FOLLOWUP: City says Junction developer violated code by taking down tree Design Review Board wanted him to keep

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The city has accused a Junction developer of violating city code by taking down a tree on the site where he’s planning a mixed-use project.

We reported on the tree-felling last month, after a reader shared the video (above) showing the tree being cut down at 4532 42nd SW on Sunday morning, November 15th.

That was a week and a half after the tree had figured into the Southwest Design Review Board‘s second Early Design Guidance review of the project.

(From the project “packet,” a rendering of building massing if the tree were kept)
Though the project team had said botanists determined it fell just shy of being an “exceptional” tree – 29.7 inches at midpoint of his trunk, with 30 inches the city’s threshold – the board said it was in its purview to request a design preserving the tree. Here’s our coverage of that meeting, and here’s the official city report on it, made public just this week; it noted, in part, that “The Board recommended that the project could move forward to MUP application, provided the design retained the Western Red Cedar at the northeast corner and incorporated this significant vegetation into the overall design of open space and massing transitions to the north and east.”

When we contacted owner/developer Mark Braseth the day that tree was cut, his reply contended that it and two others cut on the property that morning were allowed to be removed without a permit. But the city disagrees.

After seeing the project file’s mention of a “violation,” we contacted the Department of Planning and Development to ask what it was for and what the proposed penalty is. Today, we heard back from DPD spokesperson Wendy Shark:

After removal of the tree, the Department of Planning and Development received a complaint that a tree was illegally removed. After investigating the situation, we’ve determined that there is a code violation for removing a tree 6 inches or greater in diameter on an undeveloped lot without approval from DPD. This is a violation of Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. We are determining the appraised value of the tree to define the penalty amount and an appropriate restoration plan for the site. We will issue a notice of violation once we obtain that information.

Among community comments in the project file is one voicing concern about the tree removal’s effects on the integrity of the design process. It was written by Deb Barker, a retired land-use planner and former chair of the Southwest Design Review Board who often comments at review meetings. She wrote to DPD director Diane Sugimura, “It’s been almost a month since a developer cut down the mature cedar tree from his property at 4532 42nd Ave SW, and the silence from DPD is deafening … This letter is not about the removal of a healthy tree on a vacant lot. … This letter is about the perceived impact to the City of Seattle Design Review Process.”

Today, DPD’s Shark told us that has been addressed as well:

Shortly after the tree was removed, DPD staff met with the design review board chair to discuss the situation given the previous guidance from the board. At the last public early design guidance meeting, the board had requested that modifications be made to the bulk of the building along the alley to provide a better buffer for the neighboring Lowrise zone behind the proposed building. The existing tree provided a natural buffer to help accomplish this goal, so it was recommended by the board that the tree be preserved. If the tree was not to be preserved, then the design team would need to return for another public meeting showing revised designs that respond to the board comments on building bulk and creating a better buffer. With that in mind, the applicant and their design team will have to return for another early design guidance meeting.

Making modifications to a site while it’s undergoing a public design review process is not appropriate and erodes DPD’s trust, as well as the community’s trust in the applicant. The design review process provides a public forum for the board and community to offer feedback on the proposed building design, to create a product that responds to the neighborhood context while also meeting the objectives of the developer or property owner. Actions such as this reflect a disrespect for regulations and for the community where the development is proposed, which, during this time of rapid growth and citywide change, is a disservice to fellow developers as we contemplate change to this important but sometimes complicated design review process.

So the bottom line is that the project will have to return for a third round of Early Design Guidance. No date set for that yet. Design Review Boards are all-volunteer panels appointed by the city who work with the DPD, which has the final say.

The project is on a site that had been approved for a different mixed-use project more than six years ago, under different ownership; Braseth purchased it earlier this year and pursued a new plan, estimated at last month’s meeting as 6 stories, ~75 apartments, 3,813 sq.ft. of commercial space, offstreet parking for ~63 vehicles (though this is in an area where projects can be built without any parking because of the proximity of “frequent transit”).

