After years of discussion, citizen feedback and rewrites, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved a set of new regulations aimed at retaining existing trees during development on private property in Edmonds. The council also passed an interim emergency six-month ordinance prohibiting the removal of trees greater than 24 inches in diameter from any private property unless those trees are deemed hazardous.
The latter measure, proposed by Council President Susan Paine and Councilmember Laura Johnson, is aimed at giving the council time to work on additional, more detailed tree regulations to be included in city code. That additional effort — which staff outlined as stage 2 of a two-stage process for updating the city’s tree regulations — is expected to take several months, including review by the Edmonds Planning Board.
While that stage 2 work is being done, the emergency prohibition on removal of larger “heritage trees” — defined as 24 inches in diameter at breast height — would “at least save the big trees,” Development Director Shane Hope said.
The emergency measure is effective immediately. The council will hold a public hearing April 20 to determine whether it should be continued for the full six months.
The emergency ordinance does not cover the removal of trees on properties that are going through a permitted development, such as a project that has a building permit, subvision or land use approval. “This is trying to get to other areas where people are just choosing to cut trees for various reasons,” Hope said.
“This does preserve our biggest trees and it’ll also to a large extent I hope maintain our status quo with what we have right now,” Paine said. “And it allows us to focus on finishing up our subdivision tree code and it also allows us to gather the resources and the planning and the other things that we do need for our city to have an effective urban forestry program and management of that.”
Due to the length of Tuesday night’s discussion on the stage 1 tree regulations, during which several amendments were debated, the council decided to approve the new tree code as amended so far –with the idea of potentially amending it further next week. The council also voted to extend by two weeks a four-month moratorium — passed in November 2020 — on subdivision applications citywide that contain eight or more “significant” trees per 10,000 square feet of lot size. That moratorium had been scheduled to expire March 10, which is the date of the council’s next meeting. It now expires March 24.
Stage 1 regulations approved Tuesday will:
-Strengthen tree retention and protection as development occurs.
-Set priorities for tree retention.
-Strengthen tree replacement requirements;
-Establish a fee-in-lieu replacement program.
-Clarify permitting exemption for single-family properties.
-Establish a tree fund and allowable uses for it;
-Strengthen civil penalties for tree violations.
-Provide opportunity for conservation subdivisions to achieve more tree retention through some site design flexibility.
Under stage 2, the city will conduct a new tree canopy assessment at a cost of $25,000, which will be funded under a budget amendment the council approved Tuesday night. That assessment will help the city determine “exactly where we are in terms of our tree canopy and what other things can or should be done,” Development Director Hope said.
Other items identified for stage 2 include creation of a heritage tree program, development of incentive programs for retaining trees, open space acquisition, and possible regulations for tree retention on private property. Once the council priorities are identified, there will also be an assessment of staffing and resources necessary for carrying them out, Hope said. Additional topics for inclusion in stage 2 could be a focus on view and wildlife corridors, a tree giveway program, and a public education campaign.
In other action Tuesday night, the council recognized the contributions of late Edmonds Port Commissioner Mary Lou Block, reviewed the city’s 2021 carryforward budget amendment and received a 2020 year-end finance presentation. A scheduled update on the public process for the 4th Avenue Cultural Corridor was postponed to a future meeting.
— By Teresa Wippel