Neighbors try to save one big tree planned to be replaced by a house

(UPDATED 5:53 PM with comment from tree/lot’s owner)

(WSB photos)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Barely three blocks as the crow flies from where the illegal cutting of 100+ trees sparked a regional uproar, the potential legal cutting of a single tree is inspiring a quiet revolt.

Among the leaders – a neighborhood 9-year-old.

This tree and its situation are quite different from the now-notorious, deciduous-tree-dominated “clearcut” on public land in the Duwamish Head Greenbelt. This is an evergreen, on private land, a small lot over which it towers, a Ponderosa Pine labeled an “exceptional tree” by city standards, even in the arborist report for the proposal to build a house on the ~3000-square-foot site where it grows, at 3036 39th SW.

The city is currently in a comment period for the project, but as a standalone single-family-house proposal, it didn’t hit our radar until reader Catherine Darwin posted about it in the WSB Forums, starting the topic “Large Ponderosa Pine on 39th SW.”

Catherine wrote, in part:

While Seattle needs to support density growth, that should certainly be balanced with ecological concerns. This tree houses an owl, yearly hibernating ladybugs, and eagles circle it searching for crows’ eggs, just to mention some of the wildlife and habitats involved. It is part of the urban forest which makes Seattle such a green and lovely space to want to live in.

Moreover, this majestic tree is a legacy we have been given and should pass on to generations to come.

Numerous studies have shown the importance of trees from reduced pressure on water processing plants, to offsetting the effects of carbon dioxide and reducing greenhouse effect; and trees affect the mood and community pride of residents.

While city code allows for this tree to be cut down for development, I feel it is a shame to lose this towering tree and all the habitat it provides. Is there anything we neighbors can do?

Then a letter from Lisa landed in the WSB inbox. And she told us about Myla, with whom we spoke Monday night at her home across the street from the tree.

Before we go further, here’s what’s happening.

This notice was in the May 26th Land Use Information Bulletin, officially informing any and all interested that an application had been filed to build a two-story house and garage on this site, which is adjacent to and co-owned with the house at 3038 39th SW. As you’ll see in the notice, there is one out-of-the-ordinary factor – the project requires a “Special Exception to allow a new single-family dwelling unit on a lot less than 3,200 sq. ft.” According to the site-plan document on file – which notes that two “exceptional trees” would be removed – the lot is approximately 3,166 sf. The file also includes a letter with what is described as a “preliminary” interpretation by the department that this part of the site is a legal buildable lot – while there’s only been one house on the 6,300-sf site, it’s technically designated as Lots 14-15 – but it also notes that the decision isn’t final until a building permit is issued.

As for the tree, the WSB Forums discussion, Zephyr wondered how an acknowledged “exceptional tree” could be on the chopping block. We took that question to city spokesperson Bryan Stevens, who speaks for what was the city Department of Planning and Development:

When development is proposed, an exceptional tree or trees can only be removed if it can be demonstrated that tree preservation creates a substantial limitation on the development potential of the property. Our tree protection rules even allow a proposal to project into a required property line setback if this can allow for tree preservation and reasonable development potential. If tree removal is allowed, then tree replacement is required to, upon maturity, result in a canopy cover equal to what was removed. See the specific code language below:

25.11.060 – Tree protection on sites undergoing development in Single-family and Residential Small Lot zones.

A. Exceptional Trees.

1. The Director may permit a tree to be removed only if:

a. the maximum lot coverage permitted on the site according to SMC Title 23, the Land Use Code, cannot be achieved without extending into the tree protection area or into a required front and/or rear yard to an extent greater than provided for in subsection A2 of this section; or

b. avoiding development in the tree protection area would result in a portion of the house being less than fifteen (15) feet in width.

2. Permitted extension into front or rear yards shall be limited to an area equal to the amount of the tree protection area not located within required yards. The maximum projection into the required front or rear yard shall be fifty (50) percent of the yard requirement.

3. If the maximum lot coverage permitted on the site can be achieved without extending into either the tree protection area or required front and/or rear yards then no such extension into required yards shall be permitted.

Tree Protection Code

25.11.090 – Tree replacement and site restoration.

A. Each exceptional tree and tree over two (2) feet in diameter that is removed in association with development in all zones shall be replaced by one or more new trees, the size and species of which shall be determined by the Director; the tree replacement required shall be designed to result, upon maturity, in a canopy cover that is at least equal to the canopy cover prior to tree removal. Preference shall be given to on-site replacement. When on-site replacement cannot be achieved, or is not appropriate as determined by the Director, preference for off-site replacement shall be on public property.