44 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: City says Junction developer violated code by taking down tree Design Review Board wanted him to keep"

  • Derek December 11, 2015 (10:54 pm)

    The DPD and the city need to get over themselves! There are so many more pressing issues in this city than (2) Trees! Look at all of the other garbage they have allowed to go on in West Seattle, Microhousing! New units across from Hope Lutheran with no off street parking! The DPD states they can’t make any changes to serious issues but then the city gets all up in arms over a tree. It seems as if people forget that most all of us live in houses made of wood and trees do grow back. Plus the design of the project this developer is doing looks a lot better than some of the other housing that I have seen go up recently

  • Anothernerd December 11, 2015 (11:22 pm)

    For such an egregious violation should be (1) large fine (2) remove all permits approved so far. Developer has to start from zero approvals of anything. (3) Some sort of developer violation list, kind of like three strikes- too many and developer loses all licenses. Ok these are probably late night ramblings, on my part, but this sort of violation of the public trust really pisses me off.

  • chemist December 11, 2015 (11:46 pm)

    Interesting… fells the tree based on the rules applying to a developed property and it runs afoul of being an undeveloped property (lot was a parking lot previously, right?).
    Anothernerd, I think requiring the property be developed like the tree was there as well as planting a tree about the same size there after construction might be a good fix.

  • Kathie Schramm December 12, 2015 (12:10 am)

    This is not ‘just’ about a tree. It is about this developer thumbing his nose at the city. He deliberately did what he was specifically instructed not to do. His actions show a total lack of regard for the city,the design board and the community of WS.

  • JanS December 12, 2015 (1:30 am)

    why am I not surprised? It’s just one more story about a developer doing what he damned well pleases. Design Review is there fpor a reason. If no one is going to abide by the decisions they make, then what’s the effing point. Mark Braseth has been around WS for a long time…his family is from here…and he knows better. Yet…he did it anyway. No wonder the community throws up it’s hands and says “Why bother”.

    @Derek..yes, there are a lot of important things besides this. But…if we’re silent, then the developers will think we agree with them and approve. Next time it will be something more egregious, and the next, and the next time after that until we yell STOP.

  • kjb December 12, 2015 (5:44 am)

    Thank you Kathie Schramm!

  • JeffK December 12, 2015 (6:10 am)

    In addition to any fine DPD could also ask for significant redesign based on the new site conditions. This could easily run several tens of thousands of dollars. No doubt this was poor judgement of the developer and this is going to make all of our jobs in the construction industry just a little bit more difficult since events like this remind building officials to scrutinize site greenery just a little more.
    I’ve already seen how tree mitigation has become serious business with area building departments. A couple of years ago suddenly city arborists seemed to not be a secondary hurdle during review – they became the primary one. I think city arborists had a conference they all went to where a keynote was given declaring their importance and how they should assert it.
    Trees are important to save, no doubt, but our firm has recently argued with a particular city arborist about how they wanted a scrappy 8′ tall bramble of a bush to be defined as a ‘significant tree’. Sometimes their egos get out of control too.

  • Enid December 12, 2015 (6:25 am)

    Derek, I hope you’re not suggesting that both government and the citizens who post opinions here are allowed to address only one issue at a time, and that issue must be deemed important by you…? You also need to educate yourself about the value of trees: the loss of tree canopy in Seattle and worldwide, the growth rate of forests, and the current death of entire forests worldwide due to climate change. I rather think that breathing is more important than parking, silly me.
    This developer needs to be taught a lesson.

  • Ty December 12, 2015 (6:30 am)

    It’s a tree people!

    There are so much bigger issues to worry about and spend your energy focusing on that one crappy looking pine tree that a developer cut down. We are creating a society that loves to sue everybody and complain… This is a perfect example. Move on with your lives from this lone pine tree. The irony of the whole deal is most if not all of you probably have a pine tree in your house right now that will go to waste after Christmas is over.

  • BLB December 12, 2015 (6:39 am)

    Seeing a beautiful tree cut down or brought down by natural causes, always feels like a gut punch. Sad.

  • S December 12, 2015 (7:09 am)

    “It seems as if people forget that most all of us live in houses made of wood and trees do grow back.”
    The tree won’t grow back if there’s a building on top of where it used to be. And since the owner cut it down, I doubt they would willingly go replant a similar tree in the same spot. I’m no tree hugger but I hope the city sends a message that deters this kind of behavior in the future.

  • Westside45 December 12, 2015 (7:16 am)

    It is easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

  • sophista-tiki December 12, 2015 (7:18 am)

    ” its a tree people” clueless much?! ITS NOT JUST ONE TREE. Taking trees down for selfish greedy reasons is UNACCEPTABLE! If you really want to know the value of mature urban trees its all on the city gov. website.
    Each mature urban tree has an added value of $60,000 annually for all surrounding properties. G Lets make sure theres no trees left as greedy developers build Kowloon and shove people in on top of each other like rats. Cant have any trees creating privacy, providing oxygen, or absorbing noise pollution. That evil tree might block someone surveillance camera from spying on your ignorance.

