“Tree massacre” brings neighbors’ questions


The removal of a whole row of big evergreens along two lots lining the east side of 41st between Rose and Southern (take your pick whether this is south Gatewood or north Upper Fauntleroy) had several people e-mailing us today — one calling it a “tree massacre” — to ask “can they DO that?” We checked it out and the answer appears to be “yes,” since the trees were on private, already-developed property with older houses – if that defines your property, you can cut down trees without a permit. Both lots on the block appear to be real-estate listings no longer on the market; the site shown in the photo still has an aerial-photo map that gives you an idea of how many trees were there before. The parcel now likely has a major view, as it’s on the west-facing slope, looking toward the Sound, Blake, Vashon, Olympics, etc. No development permits filed for either lot so far.

21 Replies to ""Tree massacre" brings neighbors' questions"

  • Gabby March 5, 2008 (6:12 pm)

    This is two blocks from my house. That is my bus stop in the photo. Arghh!

    It seems there is a crummy loophole that is being exploited here. If the developer purchasing these properties closed on the deal and then attempted their redevelopment project, I’m guessing city tree regulations would kick in and they would need permits – probably including a phased removal of the trees, and removal would need to take place outside the bird nesting season (like… November).

    Shameless! All for a view.

  • Dave March 5, 2008 (6:53 pm)

    Private property rights are now labeled a “Loophole”. Any land owner has the right to mow his trees down. I applaud the man, helped him self to thousands of dollars legally and all he had to do was fire up the Husquavarna. If anything the city / county has to make it easier for people to use and improve their land, only then will the insane cost of living within Seattle go down.

  • barmargia March 5, 2008 (7:01 pm)

    since it’s private property they can do whatever they want, not like the judge (I think it was a judge) north of here (ballard maybe) that had trees cut from public property to improve his view.

  • Dave March 5, 2008 (7:05 pm)

    Yes, the idiot Judge is different he had trees cut on public property, this man here owned the property outright, hence he should have the right to mow down his trees.

  • Gina March 5, 2008 (8:18 pm)

    Admiral firewood thieves! Look! Big giant wood chunks! Would make some great bonfires in about 6 months or so after the wood seasons.

  • grr March 5, 2008 (8:30 pm)

    yeah…sad to see them very old, old trees go, but, it’s private property. Hopefully the wood will go to a good use next winter.

  • old timer March 5, 2008 (8:38 pm)

    After the big windstorms this winter, I saw a number of large, undamaged trees taken down.
    People can have a sudden change of heart about big trees when they see them misbehaving in high winds.

    Yes, it’s very sad to see old friends pass,
    no matter what the species.

  • add March 5, 2008 (9:06 pm)

    “Yes, it’s very sad to see old friends pass,
    no matter what the species.”

    I love that, thanks old timer…

  • eileen March 5, 2008 (9:33 pm)

    Tree pruning and removal permits are only required as listed from SDOT website:

    Seattle City Ordinance #90047 requires that all persons who prune and/or remove privately maintained trees within the public right-of-way area obtain a street use permit.

    Looks like they were on private property

  • *t* March 5, 2008 (10:13 pm)

    Legal or not, it’s still sad to see these nice trees disappear from the neighborhood. One of the things that makes Seattle so great is how green it is. I agree that large trees can be a pain to maintain, block the view, and can occasionally present a danger in storms. But the sure as heck are nice to have around.

  • grr March 5, 2008 (11:25 pm)

    Yeah…nice sentiment, OldTimer.

    the weather thing…wow..didn’t take that into consideration. There’s a house on the corner of 42nd and Thistle I believe that had some SERIOUS damage from a fallen tree during the Big Storm last year. Hate to think about how much that cost.

    it’s a fine balance between trees, safety, and our need for a place to live. Tho..think about it…when you look at old pictures of WS (and the rest of Seattle), the wanton destruction of trees was everywhere. The whole damn place was pretty much clear-cut to hell and back.

    At least NOW, there are SOME rules in place.

  • Lauren March 6, 2008 (6:17 am)

    Kirkland does it. Regulates retention of trees on private property, that is. Why can’t we?

    It is hardly unheard of for cities to regulate trees on private property. Seattle happens to have one of the weaker ordinances on the books. Take our neighboring cities. Take Redmond’s ordinance:

    “Developers must abide by codes requiring that more than one-third of the big trees on a site be left standing. Every tree more than 6 inches in diameter that is removed has to be replaced. If developers insist on removing more than 35 percent of the trees, they would have to plant three trees for each one taken out.”

    In Seattle, “half the tree canopy has disappeared since the 1970s as development increases and smaller homes give way to apartments, townhouses and megahomes.”

    Why save urban trees?

    “In addition to reducing air and water pollution, trees curb the flow of stormwater runoff, slow erosion, provide homes for birds and wildlife and absorb carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change.”

    Here are the rules on the books. If you care about your neighborhood trees, let’s work to change them:

    Trees on developed residential property, and not in critical areas*

    * Redmond:
    o Permit required for removal of significant trees (those measuring 6 inches diameter)
    o Can remove up to two significant trees a year, but must replace each tree with one measuring 2.5 inches diameter for deciduous, 6 feet tall for a conifer

    * Seattle:
    o No permits required, no restrictions on tree removal for homes built before the mid-1990s
    o Restrictions on larger tree removal at houses with tree landscaping requirements (homes built after the mid-’90s)

    Trees in new development (does not apply to mid- or high-rise and commercial development), and not in critical areas*

    * Redmond:
    o Must maintain 35 percent of significant trees (measuring 6 inches diameter) on the site; each significant tree that is removed must be replanted
    o If more than 35 percent of trees are removed, must be replaced with three new trees for each tree cut
    o Landmark trees (measuring more than 30 inches diameter) removed only with special exemption