B. No tree replacement is required if the (1) tree is hazardous, dead, diseased, injured or in a declining condition with no reasonable assurance of regaining vigor as determined by a tree care professional, or (2) the tree is proposed to be relocated to another suitable planting site as approved by the Director.

The arborist report on file for this site, dated last December, makes no assessment of the Ponderosa Pine’s age, only its size (42.5-inch diameter at the prescribed measuring point) and condition (the arborist pronounced that to be “good,” unlike the other tree on the site that was assessed as “exceptional”).

So now – meet Myla, a third-grader at Fairmount Park Elementary.


She and her friend Violetta made the sign she’s holding. She has been going door to door with neighbor Lisa. That’s who told her about the building plan for the site.

“I thought that’s really really really really really bad,” she said. So she and Lisa have been knocking on doors asking people to comment on the proposal. (The online file shows 44 public-comment letters dated through Monday.) She was planning to send a comment, too. This is the first time she’s gotten involved in activism – aside from a birthday party at which she asked guests to support the Humane Society instead of bringing her gifts. She says she doesn’t want the tree “to be chopped down because it looks really pretty where it is … a lot of animals live in there and I would be really, really sad. … The tree’s been there for a really long time and it’s really old … it would take a long time to grow another tree like that.”

Also on Tuesday night, after reading the WSB Forums post about the tree and going to see it, Sam cc’d us on a comment to the city, reading in part:

What I saw last nite in the sunset hour was a handsome and beautiful tree, tall and majestic, accomplished too, given its proud survival amongst the elements, man made and not. The tree is lovely beyond description and renders a voice in the sky I have rarely witnessed amongst all the Ponderosa Pines I have seen and photographed in the course of my life. As a woman whose Mother was Alaskan Native and Father who was Asian, I have seen quite a few pine trees from Baja to the Arctic and back again across to the other side of the Mississippi. …

… With so few other pine trees in the vicinity, I feel strongly about this tree’s life. I believe it is a life we need to respect and care for until the tree itself reaches its natural conclusion. I’m a photographer/artist and I have been photographing trees most of my life. Only in the recent past have I realized that trees dominate my archive of film and prints. It is a self-realization I have come to embrace with great affection.

Trees know everything. They are librarians, they are authors and artists of theatre. They create rings in life at their very core that can tell us far more than we can possibly comprehend by simple examination. Within the context of this Ponderosa Pine’s neighborhood, someday it will tell the story to the generation’s after us about what and how we weathered the climate changes and how or if we remained stewards of the soil, water and air during our lifetime. I can only hope with my whole heart, the City of Seattle can motivate all bodies involved, to see this as an opportunity to cultivate and not terminate. Let it be. I am no one. I’m just a voter, a resident, an artist, a person who calls Seattle home. Where I live, where anyone lives, is the place they commit to become Native to, and I want to put in a good word for my Ponderosa Pine Tree neighbor.

We have a message out to the site’s owners to ask if there’s anything they’d like the community to know. Meantime, if you have any comment on the project, pro/con/otherwise, can be sent to – reference 3036 39th SW and land-use application 3024037; the comment period has been extended to June 22nd.

ADDED 5:53 PM: Clifford Low, owner of the tree site and the house next door, has replied to our request for comment:

We are building an undersized 2 story home. The tree will need to be removed in that a home could not be built there without removing it. We feel there is also a severe housing crisis in Seattle and this outweighs the desire to retain this tree. We look forward to providing a home for someone to enjoy the neighborhood, hopefully a future friend to Myla.

72 Replies to "Neighbors try to save one big tree planned to be replaced by a house"

  • Joan June 8, 2016 (2:02 pm)

    It’s a shame that money will likely win out over nature. Trees have value too and this should be factored into the decision.

  • Brenda June 8, 2016 (2:18 pm)

    I walked by that site and thought my god they’re going to have to pull out those huge trees. No Way I thought! 

