Council OKs tree code; adopts emergency ordinance banning large-tree removal from private property

Development Services Director Shane Hope, at right-second row, discusses priorities for stage 2 tree regulation development.

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


  1. Commissioner Block was often referred as the “First Lady” of the Port. She was gracious and well loved. I had the honor to serve with Mary Lou and observe her awesome listening skills which were usually followed by a brilliant comment. Her background & knowledge was an asset to the Port. It was amazing to see her at large events, she knew everyone. They all spoke so highly of her.
    Truly a class act!

  2. I wonder if the temporary restriction regarding the cutting of trees larger than 24 inches will have unintended consequences with public “perceptions”? Many of the past concerns I have heard from private citizens are that they don’t want the government to tell them they cannot cut a tree on their property. So, now this announcement says that the developers can cut those trees (if the pay the tree code fine), but the private citizen cannot. The *perception* may be that their worries have come true. A free pass for developers and the hammer comes down in private citizens. Is this decision going to backfire with regards to public opinion? Just a question….

    To be clear; I am very supportive of all measures that control the cutting of mature trees and preserving our canopy. I am just concerned about how this decision is going to be interpreted.

  3. Was no consideration made or thought of that would permit the removal of or thinning of unhealthy trees?. As trees grow crowding can occur which makes trees sickly and weak.
    One sign of this is when a single branch or multiple branches have few or no leaves or needles. This can occur as more dirt is covered with paving. Trees often need more then a 2×2 hole in the sidewalk to be healthy.
    I think a moratorium on any tree disturbance is a good idea and some education on the longer term benefits would be appropriate here.
    If regulations are being considered, please let’s get some education from informed sources like the Forestry program at the UW.
    Perhaps our own resident John Rubinconeg could help here.

  4. Thank you Teresa for helping the public understand this very complicated tree code process. Even after attending a council meeting myself, I often find your synthesis of events to be helpful.

  5. So developers can still rape the land? Developers are the problem. They but normal size lots. Then they strip the lot bare. They cut every tree and shrub. Then on a lot meant for one. They build as many as six ugly monster boxes. That is the problem that the city seems to have ignored.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly John. The so called ‘developers’ are the biggest issue around here. They care about nothing BUT THE PROFITS. They build these things so quickly and cheap that I seriously doubt they will last 20 years then slap a million dollar price tag on them. After all no one can make money off of trees or single family dwellings. This town encourages this desecration by passing regs that give the developers carte Blanche. Almost insisting they buy single family dwellings, tear them down, rip out hundred year old trees and slap up half a dozen boxes all with the City’s blessing. Gotta grab every last tax dollar they can to pay for their consultants. I’m afraid that the Edmonds I have known and loved as have countless others is quickly going the way of Kirkland and Ballard. It really is sad to see this happening here. If this council really cared about the city and it’s residents they would ban developer altogether.

  6. Speaking of unintended consequences: I’d hate to be a 23″ diameter tree right now on someone’s private property that the owner was considering “I wonder if I should take down that tree one day?” Such a tree would have a potentially short remaining life. Without this moratorium maybe the tree would stand… Just a hypothetical.

  7. What will the city’s liability be if a large branch comes down, or even a tree, and damages a neighbor’s house? Or even the owner’s home? Will the home owners insurance company state that the city didn’t allow the home owners to remove the tree so any damage caused by the tree is the responsibility of the city?

  8. And, of course, everyone knows that big,tall old hemlocks are rotten at the core, often with the bark and a thin layer of wood holding them up.
    A few years ago during a not so bad storm a big old hemlock came down and through the roof into the bedroom of a lady that had just gotten up from taking a nap with a newborn. This was on 95th and 216th.
    So I’m just telling you where trees are concerned beware of the canopy you wish for.

    1. Well the council did miss inform the public on this before , look at previous council meetings. And this was all started by a group to save Perrinville woods and now we as home owner that have trees that we want gone can’t .And our city thinks that’s ok dig into this and you will see who started this mess .