  • S December 12, 2015 (7:26 am)

    “It’s a tree people! There are so much bigger issues to worry about…”
    For me, this is more about developers disrespecting DPD and the community. Again, I hope DPD uses this opportunity to make an example with consequences severe enough to deter this kind of behavior in the future. If it’s just a tiny fine, developers are going to consider this as a cost of business and keep doing it.

  • colleen December 12, 2015 (7:53 am)

    So tired of these developers and their contempt for the city’s laws and the people who live here.

    • WSB December 12, 2015 (8:17 am)

      Re: delaying the project, since a couple people mentioned that – Construction has not yet started and is some time away. With the additional design-review meeting that will be required because of this, that means at least two more DR meetings, and they can’t even apply for the master-use permit until after the next one – you have to pass Early Design Guidance in order to file that application.
      Re the comment mentioning the perceived regard of developers for “the people who live here” – lest anyone try to steer this discussion toward the “out of town developers” meme – this property owner/developer is a longtime West Seattle resident; much was made of that at the Design Review meeting (our coverage is linked above), in fact. The code, rules, and process are of course the same regardless of whether those involved are local or not; just noting that more development involves locals than people seem to think. For example, on 42nd along the two blocks between Alaska and Genesee, four of the five recent and planned developments, including this one, are by locals – Oregon 42 is the only one that isn’t. Just a datapoint – TR

  • McFail December 12, 2015 (8:16 am)

    They’ll just raise the price of each unit to cover the fine… or make more money since these units will now have a view. Projects should be red-taped or delayed to determine a reasonable restoration plan.

  • JTB December 12, 2015 (8:45 am)

    Derek and Ty—did you miss the statement from the DPD which addresses the functional roll of the (former) tree in providing a buffer for a neighboring Lowrise zone? The effect was deemed to be substantial enough that without the tree, a new way to provide a buffer will have to be addressed. So I’m really perplexed that you’d each choose to dismiss this issue a somehow just being about a tree in isolation.

  • Ramona amazon December 12, 2015 (8:50 am)

    Tree ordinances are nonsensical. If you want stupid-tall trees move to Shoreline.

  • SY December 12, 2015 (9:05 am)

    Having worked construction for a long time I am sure this was a calculated risk.

    “What are they gonna do? fine us? how much would that be? OK we will just pay it if they do.”

    The punishment should be severe. I like the revocation of permits and return to square one with design idea. There are always types who will just pay the fine to get their way, the only solution with those people is to make sure they don’t get their way in the end.

  • flimflam December 12, 2015 (9:17 am)

    well its worse if this “developer” is local. no respect for the rules of his own backyard, so to speak.

    either way, he should face a serious penalty.

  • Joan December 12, 2015 (9:32 am)

    I’m glad some folks are standing up for trees! We need some teeth in the regulations to punish this type of behavior that disregards city regs, and disrespects the values of nature. Large trees are more and more important to save, as our community is assaulted by more and more “developments” that we don’t necessarily want or need. Do we want a community of cement and no trees? Do we want to push nature farther and farther away? Wake up people! Our quality of life is more than housing and offices.

  • Michelle December 12, 2015 (9:33 am)

    I wish we had more builders in West Seattle like Mark Braseth!!! A developer that takes pride in his projects, does a beautiful job and is a longtime local. Unlike all the ugly cheap developments The City of Seattle as approved from developers that are just trying to make a quick buck and leave us with eye sore projects!

  • Kate K December 12, 2015 (9:52 am)

    Anyone want to live in a West Seattle with no trees? I don’t.

  • John December 12, 2015 (9:59 am)

    The law regards “DEVELOPED LOTS”. A search of DPD shows no definition of “developed lots”.

    This will be settled on what is defined as a “developed lot” and the city will be hard pressed to portray this site as pristine wilderness in the heart of West Seattle.

    But the big question to me is why the difference in rules between “developed lots” and “undevloped lots?”
    If the goal is more trees and far more homes are on tree limited lots, then why are we not enforcing all tree removal? And better yet, the city should establish rules for requiring trees on every existing developed parcel. Such a law would allow everyone to share the burden of providing trees for the betterment of all.