    Yup, the greedy land owner does not care  they want their money money money  

    very tragic  

  • Diane June 8, 2016 (2:40 pm)

    1000’s of beautiful healthy trees are cut down across the city, apparently legally; I live 2 blocks from the much publicized clear-cut; meanwhile, a week prior, a huge beautiful tree, similar to the one in this story, was cut down by developer at 37th & Hinds for ginormous house under construction right now; and year prior, all the trees/greenery were cut down across the street in order to build 4 ginormous houses; and at Belvidere/Hinds, all the trees/greenery were cut down to build a ginormous house; this is just one corner; this is happening all over the city every week

  • Alan June 8, 2016 (2:52 pm)

    The associated house was apparently purchased in November just so they could do this. The tax bills go to a house in Leschi, so it isn’t as if they thought “we love the neighborhood, but our house requirements are different now”. This is strictly for profit.

  • Alkiobserver June 8, 2016 (2:54 pm)

    If the neighbors want the tree, they should pool their money and pony up to hire Big Trees, or some other company with the means to transplant it somewhere else. Win win. Tree saved and the development the land owner is entitled to happens.

    • Alan June 8, 2016 (3:54 pm)

      Alkiobserver, they are not automatically entitled anything. This is not a vacant lot that has been waiting for the right owner, but a portion from the lot next door which was just split off into what they hope will be a legal lot. Complicate that with the trees and maybe they made an investment mistake.

      • Alkiobserver June 9, 2016 (5:11 pm)

        I believe in the rights of a landowner to with their land what they are legally allowed and entitled to do. In the same way that If they don’t want to mow the lawn, so be it. If they want to put beauty bark or lava rocks everywhere, that’s their right too. Or, if they want to cut down all the bushes in their yard and build a hideous shed. I see the same situation here. I may not like it, but I support their right to do it. If they are legally allowed to build on the site (which it sounds like) and the tree is a hindrance to that, than I support their right to remove it. I thought the owner’s response was way more thoughtful and kind than called for actually. 

        • Oliver June 10, 2016 (8:00 pm)

          I also agree with the freedom to do what you wish with your land, as long as it’s legal!  My understanding of the sign in front of the lot, and letters that the city sent to residents in the area anouncing the proposed build, is to seek comments on why the owner should be allowed to construct something that is not within code or based on code that is a century old.  We are being invited to comment on this project because it’s not something that is not normal for the neighborhood.  It needs approval to build a structure that would not normally be acceptable for that size of land.  I went and looked at the lot and viewed the plans on-line, and I don’t see how it’s even possible to fit something that size on that particular lot.  Just try to remember that people are being asked to comment on this for a reason.  This isn’t a witch hunt!  The owner brought this on themselves by pushing the limits on building codes in order to make a profit.  I have no problem with making money on good land investments, but know what are you getting into before you do it and don’t say you’re doing it as benefit to the housing crisis in Seattle.  It’s only a benefit to the owners pocket book, and they are looking for the maximum return with no concern for the neighborhood.  The city is allowing builds of small mother in law homes in small lots, which is something I like to see and have seen done very wisely.  The owner of this land is building a house in the same amount of space that usually acomodates  a mother in law type home more appropriately.  That is the fuss taking place in this particular situation.

  • Artsea June 8, 2016 (3:06 pm)

    On the one hand, the city goes around spending our tax dollars to plant thousands of new trees along our streets.  But then, they give permits to allow hundreds of beautiful old trees like this one to be cut down.  And, in this case, just so someone can build a very large house on a too small lot.  

  • Angela June 8, 2016 (3:11 pm)

    I LOVE THIS. Thank you to my neighbors for trying. I live just behind the alley from this house. I got the notice that they were going to shove another house no that lot and was not happy…. glad someone is trying. 

  • Smitty June 8, 2016 (3:17 pm)

    I can’t imagine someone would have purchased this property without approval to cut the tree down.  If they didn’t receive the OK ahead of time, shame on them.  if they did, this is a done deal.

    But fear not, we have so many liberal activists in Seattle that it’s only a matter of time before someone – who has nothing better to do – straps themselves to the tree.  Lord knows Bernie doesn’t need their help any longer.

    Calling CNN!  Calling CNN!

    • WSB June 8, 2016 (3:26 pm)

      Smitty, we mention in the story that they have a *preliminary* affirmation that this is a legal building lot, but with the caveat that nothing’s final until the building permit is issued. And we also published the city’s detailed explanation of circumstances under which an “exceptional tree” would be allowed to be cut … TR

      • Smitty June 8, 2016 (3:43 pm)

        Oh, got it.  Thanks!

