City launches tree code update process with focus on private property

City of Edmonds Urban Forest Planner Deb Powers led the meeting.

A fresh look at the Edmonds tree code began Monday evening with a hybrid public meeting attended by 30 citizens – 20 live, 10 virtual – marking the first step in the city’s effort to retool its approach to managing Edmonds’ urban forest.

The meeting was hosted by City of Edmonds Urban Forest Planner Deb Powers and included consultant representatives from PlanIT Geo. The session provided an overview of the issues, questions and enhancements that need to be addressed, collected input from attendees via breakout groups, and concluded with a look at next steps and the project timeline.

“The Urban Forest Management Plan is part of our compliance with the Growth Management Act (RCW 36-70A), and is the guiding document that underlies not just our efforts to develop an appropriate tree code, but encompasses everything that is part of working toward a sustainable urban forest,” Powers explained. “It’s not a law, but rather a roadmap to achieving a sustainable urban forest that will provide optimal benefits to the community.  It looks at a 20-year horizon, comes up for review every five years, and forms part of the overall city Comprehensive Plan. And all of these require citizen input and involvement.

“Tonight is the first working meeting where we will hear your feedback about what is important to you as we move forward with modifications to the tree code,” she continued. “We’ve already been through the proposals and made minor changes like correcting typos and inconsistencies, and we’re now ready to look at more significant amendments – and that’s why we’re talking to you.”

Part of Monday’s discussion included an overview of the reasons and rationale for managing Edmonds’ urban forest.

Powers went on to explain that the existing tree code is directed at developers and new construction, pointing out that these regulations left trees on private property largely unaddressed.

“Because the majority of trees in our community are on private property, we need to include these in any meaningful urban forest management plan,” she added.

Explaining that this may be viewed as phase two of the overall tree code development process, she outlined the immediate questions that need to be answered in revising the current code:

1. Should there be limits on property owner tree removals?

2. What minor changes are required to clean up the current code?

3. Where can it be simplified and clarified? For example:

  • Where can it be better aligned with industry standards?
  • Can the review process be streamlined?
  • Where is further interpretation needed to clarify vague areas of the code?

She stressed that the effort does not mean a do-over of the current code, rather just changes to extend and make it adaptable to trees on private property.

Specific questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Should the city allow a limited number of removals?
  • Should there be a wait time between removals?
  • How should the city address landmark trees?
  • What should trigger permit and other fees?
  • Should there be a minimum number of existing trees on a property?
  • Should replacement trees be required?
Initial polling results from attendees on their opinion of the current tree code yielded this pie chart.

She next introduced the consultant project team from PlanIT Geo, which guided attendees through an electronic polling process as the first step collecting baseline public input. The process allowed those attending virtually to participate equally with those present in person. It considered questions on the relative importance of equitable tree cover, tree protection during construction, and whether there should be any codes/restrictions on privately owned trees.

Results from instant polling of attendees on several key questions.
Live attendees were able to respond to the instant poll via a smartphone app interface that allowed them to rate their answers on a sliding scale.

The group polling was followed by breakout sessions where small groups discussed and reported back, giving their input on three key issues:

1. What is one thing you’d change about the tree code relating to development activity?

2. What is one thing you’d change about the tree code relating to private owner tree removal?

3. What role do you think the city should have in managing tree activities?

Breakout groups consider public vs. private tree regulations, and the appropriate role of the city.
Breakout groups gather to consolidate their input.

Due to time constraints, not all breakout groups were able to report back. Those that did cited the need to revisit the fee structure, how the codes would be enforced, and how to balance the property rights of the owner with the need to manage the urban forest for all.

The steps leading to the anticipated adoption of revised tree codes by the Edmonds City Council in third quarter 2023.

Powers stressed that Monday’s session was just the beginning of the survey process. To involve as many citizens as possible, the survey continues online through May 19. She urges community members to visit the project website and take the survey. Results will be tabulated by consultants PlanIt Geo and will be provided to the Edmonds Planning Board and City Council to inform their deliberations. You can directly link to the survey by scanning this QR code:

The survey is now available online to all citizens for input.

During the last few minutes of the meeting, Powers outlined the next steps in the project, including a timeline for the coming months. This includes bringing survey data to the Edmonds Planning Board, which will develop initial proposals to amend the existing code, a second community conversation in mid-May, a planning board public hearing in mid-June, and a city council public hearing in July. Adoption of revised codes is possible sometime in the third quarter of 2023.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. That’s just wonderful. But you really need to do something about view protection. There are people in the city that plant spite trees just to be nasty.

    1. Speaking as a home owner in the City of Edmonds, it is my opinion that, as such, I should be the sole determinate regarding trees on my property. If I decide that a tree, or trees, are interfering with the enjoyment of my property, I should have the ability, without limitation, to contract for removal. My trees may represent a cosmetic value to others, but a danger or nuisance to me. Please do not place restrictions on private property owners.

      1. Your trees are part of an ecosystem. What you do with trees on your property affects not just you, but the web of life around you too. Sustaining quality of life on this planet requires people to think beyond themselves, beyond the individual level, to how their actions affect the complex web of life we all are part of.

  2. Prediction: regardless of the polling results, citizen input, planning board recommendations, or public hearings – the code update will seek to limit the removal of trees on people’s private property.

  3. I have been planting, and continue planting, young cedars and firs in corners of my properties in an attempt to compensate for the loss of trees in our neighborhood. My trees may obstruct some views in a couple of decades, but they will absorb carbon, reduce soil runoff, provide a modicum of lost shading and cooling, provide nesting and food for declining bird and wildlife populations, and encourage the grandkids to appreciate, first hand what one can do to help control devastation from the coming heat waves, freezes, windstorms and increased flooding. How about everyone in Edmonds plant a tree for each child and grandchild! Show you’re doing something for their future world!

  4. The very concept of Edmonds, as a useful city, has been based on cutting down trees for at least one of two reasons – profits or views; most often a combination of the two reasons as time wore on. Personally, I think replacing our tree canopy is a ship that has pretty much sailed and the tree board and new rules against most cutting are more of a nuisance than a help. That means we will most likely embrace the idea with open arms.

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