UPDATE: $11,000 pricetag for a tree in another West Seattle cutting case

(UPDATED 3:37 PM with city reply to our followup inquiry)

(WSB photo, November 2015)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

One of the discussion threads woven through the West Seattle tree-cutting case these past two weeks has been the monetary value of a tree.

In another West Seattle case, it appears that value has been set at $11,000.

You might recall the reader video last November 15th showing a big red cedar cut on a Sunday morning on the future site of the 4532 42nd SW mixed-use development (immediately north of the Junction QFC).

That was a week and a half after a Southwest Design Review Board meeting regarding the project, in which board members said they’d like to see the development preserve the tree; the team working for developer Mark Braseth disagreed, and Braseth went on to take down the tree, saying when we asked for comment that it and two others were allowed to be removed without a permit because they weren’t “exceptional.” (The cedar had been measured at just under the 30″ baseline.)

Four weeks later, the city told WSB they had determined that Braseth had violated city law by removing 6″-or-greater trees on an undeveloped lot without a permit. From there, the issue was to be what the penalty would be.

During the public comment period at City Hall during yesterday’s Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries, and Waterfront Committee meeting, which took up the issue of “tree stewardship” – including the newly notorious Duwamish Head Greenbelt cutting – we heard for the first time that the city had settled on a price: $11,000, when Mary Fleck from the WS-founded Seattle Green Spaces Coalition mentioned it. Later in the day, District 1 City Councilmember Lisa Herbold – who had been following up – forwarded us the city e-mail trail. Highlights:

Herbold had jumped in to start following up in December, even before taking office. Finally in February, the city planning department – now the Department of Construction and Inspections – replied to her:

The applicant has been talking to the Parks Dept. about the best way to contribute money that can be designated for West Seattle parks improvements. They are also working on revisions to their site plan and will need to go back to the design review board but have not scheduled that yet. Nathan (Torgelson, department director) has asked Faith (Lumsden, code compliance director) to negotiate the amount they will need to contribute and she is working on that – balancing out all the things that come into play when we settle a case.

The $11,000 penalty was mentioned for the first time, in the correspondence Herbold shared, by Susan Golub of Parks, in a response to the councilmember on March 29th, mentioned the $11,000 penalty for the first time:

Since my email of March 1 where I suggested options for directing the funds, I learned that discussions had already been underway about giving the money directly to Parks & Recreation and planting the trees in West Seattle parks (as opposed to directing it to the Green Seattle Partnership which generally works in greenbelts and natural areas.)

The question of which entity gets the money may be less important to the community than which parks are selected for the new trees. Our Urban Forestry staff have a list of 7 parks in West Seattle where trees have either fallen due to storms or had to be removed due to disease or age (presenting a hazard). Pursuant to the City’s 2 for 1 tree replacement policy, 7 West Seattle parks are due replacement trees. We estimate that the $11,000 penalty funds will purchase 22 trees; perhaps we could engage the community in prioritizing placement of the 22 trees among these parks …

Both of the DPD-now-DCI media liaisons with whom we usually correspond are out of the office today, so we haven’t been able yet to find out where this stands, but are checking further.

Meantime, because of the tree removal, the project will have to go through one more round of the first phase of design review, Early Design Guidance, rather than advancing to the next phase. That meeting, as previously reported here, is scheduled for 8 pm Thursday, April 21st, at the Sisson Building/Senior Center in The Junction.

P.S. The city is pondering changes to the Design Review program, which is currently one of the few avenues for public meetings related to development projects. Today is the deadline set for comments; here’s where to find the proposals and how to share your opinion.

ADDED 3:37 PM: Our followup inquiry to DCI has just been answered by Moon Callison:

Seattle DCI settled on a penalty of $11,000 based on our assessment of the value of the tree, the cost and risk associated with going to court, and prior penalties for tree-cutting cases. The $11,000 is the most we have ever collected for a single tree. The City is still working out where and how to use the penalty funds, based on code requirements. The developer is waiting for our final instructions before paying the penalty.