  • Lynda June 8, 2016 (3:24 pm)

    This lot is way too small for anything – except this beautiful tree. With all the building happening here, splitting this lot is unnecessary. Since this is an exceptional tree, the City needs to honor their promise to keep this tree – and many others – safe from being felled.

  • SaveDaTree June 8, 2016 (3:39 pm)

    Forget CNN!  Forget the liberal Bernie activists!  Call Cody Lee Miller a/k/a The Tree Man!  The last sequoia he climbed was 90 feet tall and he commanded the news and police spotlight for almost two days.   The Tree Man to the rescue!

  • jdlcmh June 8, 2016 (3:43 pm)

    Wait wait wait…they’re only building ONE house on that lot?!  Is this Bizarro West Seattle?  I thought we only replaced  single family lots/houses with at least 4-6 tiny townhomes or micro apartments.

  • Alan June 8, 2016 (3:56 pm)

    Why doesn’t the city, or perhaps the neighbors buy the site and turn it into a  public park? 

    • Alan June 8, 2016 (4:23 pm)

      Oh oh. I have been posting as Alan here for a long time. This is a different Alan. I may have to change my name to something more awesome.

      • Alan June 8, 2016 (5:42 pm)

        Alan – The other one. There doesn’t seem to be a way to change my login name with WSB, other than using a different email address. Could you maybe post as something like “Alan the Great”?


        Alan the Lesser

  • Purple Party June 8, 2016 (4:00 pm)

    I guess I see a lot of folks with the save “our” tree concept in mind.  I don’t understand how folks can cast aside our much vaunted, much fought for, and  constitutionally granted property rights.   This is not “our” tree, it is the property owner’s tree.  I would not teach my kids to treat other people’s property in such a manner. 

    Further, I would rather have this one tree (that the public certainly does not own) taken down and save the thirty plus trees (which we all do own) that might be taken down from expansion into the cascades from urban sprawl.    

    • Jakers June 9, 2016 (8:54 am)

      I see you just don’t seem to understand how things work in America these days…


      Your rights don’t matter, MY rights matter.  What you want doesn’t matter, what I want matters.  Your beliefs don’t matter, MY beliefs do.  Your opinion is wrong, MY opinion is right.  And I know all this because I am special and all that matters.  /sarcasm

  • J June 8, 2016 (4:18 pm)

    I’m really looking forward to the new, modern, barren West Seattle that is clearly on it’s way. All of these house-boxes that go all the way to the edges of their lots and tower over their neighbors are SO much more attractive than privacy and clean air and quality of life that the old West Seattle provided.

  • cj June 8, 2016 (4:35 pm)

    How utterly stupid to sacrifice that tree and how common these days.

  • ZZ June 8, 2016 (4:41 pm)

    Maybe instead of planting NEW trees, we should try to KEEP some of the healthy ones that are already here.  The City of Seattle has a reLeaf program – Trees for Neighborhoods and King County has a reTree  effort – One Million Trees.  These are great programs aiming to increase the urban tree canopy for both habitat preservation and as a respond to climate change.  Seattle is on a path to increase urban density rather than allow sprawl into the adjacent rural areas.  However,  we don’t want to live in a concrete jungle.  One of the things that makes Seattle so special is the nature in our backyards.  In our quest to move more people in, let’s not destroy what makes people want to live here.  Lets do SMART development rather than just development.  The new owner of this lot is concerned only with turning a profit.   They purchased the lot with the intent of developing the small lot and taking down the trees.  Seattle DPD should be able to say “no” to this project.  Unfortunately, DPD quakes in the shadow of developers and the fear of a lawsuit.  The only thing that will help save this tree is a huge response from the public.  TREES before GREED!!!

    • rg June 8, 2016 (5:31 pm)

      I say put the new people in WS and stop pushing them into my Juanita Woodlands!   Build Build Build!

  • anonyme June 8, 2016 (4:56 pm)

    It’s encouraging to see the growing support for tree preservation.  Developers have done whatever they wanted, in defiance of both law and common sense, for far too long.

  • flimflam June 8, 2016 (4:58 pm)

     any update on the illegal cutting situation? is the city just waiting for people to forget about it or what? seems that it should be figured out by now.

