Tree harvest draws ire of Hollywood Hill residents

What was supposed to be a fairly routine falling of a few Cottonwood trees on private property and on Hollywood Hill Association (HHA) land in 10 Acre Park in early June, has turned into an eyesore. The incident left a barber chair stump on a cedar tree, foliage scattered about, and violations filed against the homeowner who contracted the work.

“As I walked through the park, I couldn’t believe the destruction and the mess of so much debris left without being removed,” said Marilyn Nelson. “It didn’t seem like the trees that were near the homeowner’s property were diseased or needed to be taken down. A lot of neighbors were appalled and outraged as I read their postings on the Hollywood Hill Neighbors Group on Facebook.”

Hollywood Hill residents were also left questioning if the HHA granted the homeowner permission to harvest the trees, wondering if he had filed a permit to do so, if trespassing was an issue and why he didn’t clean up the mess.

“He (property owner) was given permission to cut several cottonwoods inside the 10 Acre Woods,” said Michael Tanksley, president of HHA. “I count a total of nine cottonwoods cut — three were on the HHA property — four were on his property, and two are essentially straddling the property line, as best we can tell without a formal survey.”

Tanksley said the homeowner wasn’t authorized, however, to fall the trees in the manner in which they were.

“There was no permission granted to fell trees from his property into the HHA property in any manner, much less how they were felled,” Tanksley said. “It was a tree felled from outside the property into the HHA property that caused the most collateral damage by knocking over a large cedar.”

On June 5, King County Code Enforcement Officer LaDonna Whalen stationed with the Department of Local Services Permitting Division in Snoqualmie received a letter informing the agency of a complaint about a bunch of trees that appeared to be cut down inside the 10 Acre Park tract.

The complaint also stated the trees felled left debris strewn about, that there had been no obvious effort to clean up the mess, and hinted the harvesting of trees may have happened without permission and questioned if permits were filed to take the trees down.

After making a trip to the scene to get a first-hand look and assess the situation, Whalen sent out letters on June 19 addressed to homeowners Michael and Danielle Wagner, 14339 172nd Ave NE in Redmond, and to the Hollywood Hill Association informing them an inspection of the property confirmed violations had taken place confirming neighbor’s suspicions.

The letter stated that clearing and/or grading without the required permits, inspections, and approvals within a Native Growth Protection Easement (NGPE) and/or its buffers violated King County Code Sections 16.82.050, 16.82.051, 16.82.150, and 21A.24.045.

The letter also listed means to correct the violations, which included applying for and obtaining the required permits, inspections and approvals, and gave specific deadlines to meet each one.

The first obligation Wagner has to meet is arranging for a pre-screening meeting with the Department of Permitting for Environmental Review (DPER) by August 19.

The second obligation requires Wagner to complete a clearing permit application within 30 days of the pre-screening meeting.

Whalen said applying for a permit does not ensure that a permit will be issued. She noted the applicant should be aware that permit fees can be expensive and zoning or critical area restrictions may require a variance or reasonable use exception to county regulations to legalize work done without permits.

She added application for a variance or reasonable use exception can be an expensive and time-consuming option and there is no guarantee that approval will be obtained.

The alternative, Whalen said, is to obtain a clearing/grading permit to restore the site to its original condition or as close to that condition as possible.

The letter also states her office will follow up to make sure the deadlines are met. If they are not, Wagner will be served a legal notice, also known as a Notice and Order, that requires compliance by a specific date.

If he fails to meet that date, Wagner will be subject to civil penalties that will be recorded against his property title. Whalen said Wagner can avoid the Notice and Order by entering into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement acknowledging the violations and agreeing to come into compliance by a specific date.

If Wagner does not meet that deadline, the county would hire a contractor to correct the violation and Wagner would have to incur the cost to do so or a lien would be filed against his property.

Tanksley said even though he permitted Wagner to cut some trees down on 10-Acre Woods property, the way he felled trees from his property onto HHA land could constitute trespassing. But he is willing to forgo the violation.

“Because the homeowner who contracted this work has been working diligently to rehabilitate the area, the HHA has no plans to file any charges,” Tanksley said. “It would seem that significant responsibility for how this action was carried out should fall on the contractor who, as a professional in the field, certainly knew better. But we are leaving that to the homeowner to pursue, if he chooses, at this point.

“Our objective is to clean up the site, on which significant progress has already been made, and plant this fall. If this is carried out properly and follow-up is accomplished to assure success with the plantings, then this site will recover quickly and be healthier for the removal of the grove of aging cottonwoods.”

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