36 Replies to "UPDATE: $11,000 pricetag for a tree in another West Seattle cutting case"

  • TakeARealStand April 8, 2016 (1:41 pm)

    11k penalty/violation fee for a developer of a mixed-use building is nothing, and will do nothing to deter such behavior in the future.   While a delay in the project due to the need for redoing the first round of the design review is a good start, it needs to be more significant/have a bigger impact to deter greed.

    • s April 8, 2016 (4:09 pm)

      The way to deter would be to fine AND make the replant  a big tree at that same exact spot. If they did that, then they would not have gained anything from cutting. But it looks like they just get fined and can build on top of where the tree used to be?

  • j April 8, 2016 (1:55 pm)

    $11,000=22 trees

    $500 is what it costs the city to plant a tree???

    • watertowerjoey April 8, 2016 (2:09 pm)

      $500 is nothing compared to the cities recent purchase of 500 $2,800 bikes!

    • AMD April 8, 2016 (2:50 pm)

      I don’t know.  The cost of the tree, transportation to the planting site, the actual work of planting (the city pays decent wages and has good benefits, labor isn’t cheap), and then following up on them for a few years, giving them the extra care young trees need to thrive.  Five hundred each seems reasonable.

      I wish the fine was bigger, but it is what it is.  I agree that the project delay will hurt more.  

  • MellyMel April 8, 2016 (2:11 pm)

    The project delay aspect is going to be more of a dis-incentive than the size of that fine. 

    It reminds me of a comedian I heard a long time ago when he said he got stopped in some western state for speeding where he discovered the fine was a flat 25 dollar fee or some similar low amount. He said he wanted to had the officer a 100 dollar bill and tell him, thanks, he’d be speeding through his whole state.

    • nomothete April 8, 2016 (4:09 pm)

      Hah! That would be my home state of Montana. There was a time when the fine was down to $5.  Also a brief time when the posted speed limit was “safe and prudent”.

  • MsD April 8, 2016 (2:12 pm)

    I’ve been living in the middle of a development/construction zone for the last year and it’s been shocking at how arrogant and destructive these developers are.  I don’t care whether they are out of state or local West Seattle – they all share the same exact attitude.  They behave like spoiled children away from home for the fist time, seeing what they can get by with without getting caught.

    • Joe Bags April 8, 2016 (3:03 pm)

      Agreed and it has been going on in Seattle/West Seattle for the last 10 years.

    • John April 8, 2016 (3:23 pm)

      MsD

      Please describe some of the arrogant and destructive things that have shocked you carried out by Mr. Braseth or for that matter those out of state developers?

      Do they all really share the same attitude, if so what is it?

      If someone made the same unsubstantiated all inclusive remarks about any other occupation, they would not be accepted. 

      • MjO April 8, 2016 (3:52 pm)

        uh John, did you read the article?  

        “… and Braseth went on to take down the tree, saying when we asked for comment that it and two others were allowed to be removed without a permit because they weren’t “exceptional.” (The cedar had been measured at just under the 30″ baseline.)

        Four weeks later, the city told WSB they had determined that Braseth had violated city law by removing 6″-or-greater trees on an undeveloped lot without a permit. “

        Seems pretty arrogant and destructive…

        • John April 8, 2016 (9:13 pm)

          MjO,

          Do you know the code?

          There are highly specific definitions for “exceptional trees”.

          It is not like horseshoes or hand grenades, being close is not enough.

          The tree was not an exceptional tree, so  that is a red-herring quote.

          The actual code they got him, is a newly added restriction that only applies to undeveloped property.  Unless you closely follow the changes in vegetation codes, it is difficult not to violate them.

          I suggest Mr. Braseth settled rather than challenged the citation.  

          He could have argued correctly that the lot was not undeveloped as proven by past use.  