  • Bradley June 8, 2016 (5:16 pm)

    The people pushing for high-density in West Seattle and Seattle always tout how this sort of development is “good for the environment”, when it is anything but.  West Seattle has far less trees and green space than it did 20 years ago. Here in Arbor Heights, we are losing more tree canopy than any other part of the City, according to the City’s own statistics. Less trees and less open, natural space (concrete parks don’t count) lead to a reduced quality of life for every person and every animal.

    • AMD June 9, 2016 (6:26 am)

      Density is better for the environment overall, since suburban sprawl tends to remove more trees and alter more of the environment in across the board.  Yes, it has more impact on the immediate neighborhood than not building anything at all.  But not building anything at all is not an option.

  • alkistu June 8, 2016 (5:31 pm)

    Trees like this do not come up overnight. It took at least a couple of generations to grow. To allow a developer to have a “special waiver” to take down this beautiful tree is something only a developer in Seattle could acquire. When will Seattle citizens stand up for livable neighborhoods and make the developers pay their fair share for greenspace preservation, for alternative transportation, for road maintenance, for school classroom overcrowding. There is nothing sacred when it comes to development in this city. 

  • TheKing June 8, 2016 (5:47 pm)

    Before the local tribes like the Duwamish and Skagit were displaced from this area, there were trees 1000-2000 years old standing over 400 feet tall, taller than any tree in the world. They were all cut down to make way for what this city is today. Now one threatened tree is a “tragedy”. Please. 

    • newnative June 9, 2016 (9:56 am)

      Thank you for mentioning the obvious.  Sometimes I just don’t get this crowd and their imperialist nostalgia.  

  • Erithan June 8, 2016 (6:03 pm)

    So sad that people are so quick to remove such beauty, and much of why seattle is seattle.  If I wanted to live in a concrete jungle where a shrubbery is considered “green space” I’d move to LA or NY.  So sad to see less and less green in the area as time goes by. =(

  • Mary Fleck June 8, 2016 (6:15 pm)

    Pocket parks are perfect places to save big trees in neighborhoods.  Many cities have land trusts to purchase land that the local parks department cannot afford to buy or (like Seattle) chooses not to buy because they are “too small.”    Seattle Green Spaces Coalition has proposed a private-public land trust for Seattle.  If you think Seattle should have a land trust send an email to Jesus Aguirre (Parks Superintendent):, Councilmember Debora Juarez (Chair of Parks Committee): and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (Vice Chair of Parks Committee):  Please send a cc to!

  • clulessinws June 8, 2016 (6:32 pm)

    Come on folks, dontcha know by now? More structures, less trees.

  • Lez June 8, 2016 (6:49 pm)

    Amen Purple Party 

  • Westside45 June 8, 2016 (8:29 pm)


    Fewer trees.

  • Catherine Darwin June 8, 2016 (8:47 pm)

    The lot is not to code.  The developer wants to use 100 year old land codes (the exception needed) in order to build.  We would not allow them to use 100 year old wiring codes, so why lot sizing?

    What is the point of our codes if they are just dismissed?  Why doesn’t the lot have to be legal?

    Plus it involves cutting this tree.

    • Oliver June 9, 2016 (1:53 pm)

      Good point!  Around 100 yeas ago Smith Tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi and women were granted the right to vote.  I believe our community and its people have evolved quite a bit since those days, unless of course you are a developer trying to exploit old laws for profit.  But the owner has stated that this is for the benefit of Seattle’s housing crisis and obviously a selfless act. 

  • John June 8, 2016 (9:24 pm)

    I would ask how many of those bemoaning the tree on someone else’s property  even have any trees of their own?

    It is so much easier to cry fowl when it is someone else who is exercising their legal rights.

    Those who wish to deify trees over human life are free to acquire land with trees, plant in their own yards or best of all devote time to restoring Seattle’s green spaces which are in deplorable condition.

    Claims of West Seattle losing it’s canopy are easily proven false  by examination of historic photos.  Virtually all of West Seattle was clear cut before being developed and basically barren for a century.

    • Question Mark June 10, 2016 (11:56 am)

      I can happily say that one of the reasons we fell in love with our house was the trees already on the property (to which we have added to over time). Prior to this house, it was with great sadness that we had to take down a large Douglas Fir that had become blighted at our previous home. That neighborhood, thankfully, has many homeowners who continue to maintain such significant trees …

  • Doug June 8, 2016 (10:34 pm)

    Absolutely shameful. The owner Cliff Low speaks to the “severe housing crisis” as justification for sacrificing this gorgeous tree. What a joke. This is totally against code and I will be filing a comment with this city to stop it.

