March 18, 2002
London planes' wild days in the sun end
By Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
In a show of grandeur every spring, the London plane trees in downtown Woodinville leaf into billowing clouds of greenery at the intersection of 140th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 175th Street. Drivers cruising by in cars may not realize that the imposing trees that cast a splendor of shade in summer also cast a shadow of trouble year 'round. The 80 London planes that line the streets at the intersection have outgrown their planting spaces.
People will notice, if they look closely, the damage the trees' roots have inflicted on the adjacent roadways and sidewalks. Exhibiting the signs of the roots' punishment, sections of the streets and walkways appear contorted, cracked, bent and buckled. In addition, the trees' canopy has created havoc of its own as the branches reach into the overhead utility wires.
In an effort to rein in the reckless roots and branches, the City of Woodinville implemented measures to control the damage and hired a maintenance crew to prune the roots and set root barriers in place. Arborist Ian MacCallum came on board to serve as an advisor during the pruning process. Still, the improvements didn't contain the roots bent on destruction. Says Becky Perkins, senior city planner, "The roots are still buckling the sidewalks."
Perkins explains that the London planes have been a valuable asset to the city since they were planted in the late-'70s. Their vigorous and aggressive growth however, continues to present a problem to sidewalks, streets and power lines.
"There just isn't the space for those trees," Perkins says of the London planes, currently standing 40 and 50 feet high and continuing to grow.
The Tree Board, five citizens and business owners who advise the City Council on tree matters, has monitored the downtown tree situation for the past five years. The Council along with the Board realized tree replacement was the only remedy and proposed a long-term plan called the 140th/175th Master Streetscape Plan. The Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed the Board's recommendations.
In a public open house held last September, and again later at a "Make the Connection" meeting at Big Foot Bagels, the community had a chance to take a look at the Board's proposed plan. The public's comments were supportive overall, though one citizen expressed a desire to save the London planes and another asked who would pay for the improvements.
On Monday, March 11, the City Council gave their official approval and adopted the Streetscape Plan. "This plan is a conceptual tree replacement plan for the London planes whenever the city decides to replace the sidewalks," says Perkins. The Tree Board identified several species that might take the place of the London planes: magnolia kobus, katsura and chanticleer flowering pear.
The magnolia kobus blossoms into a shower of white flowers in early spring. "A really pretty white tree," Perkins remarks. The katsura is a showstopper in the fall when it bursts into a blaze of brilliant orange-reds and lemon yellows. The vhanticleer flowering pear also makes a colorful show in the fall with an artistic contrast of dark green and purplish red.
In discussing the reasons the trees were recommended, Perkins says, "They were chosen for their size, shape and fit within given constraints. And, for their hardiness to survive in an urban environment." Their vibrant color was another significant factor in their selection as ideal replacement trees.
Perkins says that the ground cover beneath the trees may also be replaced with ornamental plants.
Says Perkins, "The city wants to beautify the intersection and make it special."
To create the specialness, the Streetscape Plan incorporates design concepts. City Consultant Jamie VanDeVanter helped develop the plan's design, which includes leaf etchings in meandering walkways, colored concrete and decorative plantings like Japanese maples.
Currently under consideration is whether to install the utilities underground at the intersection. Puget Sound Energy has provided a conceptual cost estimate for the work, which totals more than $650,000 with the city's responsibility at 70 percent of the cost.
For the time being, though, the city focuses on the decision of whether to remove all of the London planes at once or gradually over time in a graceful transition.
One thing seems certain, though. The London planes' wild days in the sun, interfering with power lines and cracking sidewalks, will soon come to an end.
For Woodinville residents interested in serving on the Tree Board, a vacancy is available.
Contact Senior City Planner Becky Perkins at (425) 489-2757 ext. 2283 for further information.