          It would be perfectly legal to cut down the same 30 inch tree in someone’s front yard (unless it is a Madrone, different rules).

          The tree laws have become too inconsistent, too difficult and too expensive to comply with.

      • Lindyp April 8, 2016 (10:24 pm)

        John  – Here is a short list that comes to mind on the 2 projects adjacent to my property and the 2 others on my block that were in progress simultaneously that have directly affected my property:

        Repeatedly blocking private drives and alley access without prior notice, often during hours when people are trying to get to work.  I’m talking about things like hours-long concrete pours with the truck parked across the only access point to private property.

        Unqualified workers/equipment doing site work work that could cause destabilization of adjoining properties. 

        Long-term use of vibratory equipment too close to adjacent properties.

        Maintaining unsecured trash piles/discarding waste materials on adjacent properties.  (Currently, there’s a Honey Bucket parked on our property, and at this point, I’m just happy that they aren’t squatting in the driveway, so I haven’t even tried to get it moved.)

        And the typical stuff that happens on all projects like disregarding noise codes, starting work too early/knocking off too late, workers blasting music and  throwing trash wherever they feel like it.

        Look, I grew up in a family that owned a construction company and did some land development as well.  I spent my summers working on job sites, helping put bids together and securing permits.  The first thing I was taught is that you are respectful of the surrounding properties and you respond to requests and complaints, i.e. don’t piss off the neighbors.  The companies that I’ve dealt with as a neighbor over the last year were either completely non-responsive or arrogant and dismissive. The City workers were mostly resigned and didn’t have the resources to follow up on most violations.  And you can be sure the developers are aware of this.

        • John April 9, 2016 (9:45 am)

          Lindyp,

          You make a lot of points, have a lot of complaints.

          Unfortunately none of them are the ” arrogant and destructive things” done specifically by in state and out of state DEVELOPERS.

          You have lumped a laundry list of complaints, (many legal building requirements),  against the city, dpd , sdot, construction workers, tradespeople, contractors, and the building code together to blame it all on developers.
           

          • GNel April 9, 2016 (12:44 pm)

            So it’s not the developers who should take responsibility it’s the folks they hire. And the folks who work for the city. Got it. 

          • Sunuva April 9, 2016 (2:39 pm)

            Shouldn’t the developers be responsible for their project? In my case, I had many conversations with the “developer” who was onsite every day. He was the son of the owner of the development company and he was not a nice man to deal with. All of my neighbors had similar complaints about the work site and experienced the same arrogance and disregard when voicing concerns to the developer. To me, it sounds like you want to blame everyone but the developer, similar to the tree cutters who tried to shift blame to the people they hired when it is they who are ultimately responsible.

          • Lindyp April 9, 2016 (11:22 pm)

            John – you are obviously a developer or have some sort of skin in the development game.  And yes, every complaint that I have is a direct result of a developer.  The signs up on the projects around me name the developer and give a phone number for the developer – not a construction company or any other party.  So they are the responsible party.  (Also, I’m MsD, I was accidentally logged in through another account when I made this comment.)  You obviously have an agenda and you will not change my mind, just like my listing a long list of violations directly attributable to developers will not change your mind from thinking developers are some sort of benevolent entities only concerned with making our communities better places.  I’ll make you a deal – you show me a developer who cares about bettering  communities and I’ll show you an anti-vaxxer who’s concerned about public health.