  • dsa June 9, 2016 (12:27 am)

    No sympathy for the developer dividing the property since the new lot seems to be undersized.  Save the tree.  If he wants to make some money, add on to the existing home and keep the large lot intact with the tree for the new family to enjoy.  It is an asset.

  • Nancy R June 9, 2016 (7:20 am)

    As someone who works toward environmental and progressive issues on  daily basis,  I have to take issue with many of the comments above.   This is a city building lot and an owner has let the tree live there for many years,  providing a benefit to the adjacent neighbors.   Many of us are living on lots where the trees were cut down a long time ago and filled with houses or apartments.   Why is the current owner (or the past owner that sold it as a building lot) a “bad neighbor” because he/she decided to do what the city zoning allows?     Everyone should plant trees in their yards and parking strips.   Take the long term view and know that a tree planted now in your yard will be an “exceptional” tree in your children’s lifetime.   Just plant it in the right place.

    • Oliver June 9, 2016 (10:38 pm)

      I agree but the only problem with this one is that the person who purchased the lot is not living in the existing home that is connected to the land, and clearly has only one purpose which is to make a profit.  It’s perfectly fine with me, but they are trying to get a pass on developing the land for additional profit through old zoning laws that really should no longer apply.  That is why they have requested a special acceptace for the 100 year old code to make additional money purchasing the existing home and developing the land.  They have no plans to occupy the residence and it’s all about making money by exploiting century old codes.  Come see the lot and you’ll see what we are talking about.

  • WSgal June 9, 2016 (7:23 am)

    We feel there is also a severe housing crisis in Seattle and this outweighs the desire to retain this tree.”

    Wow, “severe”? Makes me sad to see how greedy people are ruining West Seattle’s charm and beauty. 

  • Chemist June 9, 2016 (9:08 am)

    Hrm, even the preliminary site plan shows this “new lot” is being created such that the house observes its 5′ setback, but the wood deck from the owner’s site to the S and the surveyed property line to the N (several feet beyond the chain link fence) don’t have with this parcel the 5′ setback. General rules are for a 10′ accessway that’s made up of neighbors having 5′ setbacks, and an easement being prescribe to violate the setback but keep the same 10 ft accessway clear. It looks like this plan would require two easements to go through.

    Also, kind of sucks that they’re only planning to save the shore pine in the corner that the arborist said was in poor health.

  • WP June 9, 2016 (11:12 am)

    I have an issue with this project not only because of the
    tree but more so because it is simply not to code and does not, in my opinion,
    qualify for an exception and here’s why: 

    The developer is asking for an exception based on a “Historic
    Lot Exception” in the Land Use Code (SMC 23.44.010.B.1.d) and it reads in part, “The historic lot exception
    may be applied to allow separate development of lots already in existence if
    the lot has an area of at least 2,500 square feet, and was established as a
    separate building site in the public records of the county or City prior to
    July 24, 1957, by deed, platting, or building permit”. 

    here’s the thing: This lot in question (Lot B) does NOT meet this exception by deed,
    platting or building permit
    as required by code and that’s why they had to
    ask a Land Use Planner for an interpretation. 
    The opinion of the planner was that since the original owner of the
    property who built the house in 1930 did not include Lot B in the building
    permit, it was his intention to develop it at a later time.  He also concludes that since all of the
    owners after this original owner did not merge the 2 lots, Lot B “maintained
    its current configuration for the purpose of potential future development as a
    separate building site.”

    If we are simply using
    the argument of intent, then isn’t it equally fair to say that since the site
    was originally platted in 1906, and through the hands and intentions of
    numerous owners, each owner having a chance to act on their intent, no one, for
    over 100 years, has chosen to develop this site.  In fact, isn’t it
    obvious based on the history of this site, that the more plausible intent of
    Lot B is to be simply used as a side yard to the house on Lot A? 


    Feel free to read it
    for yourself:
    Enter project # 3022995 

    • WSB June 9, 2016 (11:29 am)

      The letter is already linked in our story.

