Story and photos by Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
What can you – and can’t you – do with, and about, street trees by your home?
The answers may soon change in Seattle. City Arborist Nolan Rundquist (pictured) shared the city’s proposed Street Tree Ordinance with an audience last night at High Point Community Center.
A “Street Tree” is any tree located in a city right-of-way such as parking strips (or “planting strips”) in front of homes and businesses, or traffic circles. These trees, though on city property, are required by law to be maintained by the property owner. While there currently are laws dictating how trees should be maintained and protected, they aren’t particularly clear, or enforceable. Since then-Mayor Greg Nickels introduced his Urban Forestry Management Plan in 2007, the city has been looking at ways to better maintain, and even increase the tree count in Seattle.
The city is asking for the public’s input for the new ordinances being drafted now. If you have a home with trees on the parking strip, or on a city right-of-way, let the city know what you need to keep your trees healthy and maintained.
Rundquist discussed the confusion that often occurs regarding where responsibility lies for tree care: with the homeowner or the city. The proposed new ordinance clarifies areas of responsibility, and will go further to define what a homeowner is able to do (such as pruning of branches less than 2” in diameter, or pruning of branches greater than 2” in diameter with a permit) and it defines when a certified arborist needs to be used.
Tree protection is of utmost importance, and the ordinance will place stricter fines on the destruction of trees, either during construction, or removal without a permit.
One audience member asked about public education regarding the new regulations. Rundquist said that they are working with Seattle Public Utilities and other avenues to find community outreach opportunities.
Other questions included how to appeal the City Arborist’s decision on a tree (answer: take it to the SDOT director) and what will be done with a street-tree stump at the SW corner of California/Alaska (answer: SDOT will take a look at it).
As part of this process, the city is creating a map of tree inventory showing City property trees and private property trees. According to Rundquist, 99.9% of SDOT trees are mapped, and they are responsible for the care of these trees. 60-70% of trees on private property are mapped and it will be the property owner’s responsibility to maintain those trees. This map should be available by the first of the year
If you would like to provide input on the new ordinance, you have multiple chances; Rundquist will be holding four more public meetings around the city (listed here), and is happy to come to any community council or neighborhood meeting to discuss the new rules. To schedule him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206.684-TREE (8733).
To read the ordinance and provide online input, go to this just-activated page on the city website.
Comments are being accepted through January 20th and SDOT has until January 31st to respond. The comment period may be extended, depending on the volume of public input.
Rundquist underscores the importance of this public interaction period, saying: “Trees are such a valuable resource in the city, we want to get folks doing the right thing for protection and care for trees.”