        • Sunuva April 9, 2016 (1:41 pm)

          I felt the same way with the development across the street from us two years ago. They bought the small single-family home with a nice yard so they could tear out the yard to put up two ugly box houses right against the property lines. These people, call them developers or whatever makes sense to most people, were rude and had no respect for the neighborhood around them. They repeatedly blocked my driveway. This was during the time when we were expecting, so as a concerned father-to-be, I knew I might have to make an emergency trip to the hospital at any moment and could likely be blocked from doing so. They took out my cable line at one point by parking a huge truck on the shoulder of the road. They made excessive noise, parking huge trucks all up and down the road, radios blaring all day, yelling and cussing. At one point they came to my door to notify me that the electricity would need to be shut off for an extended time because the city was making them upgrade the power infrastructure and also put additional parking in. The guy seemed to think I’d be sympathetic that the city was forcing him to do things the right way, costing him money. I was just glad to hear the city forced them to. Good riddance, and thanks for the ugly houses across the street!

          • Lindyp April 9, 2016 (11:34 pm)

            Sunuva – sorry this happened to you.  I only missed a few business appointments and one medical appointment for my elderly father due to being blocked in, I can’t imagine how stressful it must have been to have a pregnant wife in that madness.  

        • John April 10, 2016 (2:34 pm)

          Lindyp,

          Thanks for telling me who I am and what I think.

          I am confused when you write “And yes, every complaint that I have is a direct result of a developer.”

          How does that include , “workers blasting music and  throwing trash wherever they feel like it”?

          The Developer is listed on the required signage  as well the City.  Is the city or DPD also directly a cause all of your complaints?  

          The Developer works with a large group of specialists and contractors.  The contractors supply the tradespeople.  The tradespeople are the direct cause of most of your complaints, as they are most of the people at the job site.

          I know this from experience, especially in full employment building booms a cavalier cowboy attitude can be displayed, to everyone’s dismay.

          It bothers me , when people pull up in their  trucks and block  access when they don’t absolutely need to.  

          That behavior is telling of who gets the job.

          I don’t like constantly picking up discarded cigarette butts, coffee cups, take-out wrappings, water bottles, and energy drink cans discarded wherever they roam.  I don’t like stepping in or touching  tobacco juice on the job site.  I don’t like confronting workers about showing up (too) drunk or stoned , or even asking them to turn down the death metal blasting from their Milwaukie tools blaster. I have cleaned my own honeybucket and patrolled the street entrance for trash .  I put out a recycling can that only I use.  I am  there at the start and lock-up so nobody violates weekday or weekend noise restrictions.  I introduce myself to neighbors, tell them “the buck stops here” and alert them to unavoidable noise and blockage.  

          So yes , I am a (tiny in scope) developer.

          Some of the complaints ‘directly caused by developers’  are just plain against the laws and regulations that the city is responsible for enforcing.   Just call them in or report them online.  If you did there is a record of the complaint.

          The City workers were mostly resigned and didn’t have the resources to follow up on most violations.”

          I believe that is wholly made up, not true.  


          My bet is that no formal complaints were made.  If they were, they can be found online at City of Seattle.  Complaints are anonomyous so you can share  those case numbers  in your response  to support your outrageous claims and prove me wrong.

          Those work time noise violations will be enforced.  Call them in.

          Maintaining unsecured trash piles/discarding waste materials on adjacent properties.” Turn them in.  Call DPD and file a formal complaint.  

          Currently, there’s a Honey Bucket parked on our property,” demand they move it, call the city or tip it over off of your property.

          Repeatedly blocking private drives and alley access without prior notice, often during hours when people are trying to get to work.” Call the police dept. non emergency line, parking enforcement and SDOT.  SDOT requires a Street Use Permit to block all city right of ways.  They  will respond to blockages.  SDOT actually has a question on the street use permit application asking if you have been in violation before.

          They bought the small single-family home with a nice yard so they could tear out the yard to put up two ugly box houses right against the property lines.”  That is mistaken or false and simply not possible in any Seattle single family neighborhood.  

          In this forum the developer is the only one responsible when the cube truck takes out the cable, when workers block driveways, when construction requires noise and “Long-term use of vibratory equipment too close to adjacent properties”.  That is a particularly  sweet accusation, as nobody, not even their operators likes those noisy beasts and only do it when required by engineers.  The vibratory equipment is commonly blamed for all sorts of things without any scientific backup.  When asked seismic engineers,  report measuring activities equal or less than a garbage truck, bus, fire truck. or delivery vehicle.

