October 5, 1998
Council set to tighten tree regulations
Proposal would add red tape for some who want to clear more than five large trees
by Andrew Walgamott
WOODINVILLE--Marsha Engel has had enough with urban clearcutting, and now she's doing something about it.
The Woodinville councilwoman is firmly behind a movement that would give higher priority to tree retention when new development occurs in town.
Engel also supports making it tougher for property owners to cut down large numbers of alders and Douglas firs and all other deciduous and coniferous trees, of a certain size.
"At long last, after much valuable time of the Tree Board, an arborist, the City Council and staff," Engel said at the Sept. 28 council meeting, "we finally have an ordinance that is a giant step in defining and retaining trees in Woodinville ... I'm thrilled."
What has irked her is watching trees disappear near her home and downtown. She says trees have been logged to make way for higher density housing in her neighborhood. And she watched this year as the city's own regulations pushed a building's layout out to the street, effectively signing the death warrants for two trees along 140th Ave. N.E.
But Engel also concedes that the new regulations would add red tape for some of those who live and work in Woodinville.
"For those who want to clearcut without a thought for their neighbors, yeah, [it's more red tape] but for the average person, this should cause no problem at all," a testy Engel said later last week.
Here's how it would work. Under the proposed ordinance, developers would present a tree retention plan at the first stages of their project. "Significant" trees, those with diameters of at least 8-inches at four-feet high, would be given priority during site design.
"It does give the Planning Director the authority to require sites be redesigned" to preserve required percentages of trees, said Stephanie Cleveland, city planner.
While Councilwoman Barbara Solberg said she believed preserving trees is important, she worried that retaining trees could raise the price of building a new home.
"We're so concerned about affordable housing, but have we furthered that, or pushed it further away?"
If preserving trees increases development costs more than say 25 percent, applicants would be exempted. The ordinance also says trees can be replaced.
Though the city's Planning Commission excluded existing single family residential from new regulations, the Council has included them.
Under the proposal, a homeowner couldn't cut more than five significant trees a year on their property without an approved "land surface modification permit."
Cleveland said that means a land owner will have to apply for a grading permit, show what they are taking out and how it will be replaced if they're cutting more than five and pay a fee. Dean McKee, Permit Center director, said a fee schedule had yet to be worked out between his and the planning department.
Clauses still would allow unhealthy and dangerous trees to be taken down.
The penalty for a homeowner taking down more than five significant trees would be a $250 civil fine, or a criminal fine of $5,000 and/or a year in jail, according to Wayne Tanaka, city attorney.
The situation presents two interesting conundrums: one on what residents may do to their trees, and the second between the city's vision and its goals.
Asked if residents wouldn't purposefully kill trees or cut them before they grew to 8-inches, Engel said, "I don't think there will be a backlash. I think people love trees. They will keep them in their landscapes."
The Comprehensive Plan envisions a Woodinville in 2015 where "we have preserved our Northwest woodlands character." The city's guiding principles says, "...the role of government should be conducted in such a manner as to ensure only limited intrusion into the lives of the people it's designed to serve."
"You're absolutely right," agreed Cleveland on the riddle. "The trick is to find a balance between letting the private citizen live how they want and protecting the community as a whole."
Engel argues that trees not only impact one piece of property, but its neighbors and community as a whole. Beyond the obvious benefits of providing habitat and clean air and preventing erosion, she cited a radio report that said trees may also pull impurities out of the soil.
"Frank Lloyd Wright had the right idea; build around trees. We don't need to clearcut them," Engel said.
The council had first reading last week. Second reading, meaning putting into law, is set for Oct. 12.