  • Oliver June 9, 2016 (12:18 pm)

    I would have preferred that the owner of the land not respond, as it is insulting to expect us to believe this person is building a house because they actually care about the of shortage of homes in our area.  If that is the case, then I would expect this house to be sold at a very steep discount to ensure someone has a chance to own a home at an affordable price.  No…the owner is going to build and get every penny possible out of it.  Be honest and admit that you are doing it for the money.  I would have a lot more respect for the truth!  It is your land and you can do whatever you want with it, as long as it is legal by standards of code enforced in our city.  The city is just as greedy as they will be getting more tax revenue from the property and can also say they are doing a good thing for our citizens by adding another home.  But they also want this to command a high price as the value will increase the tax revenue.  Just be honest…it is all about the money!!  

  • Ponderosa Pine June 9, 2016 (7:23 pm)

    Cliff Low:  “We are building an undersized 2 story home. The tree will need to be removed in that a home could not be built there without removing it. We feel there is also a severe housing crisis in Seattle and this outweighs the desire to retain this tree. We look forward to providing a home for someone to enjoy the neighborhood, hopefully a future friend to Myla.”


    I appreciate your motivation to build homes out of compassion for families.  Might I suggest a win-win:  Split your 6,600sf lot into 2 – 3,300sf lots and build a medium size home like your 2,120sf residence.  Then they too would have a view of Lake Washington and both of you would have 100sf  more of yard than your proposed development.   You would only lose a garden and we would get to keep our tree.  You could help with the housing crisis and have playmates for your children while we help with the environmental crisis and retain our exceptional tree.  And, just for your information, most of the homes over here in our neighborhood are around the 1,750sf “undersized” residence you are proposing.  Most do not have a 2 car garage either.   We park our cars on the street and take the sidewalk to the bus.  We too like our gardens, that is why we hold side yards precious for green space,  decks, and for our children to play in.  

    Also, the majority in our neighborhood disagree that a house is more import than a tree.  We especially  love our big beautiful trees.  Without trees we may not have the need for houses in the future.  

    Note:  Cliff Low is
    proposing a residential structure that will occupy 54% of his lot,
    specifically, a two-story, 1,750sf house (where the deck is on the roof) two-car
    garage built on a 3,200 square foot lot. This is contrary to current
    code, which limits a residential
    structure to occupying 35% of a 5,000 square foot lot.  He is asking for a
    special exception to do so.  The City will decide whether or not to grant this, based in part, on your input.

  • Oliver June 9, 2016 (9:02 pm)

    By the way, the picture of Myla is quite compelling.  This is a very young girl standing almost directly in the center of the lot that is seeking approval for a two story house with a two car garage. Need  I say more  about why this is such a concern to people living in the area?  Maybe I’ll go ahead and build a ten story condo on my lot of land.   That will add more housing for the city and improve the tax revenue as well.  Plus the top floors will have a view!  It’s all about the view and I can put some money in my pocket.  But it is of course for the benefit of our housing crisis in Seattle.  Why else would I suggest something like this?  My only concern is creating housing for residents of Seattle!

    • WSB June 9, 2016 (9:11 pm)

      Just to clarify – she was not standing ON the lot – we don’t ask people to trespass for photos! She was standing on the sidewalk in front of the center of the lot.

      • Oliver June 9, 2016 (9:31 pm)

        I stand corrected by our ever so dependable Blog!  Standing at the center off the lot on the public sidewalk.  Does it really matter that much!!  I was just trying to provide a little scale for the situation.  Come see it for yourself if you don’t believe my description.  It’s a very simple observation when you view it directly.   A very small lot being grandfathered for a large house because of code that is a century old.  Shameful at best!

  • BJG June 9, 2016 (9:34 pm)

    I’m afraid we are in for more teardowns, timber removal, and new plantings. We are not a forested peninsula anymore.  Our home was plopped in a cleared orchard in 1926 that was old growth forest before. It’s the “cycle of life” in the city. Our huge hemlock was cut down by the city 15ish years ago to save the power lines. They kindly planted a couple of cypress trees to screen us from the heavy traffic. These have thrived. I expect in another five years they will also need to come down. The city may come knocking…and even though we own the trees and love them, the neighborhood power needs come first. (We will never have undeground wiring here.) It is always a trade off in an urban area. Fortunately, trees sround here grow quickly. My only concern is that our city lots are being developed without any setbacks for landscaping. That’s when I get apoplectic.

  • LStephens June 9, 2016 (9:38 pm)

    In what West Seattle neighborhood is a 1,750 sf house with a 2 car garage  undersized?

    Maybe the tree should be professionally uprooted, moved and planted in the illegally clear-cut area.   Owner-financed, of course.  Win-win!