          It is hard to maintain that all of the misdeeds found at all construction sites are the result of arrogance and intended  destruction directly caused by developers. 

          Nevertheless, I feel your anger and even share it sometimes.  

          Please accept my apologies for some of the people I employ and all of the people you complain about. 







           

  • Bradley April 8, 2016 (3:32 pm)

    Remember, it was “environmentally-friendly” democrats like former King County Executives Gary Locke and Ron Sims who pushed this urban village legislation through 20+ years ago and forced beehive apartments and condos into the heart of West Seattle. Us long-time West Seattle residents warned that they would turn the Junction into a tree-less, Los Angeles-style landscape, and they are well on their way to doing it. Density like this ruins quality of life, and less trees is one of the worst parts of this sort of insane development.

    • JVP April 9, 2016 (10:55 am)

      I disagree with you.  Lots of us like clustered density instead of sprawl.  Density in targeted areas, even when three trees are cut saves many more trees in well functioning ecosystems in other areas.  The fact is we’re a growing city & region, so how do we do it right?

      I’d be much more in favor of allowing certain “exceptional” trees to be cut on private property in exchange for funds targeted to restoring our green spaces, such as West Duwamish Greenbelt, Me-Kwa-Mooks.  If it’s $11k to cut down an exceptional tree on private party, then MORE good can be done from that $11k if the funds are put to good use.

      Development is necessary.  Having a good view is OK. Cutting trees not on your property is NOT OK, and should be prosecuted with severity.

      This whole tree thing in Seattle is way too emotional – I’d even say verging on religion.  What are we trying to accomplish?  Better ecosystem function? Air quality?  OK, then let’s figure out the best way to get there.

      I’m a proud and hardcore greenie, I respect the need for codes and rules when they make sense.  But the restrictions on removing trees on private property in Seattle is totally out of hand.

      Let’s PLEASE put more money/effort into restoring our neglected green spaces, and not be so restrictive to private property.  By charging a LOT to remove an borderline exceptional tree, we can do both.

  • Mike April 8, 2016 (4:17 pm)

    Bradley is correct.  I’m a Democrat, but Bradley is correct.  The funny part is the Republicans are the ones that are even more pro development and pro real estate investment tax cut crazy.  What we need are Democrats, Republicans and independents to start doing what’s best for the residents that pay the taxes which fund their salaries and are meant to benefit those that pay the taxes here.

  • Rick Sanchez April 8, 2016 (4:27 pm)

    Good, the societal value of the extra housing that can be accommodated without having to twist the building like a pretzel around an unexceptional tree is certainly more than $11k.  The city should use the fine on cleaning up the garbage tweakers are leaving all over its own greenbelt forests.

  • Heather Craul April 8, 2016 (8:10 pm)

    RS, not all homeless are not tweaks, there are people down on there luck. Seattle sucks your life away, with taxes, no programs to help homeless.  I could call you Hitler, think before you comment. 

  • Betty April 8, 2016 (8:18 pm)

    wow! I guess I’d better not let my trees get too big.

    What if I need to take one down?

    • chemist April 8, 2016 (9:00 pm)

      You can familiarize yourself with the tree protection regulations here and the list of exceptional trees here (because 30 inches is not a universal cutoff).  If your tree is on a developed property, non-exceptional, not in an environmentally critical area or public right of way, and a few other esoteric requirements you can remove them.  If they get to larger than 6″ diameter but are not all those things, you’re limited to 3 removed per year, so you just need to plan, I guess.  Hazard trees are their own special thing too.

    • chemist April 8, 2016 (9:03 pm)

      Missed my link…  CAM242 has the tree protection code that’s current.

      http://www.seattle.gov/DPD/Publications/CAM/cam242.pdf

    • AMD April 8, 2016 (9:06 pm)

      If you need to take it down, you can with a hazard assessment from a professional, which is actually pretty painless.