    Some tree statements are just plain Trumpian false.

    @sophista-tiki’s outrageous claim of “Each mature urban tree has an added value of $60,000 annually for all surrounding properties” is without truth or accreditation.
    If this were true, my trees would out-value my home. Each time I have had an appraisal for home a loan, I have asked the appraiser about the value of our trees. They hesitate to quantify such values, but $60,000 is more akin to a view lot increase in valuation.

    I would also like some of these critics take a good hard look at their own yards or apartment greens and respond with just how many mature trees they are responsible for or why they are not out there planting on their own property?

    This situation exposes a pandering to homeowners by Seattle politicians and DPD.

  • TanDL December 12, 2015 (10:07 am)

    No Ty and to all those commenting that have real estate/developer links who are OK with removing anything on the land that stands in the way of development. It’s not just a tree. It’s a development corporation thumbing their noses at the community, at people who care about the future of this community and at the processes in place that involve the people of this community. Our representatives on the design review board said to leave the tree! The developer by his actions said… “to hell with you, we will do what we want.” I say the City should fine the heck out of them. Make them create a green space somewhere in West Seattle to make up for it. So sorry that developers have to go over hurdles before they build and make their millions. Must be tough sleeping at night after displacing single family dwellings, pricing out local small businesses, pricing out long term renters and removing as much native greenery as possible. No? They sleep just fine? Speaks volumes about their character.

  • Craig December 12, 2015 (11:07 am)

    It’s not about the tree, “Actions such as this reflect a disrespect for regulations and for the community where the development is proposed.” Glad that Mr Braseth is a good developer most of the time, nobody is perfect and this is a chance to help him realize that the focus should be on the community and it’s requests, not his project for his gain. He took the risk to get the tree out of the site, and he wasn’t able to do it unnoticed, so his risk failed. Pay up and learn. I live in WS and look at all the trees and love them, so yes it was partially my tree too.

  • themightyrabbit December 12, 2015 (12:19 pm)

    Wow interesting how many anti tree folks crack out of the woodwork. Seriously if you want to remove all the character out of the neighborhood, get rid of the trees. Perhaps that’s what you want. The rest of us don’t – trees are beautiful and make the neighborhood what it is adding color and softening the edges of the majority of these nasty buildings being added. Fine the developer or delay them, they deserve it.

  • dsa December 12, 2015 (12:53 pm)

    They need to settle the fine and/or remedy or not much good will come from the next board meeting.

  • MellyMel December 12, 2015 (1:30 pm)

    Some interesting stats on Seattle’s urban tree canopy:

    In 1999, American Forests calculated that Seattle’s canopy coverage had declined to just 18 percent by 1996. Since then various researchers and city consultants have variously pegged Seattle’s coverage at 22.5 percent in 2002, 22.9 in 2007, 26.4 and 29.6 percent in 2009, 26.3 percent in 2010, and 28.5 percent in 2012.

    From these estimates, a broad trend emerges: Canopy recovered somewhat in the 1990s and 2000s, as the city pushed for new street trees and existing trees filled out. A recovery in the 2000s has lately stalled as redevelopment, which lapsed during the last decade’s two recessions, accelerates. Today, American Forests and city resources managers estimate Seattle’s canopy at 23 percent – just slightly more than New York’s 21 percent and well behind two cities with which Seattle is frequently compared on other scores, Portland (30 percent) and Minneapolis (31 percent).


  • Wb December 12, 2015 (1:47 pm)

    “its a tree Ty”, and a busted promise. So sad to see when the developers have the mayors ear. And if you tree haters cant get over yourselves, then why do you live in the PNW?

  • chris December 12, 2015 (2:52 pm)

    If i was the developer. I would redesign the building with out the 63 parking spaces…That will pay for the stupid decision that was a significant tree. Or better yet leave it as a parking lot and put in a homeless camp…Who are the idiots on this board. Should be thankful for a nice buliding that included parking…Get a grip people.

  • colleen December 12, 2015 (3:48 pm)

    I assure you I made no distinction between out of town developers and local developers nor did I intend to imply such a distinction in my short post. I have no interest in a discussion about out of town developers v local developers. I am not a big fan of scofflaws.