  9. This is saddening as a citizen, tax payer, and home owner, I should have the right to my land and make my own decisions. I could understand if one chose to live in a community with a HOA or purchased knowing there were CCRs yet placing a restriction on all residents is excessive. If I choose to cut down a tree for any reason (health, construction, view, etc.) I should be able to without requiring the City’s approval. They’ve overstepped their authority and we should reject and raise concerns related to this ordinance.

    John and Joe raise valid arguments which highlight the priority of the City which can be viewed as continued economic development and revenue generation than prioritizing the voice of the people and addressing the root cause which is developers ability to clear lots.

    1. I used to be a confirmed liberal Democrat. This mayor and city council have turned me into a just slightly left of center, Independent. The unbelievable and comical decisions coming out of the interactions of this group are monumental.

      I laughed myself to tears with Darrel’s letter and the comments following. Thank goodness for the three CMs who still exhibit a little common sense at times. Hopefully we can choose a couple more in the next round to help them out a little.

  10. I think this is an overreach of government – and I am for a strong government. People should be able to decide what kind of trees they want on their private property. There are so many decisions to consider when deciding what trees to keep on your own property – light, use of the space, etc and often backyard landscapes were poorly planned to begin with so changing them just makes the most sense. I have seen many yards that just were not planned well, either due to lack of knowledge or prob for most people just tight purse strings. A small tree planted 40-50 years ago to fill a yard after clear cutting or b/c it “looked good” may not make any sense now that it sits 50-80 ft tall. For example we have a huge tree that drips sap all summer long onto our patio area next to the house. This tree when it was planted 40 years ago prob seemed right for the first 10 years. But now its position makes absolutely no sense for us or our neighbors in our back yard. We limbed it last Spring hoping to save it – but I now wish I had taken it down b/c we realized that it continues to cause all kinds of problems. No homeowner would plant this tree in this place if they had any understanding of how tall or problematic this tree would become. Forcing people to keep these trees makes no sense to me. And on another note – living in the Northwest is very difficult for many of us with seasonal effective disorder, many of our yards are heavily shaded by the large evergreens, the City not allowing people the right to remove some for extra sunlight is an abuse of power.

  11. Totally Agree with Darrell Marmion – 23″ trees are doomed! We have 9 tall Doug Fir trees on our property and never seriously considered cutting them down until this governmental over-reach nonsense. Private property owners should have the right to decide what’s best for their own property . We love trees and would hate to cut them down but may do so just to avoid any problems in the future. Most people know that mature trees greatly enhance the value and enjoyment of their property and are happy to plant new ones and watch them grow over the years. Trees grow quickly in this area and our entire neighborhood is full of trees. Now we may not even want to plant new trees to avoid any issues in the future with even stricter regulations! Keep Edmonds Trees Free!

    1. The council seems very uninformed regarding the SAFETY of large trees. We purchased a home here 5 years ago with very large trees that were topped in the 1970’s and now have huge double tops, already making them unstable. We have already removed some as they were dangerous and planned on more this year. It is very expensive to do so and needs to be budgeted for as had already spent $8000. So the city has destroyed our plans with no regard to TOPPED EVERGREENS. EVERGREENS should never be topped so why is there no accommodation for these already dangerous trees . You cannot fix them , they were ruined 50 years ago.
      But a house was built near me on Olympic View Drive and Cherry street on over 1/2 acre lot and every single tree was removed by the builder and one home built. Such hypocrisy. The city of Edmonds could have long ago required builders to retain a percentage of large healthy trees. Now the solution….dump it on the tax paying homeowners and we can just hold our breath no one is injured or killed. My neighborhood is full of large trees already, the BOWL is not. A one size fits all policy does not work. And of course the city has been able to create alot more CITY JOBS for themselves. I know of no one that would not agree to plant a tree when one is removed, an appropriately sized tree. You will now encourage people to not take care of their large trees because of all the hassle and huge extra expense for city fees. And all the smaller trees will now get cut down to avoid them getting larger and this is your plan? Our property, our decision.

  12. So how would the tree police prove the size of the tree without entering private property or inspecting the rounds while being removed, with a search warrant?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.