      If you want to take it down but it’s perfectly healthy and not a hazard to anyone, that’s where you have to try to convince someone.  

      • John April 9, 2016 (10:12 am)

        If you need to take it down, you can with a hazard assessment from a professional, which is actually pretty painless.”

        I would hazard to guess you have never had a hazardous tree assessed.

        It is only painless for those with money and time.

        The hazardous tree assessment that must be performed (not by your regular Plant Amnesty certified arborist) by a Certified Consulting Arborist.  The guy named Greenforest featured in the Seattle Times piece disputing the Parks’ arborists about the tree fatality in Seward Park is one.  

        A tree assessment by a Certified Consulting Arborist starts at several hundred dollars.  

        In addition to the consultants report a long application form must be submitted.  The answers on the application can trigger additional requirements and spiraling costs including a professionally ($2000) drawn revegetation plan. 

        I speak from experience in trying to remove dead/dangerous maples.  To every tree person, layman and city inspector, the trees are dead.  But I am not allowed to remove them without experiencing Seattle’s professional tree bureaucracy.

  • CitySmack April 9, 2016 (12:13 am)

    The fine/delay just becomes an additional cost to the project – paid by those who buy or lease into the result.

  • John April 9, 2016 (10:20 am)

    citysmack,

    No.  That is not the case in an open competitive market.

    It is naive to make the claim that additional expenses will all be borne by tenants and buyers.

    And if all of those additional costs are assumed by residents, then the cost of housing will be further inflated.

  • run_dmc April 9, 2016 (3:57 pm)

    I find it amusing – in a gallows humor way – that people justify cutting down natural greenery and green areas in Seattle because we “need more density due to the rapid growth of the region.”  As someone who is a transplant from Manhattan, I moved to Seattle because I wanted to leave an area that was one of the most dense in the world, noisy with constant construction and trash everywhere and move somewhere green and open.

    I’m not casting aspersions if that’s to your liking.  After all, I lived there many years, but finally got tired of it and voted with my feet.  I know many people who moved to Seattle because of the natural beauty and the comunity’s love of nature.  That is part of the attraction that makes Seattle and the PNW a growing, vibrant economy.  And, I’ve respected that love of nature in how I live here.  But, rapid, cookie-cutter development that is transforming a unique place like West Seattle into one that – unfortunately isn’t going to be as attractive as any NY neighborhood – but is starting to look more like blocks in Atlanta where they mow down trees or tear down actually cool community blocks to build faux “cool neighborhoods” is going to kill the golden goose.  People can also vote with their feet right on out of here if the specialness of this community fades or disappears.  So, even if you are all about development, seems to me, you also would want to preserve the uniqueness of a place – and trees and green space is a big part of that – given that is much of the attraction for people to move and buy or rent here.

  • jay April 9, 2016 (5:31 pm)

    not only should the builder receive the fine,  which is not nearly excessive enough as it will be passed onto tenants, but he should also have to decrease the size of the building he has planned.

  • Tuna April 12, 2016 (3:14 pm)

    $11,000 to cut down a tree on your own property. The tree was probably planted by the owner of the house 40 years ago. Are you people insane?

      

  • rob April 22, 2016 (3:06 pm)

    Thank you to developers,  If someone didn’t buy the piece of land where I live in Morgan Junction and build a house on it 105 years ago, I would have no place to live now.  We need to make room for those needing housing.  I’m so glad that NIMBYs didn’t suceed in keeping me out of “their” West Seattle.  Most of the comments here are just selfish.  “We have found ‘the good life’ please keep others out”.  The construction of every current and past home was disruptive in its day and changed the feel of the neighborhood.  Cities are dynamic and changeable, they don’t and won’t be cast in amber for there enjoyment of the few that got their first.

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