    * Seattle:
    o All trees may be removed except exceptional trees (those with a unique historical, ecological or esthetic value)
    o Either through tree retention or replanting must have 2 inches of tree diameter per 1,000 square feet of lot area for lots larger than 3,000 square feet (i.e., a 5,000 square-foot lot requires five 2-inch-diameter trees)
    o Exceptional trees can be removed if sick, or if preventing development on more than 35 percent of lot area even with smaller setbacks and increased height

    * Critical areas include steep slopes or near streams

    Sources: Seattle Department of Planning and Development, Redmond Department of Planning and Community Development

  • WSB March 6, 2008 (6:30 am)

    If you read the article I posted late last night about City Council President Richard Conlin speaking to the Southwest District Council, he talked about this very issue, and mentioned a plan to propose new regulations/incentives to protect trees on private property. No specifics, so today I will be following up with him to find out more — will post an update with whatever details we manage to get. Conlin said that the city’s tree cover is down to 18 percent and that for a city like ours it should be 30-40 percent and he wants to get the trend going.

  • Venkat March 6, 2008 (7:24 am)

    Yikes, that’s a tough one. I live pretty close by there as well. On the positive side, it may lead to something interesting on the lot (not to say what’s now there is not interesting, but maybe something modernish – one can only hope :)). . . . (Speaking of which, WSB, any thoughts on the funky remodel down/up the street that seems stalled? There are a few near there.)

    On the negative side it’s very tricky to tell people what to do and not do on their property. I’m not an absolutist by any means, but something like chopping down a tree that does not have special status is not something the city should be able to regulate. Good luck to Mr. Conlin in his efforts, I imagine the lawyers are just licking their chops. Seattle is home to some folks that have spend a ton of money and resources in litigating against anti-development-type regulations. Among other people they will swoop down on this one. (If it’s structured as an incentive that would have much greater chances for survival.)

  • mark March 6, 2008 (8:48 am)

    We have the opposite problem in my neighborhood. The trimmers have been here 5 days now, only nicking at the outer branches. They must be working by the hour. I think I could have accomplished all of what two trucks and 4 guys have over the course of 5 days – in about a half day and all by myself.

  • B-Squared March 6, 2008 (9:12 am)

    It is unfortunate when “rights” are exercised without situational awareness and consideration beyond one’s immediate, personal gratification. Consider the ecosystem that was just gravely disrupted – the others that occupy the planet with us that rely on those healthy trees. consider the carbon that WAS sequestered in that wood which will now be burned and put into the atmosphere (assuming of course that the wood was not converted to lumber). consider the stability of that slope and the increased likelihood that it has a mudslide in its future. There were probably some nature- and environmentally- sensitive solutions available that would have provided an acceptable compromise, but ignorance and/or selfishness instead prevail. way to go.

  • shihtzu March 6, 2008 (10:51 am)

    We had the city cut down some big trees at our old house. These did grow into the power lines so it was free to us and I know our neighbors were more upset than we were. Our neighbors however did not have to repair their roofs every winter or risk living below them.

    I know someone who was killed by a large tree branch in a windstorm. I love love love trees, but sometimes it unfortunately makes sense to cut them down.

  • NaSw March 6, 2008 (11:38 am)

    Idiots. The property is more valuable WITH the trees…especially mature evergreens. There is such a thing as “framing the view”. How brutish to just hack them all down.

  • RS March 6, 2008 (1:01 pm)

    Yeah, NaSw, and I heard he cut them down so he could build a skate park!


  • Mike Dady March 7, 2008 (7:16 am)

    If the property is designated as an Environmentally Critical Area with landslide-prone critical
    areas (including steep slopes), steep slope buffers,
    riparian corridors, shoreline habitat, shoreline habitat buffers, wetlands and wetland buffers the owner is not allowed to cut or remove tree’s carte blanche`.

    See Seattle Municipal Code: http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~scripts/nph-brs.exe?s1=25.09&s2=&S3=&Sect4=AND&l=20&Sect3=PLURON&Sect5=CODE1&d=CODE&p=1&u=%2F%7Epublic%2Fcode1.htm&r=1&Sect6=HITOFF&f=G

  • baba nulu March 13, 2008 (9:24 am)

    Ask any realtor with adds on this blog whether mature trees blocking a mountain/sound view will increase a property’s value. Each time I have had my home appraised for a loan, I have specifically asked what the value of our mature 100’+ doug fir, 80′ sugar pine and 40′ wild cherry. Insignificant value has been the answer, three times. These same trees cost thousands of dollars per year to maintain. Not to mention the falling branch danger and damage done to neighbors’ homes and cars. These trees are not deciduous but each season they repeatedly clog the gutters and downspouts of neighbors. A realtor neighbor sold her home “because the view was growing away”. Go to the real estate listings and try to find a “search” for property with big trees. It could be right next to the listings for “view properties”, or “waterfront”. But it isn’t. Instead we have marketing of “180 degree views” and “unblockable views”. The city cannot afford to maintain its own trees, ergo the beautiful brace of madrones dead at the south end of Lincoln Park. I wonder how many complaining bloggers have taken on the responsibilities and costs of just one mature tree. I have a great love of trees balanced by even greater respect for the dangers and responsibilities of mature urban trees. I have tried the “windowing technique” advocated by Plant Amnesty. It cost over a thousand dollars for one tree and several years later, new growth from old branches has “drawn the shades.” Of course, a few viewless neighbors passed snipes my way, one even saying,”we don’t like the way you trim your trees”! This same neighbor removed a mature douglas fir last week and it was in a critical area which requires a tree removal permit.

Sorry, comment time is over.