer service with Puget Sound Bird Fest. Watch for a separate story on Anderson, coming soon.

— By Teresa Wippel


  1. Bill Anderson was a treasure to this City. I want to thank Carolyn LaFave and former Mayor Earling for making this proclamation happen. I know Bill was so honored to be given that proclamation and was so modest as we worked on it. He told me he was “giddy” for days as he celebrated this award with many who contacted him. What a remarkable, talented, and patient man and his photographs will live on. Prayers to you Pauline and Daren.

  2. Regarding the Trees in Edmonds: I wonder why we seem unable or unwilling to manage the trees we have for a healthy life cycle.
    So many trees are becoming wrapped with ivy. I am told this eventually suffocates the tree to premature death. Can we include this oversight in our ongoing tree policy?

    1. Totally agree Ray. As a city, we chose the water view over the tree view about 3/4’s of a Century ago. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Even if you save some big trees now, they will be cut down or mutilated fairly soon, anyway, because they will come to threaten the 5000 sq. ft. homes on 1000 square foot lots that are all the rage in modern Edmonds. I do like the idea of an on going volunteer tree or horticultural advisory board where we can go for advice on what to plant, especially in terms of what is native and natural to the Northwest, yet smaller and low growing. I also like the idea of trying to preserve some of the last woodlands in total, instead of developing them with the most and largest houses we can on the smallest amount of land per house possible. We have over done that model in my opinion. I see that model is now also popular in the desert S.W. (where I’m temporarily hanging out) which really blows my mind. Long term locals here derisively call it “California housing.”

  3. I should have stated during last night’s city council meeting one more fact. The city has adopted a 30 foot height limit to build in the downtown area of Edmonds, in part to help preserve views of our sound and mountains. It seems compatible to adopt a similar height restriction for trees that grow beyond the tops of buildings and encroach on views. This would help stop new view blockage. Even former Mayor Naughten wrote in the Beacon the need for such limits because people do not always do the neighborly act of trimming trees that benefit their neighbor’s view.

  4. In my opinion, I agree with Ray Martin, Larry Temple and former Mayor Naughten regarding the need for height limits of trees. We have a neighbor that purposely blocks three houses (who have been neighbors with for the past 25-30 years). Their goal seems to be to block views by continuing to plant trees that will reach heights of 55’ and more. Yes , restrictions should have a limit, there are several tree varieties that can provide privacy without blocking views. Becoming a friendly neighbor rather than a thoughtless one would a better choice. What are they saying about themselves?

    1. Personally, I have a real problem with our city code becoming a substitute HOA for home owners disgruntled about the height of their neighbor’s trees or the city leaders seeing themselves the “guardians” of home owner’s views and property values. The line between good code and zoning; and government intrusion into what should be private matters is a fine one. If you want to live where there is an HOA, you need to move to such a community.

  5. I was noticing that I had not seen any photos lately from Bill and I am so sorry to hear this sad news. My sincerest condolences to his family. He will be missed.

  6. Mr. Phipps is absolutely right. And, of the 10% of those water views only about 3% or less aren’t the result of cutting down large forest type trees to create the so called water views. Left to it’s own devices, mother nature would cancel out most of our precious views in about a century or so. It’s a little late to start saving forest size trees, but we are Edmonds and we will try, whether it makes sense or not. Fines, more laws, and intrusive government are the way to go for sure.

  7. Since Edmonds has a building height limit for the bowl that helps preserve views, there should be a compatible tree height limit. Other surrounding areas may not need the height limitations where views are not compromised, but the bowl does have fantastic views to preserve. The proposed tree code seems very punitive for residents who may not have checked the diameter of their shrubs in their yard before trimming or replacing them. Many yards feature rhododendrons, Laurel hedges or Pyramidal Arborvitae and should not fear being fined if they didn’t get a permit to work on shrubs with a 6″ diameter. It seems city government will infringe on property owners ability to choose their landscape design such as replacing shrubs with a patio or deck. There may not be room to plant the required replacement shrubs or trees as proposed in the new code. Permits or fines for landscape improvement seems problematic.

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