  • BEB December 12, 2015 (3:52 pm)

    I’ve lived in Seattle for 36 years, and I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen/heard about developers intentionally or “accidentally” cutting down trees that were supposed to stay. Oops! Darn. Well, since it’s gone, we might as well go ahead and build in that spot… For those who think there are bigger problems to worry about, you’re right, but those bigger problems started as little things that went unnoticed or uncared about.

  • Jort Sandwich December 12, 2015 (4:17 pm)

    This is not uncommon. The penalty for just blowing off the law and cutting down the tree is far less than whatever the developer could make by building on that spot. It’s, what, a $20,000 fine or something? He’ll make that in 1 month off the square footage where that tree once stood.

    In a fair and just world, the penalty for cutting down this tree would be to nuke the proposal and forcibly confiscate the land so that it could be converted into other uses by the city, and the developer would lose millions of dollars.

    He literally feels he’s above the law. Cutting down the tree was not a mistake — it was a calculated plan.

  • 1000amys December 12, 2015 (8:26 pm)

    Ty, that was not a “pine” tree. For goodness sake. And I don’t know anybody who has a “pine” tree as a Christmas tree. Most Christmas trees around here are Douglas Fir, with spruce and other firs (Noble, etc) also common.

    It’s hard to tell from the video whether that was a Doug Fir. Hemlock and Cedar are also common here, and very easy to identify close up. We have a pine tree in our yard, but they are not native to the area and are relatively rare. Douglas fir trees account for nearly all the big conifers in the area.

    I speak for the trees.

  • anonyme December 13, 2015 (9:08 am)

    The ignorance of many people in regard to trees is shocking, but then they are probably climate deniers as well. Here’s a suggestion: if you’re so fearful of/hostile toward/uneducated about the value of trees, go live somewhere else, like Nevada. This unique part of the world is all about trees, and it’s ridiculous to suggest that we turn it into a concrete wasteland to appease developers and fools.

  • Thomas M. December 13, 2015 (1:13 pm)

    Put an immediate stop to this clown’s process and project. Do not allow developers to cheat and only be fined an amount less than the value they are adding by expanding over an area to be preserved. BTW Climate change can not be denied. It is a natural process. Earth has been everything from a swamp, to a dustball to an iceball over its history. The controversy is over the degree to which human activity has caused, contributed to, or accelerated the current climate trends.

  • Justatree December 13, 2015 (9:03 pm)

    While reading this thread and coming to the rendering of the proposed project to be built around the tree, I was personally offended- Not because of the loss of the tree (which is a real loss for lots of reasons,) but because of the spirit of the act and what it says about the developer’s apparent values regarding community, the public process, and in particular other peoples time and energy.

    I can’t imagine how i would feel If I had volunteered my time on a design reveiw board and then witnessed such a flagrant disregard for the design review process and the feelings of community members in the area in which he is doing business..The spirit of the act is most offensive when you see how central the tree is to the drawing.

  • Joan Bateman December 13, 2015 (9:03 pm)

    My experience is that if you call DPD Director Sugimura, the probelm will get the appropriate attention.

    The more calls, the more DPD will stiffen the penalties so that money doesn’t rule and we the community gets blown off at the Developers whim.

    They should be required to replace the tree(s) of equal specificity, lose development considerations, AND pay a 10% development penalty ( 10% of total development cost).

    If they can’t follow the Design Review committee direction, then what hope do we have as a community that they can do the structural, electrical, plumbing, etc properly.

    joan bateman

  • Bradley December 13, 2015 (9:58 pm)

    We live in Arbor Heights and people are cutting down trees at an alarming rate. If they keep it up, it will have to be renamed “Stump Heights”.

  • Mat December 14, 2015 (11:35 am)

    Ramona amazon, two can play at that game.

    If you DON’T want stupid tall trees, move to Arizona.

    We didn’t get very far there did we?

  • anonyme December 17, 2015 (11:42 am)

    Bradley, speaking of the deforestation of Arbor Heights, there is, at this moment, a tree massacre taking place at the corner of SW 102nd St. & 36th Ave. SW. So far, two massive Doug firs have been removed, and they’ve started up a magnificent pine. All three qualify as “exceptional” under the statutes. No permits have been issued (I checked). So this is just one more example of illegal tree removal.
    Developers often prod property owners to do this prior to a sale, so that they can get around the stricter regulations in regard to development.
    Just yesterday I watched a pair of ravens taking refuge in a tree that is now gone. It’s all been reported, but the fines (if any) aren’t nearly enough, nor will a fine bring back the trees. Absolutely sickening.

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