(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.