  • Purple Party June 10, 2016 (9:29 am)

    Trees are great. Property rights, however, are a big deal. Check in with the King of England that we fought with for a few years about these issues and you might have  a friend if you are arguing our government should dictate what happens with this particular tree. 

    I am super socially liberal, however, when it comes to our property rights, these comments are really tough to swallow since they imply that neighbors have some ownership of the tree. 

    Also, as much as the neighbors say they care, no one is putting their money where their mouth is and making Mr. Low an offer to buy the lot.  If profit and money don’t matter to you folks that are commenting, why are you not simply spending your money to buy the lot and save the tree?  I don’t get it. 

    • Alkiobserver June 10, 2016 (11:27 am)

      I am with ya. I laugh at these folks bemoaning that the landowner wants to make money and do something with his property. Its his business. So what if the land clause is 100 years old? There are lots of laws and regulations that are still on the books that are enforced, and or referenced that are even older. If the city will allow it, I say so be it. Property rights matter. Heaven forbid he was reducing the size of the house as no doubt we would hear the same folks bemoaning that he is taking away housing and tax revenue (ie. the dust up over the house next to the ferry dock).

      Live and let live.

    • Oliver June 10, 2016 (6:45 pm)

      You miss the point.  If you have to go to the King and ask for permission to build something that really shouldn’t be built on a particular lot of land, then the land owner is asking for a special favor from the King.  Perhaps the additional tax revenue will get this one past us silly  peasants.  There is a reason the owner must post a sign requesting public comment and everyone is sent letters anouncing it, because the owner is trying to do something that is not within code.  They are trying to get a pass to build something that shouldn’t be built, and they have every intention of cashing in on it.   We are  given a legal right to contest something that is not appropriate for the space, because our city leaders can’t make the right decision without our help.  We have a voice and your are hearing it!! 

  • Curate June 10, 2016 (10:16 am)

    Also, as much as the neighbors say they care, no one is putting their money where their mouth is and making Mr. Low an offer to buy the lot.  If profit and money don’t matter to you folks that are commenting, why are you not simply spending your money to buy the lot and save the tree?  I don’t get it. 

    Seriously? Folks can’t activate about perceived injustices and unfairness and should instead “buy” their way out of community conflicts?

  • MH June 10, 2016 (12:29 pm)

    I am less concerned about the tree, rather that livability is being sacrificed at the altar of density.  A 1,750sf house on a 3,200sf lot?  My 1,870sf house feels cramped on a 4,800sf lot.  Where is “Lesser Seattle” when we need it?

  • Ponderosa Pine June 12, 2016 (4:44 pm)

    One of the required classes for my college curriculum was psychology.  I remember reading about population density studies.  One study always comes to mind when the topic of density arises:  John Calhoun studied extreme crowding in his “rat city” experiment.  The rat population was allowed to expand rapidly in his confined, finite space.  Although there was always ample food and water available, overcrowded conditions resulted in hostility and aberrant behavior.   At what point do humans reach critical density in our finite space?  

    And who gets to decide how community’s are developed and their character?  I believe the public provides input during reviews of the Seattle Residential Code that reflect our shared values. What surprises me is how these outdated code danglers keep coming up and biting us.  Currently we are using the 2012 version.  Perhaps it is time to update our Residential Code and close these sleeper clauses that the developers continue to exploit much to our dismay.

  • AMD June 12, 2016 (7:01 pm)

    Four years isn’t that long.  I don’t think updating the whole residential building code every year is warranted or at all a good use of money.

  • Hildegard Nichols June 12, 2016 (9:55 pm)

    The tree canopy in Seattle is down now to the same percentage as in New York. I hope people will not stand aside and watch more healthy, great trees get chopped down. The building code, the Comprehensive Plan for Seattle and the tree ordinance need to be updated so there is a firm protection for exceptional trees (and historic buildings), and incentives are established for MORE trees in disadvantaged, racially diverse neighborhoods. There used to be a plan to achieve a tree canopy of 40% in Seattle, now it’s not even at 30% any more, and the 40% seem to be forgotten. Too ambitious a goal? I don’t think so. The capital of Germany, Berlin, houses five times the people on four times the space of Seattle, so it is DENSER, but still sports a tree canopy of 60%! Where there is a will, there is a way… 

    Yes, this tree should be saved, and many others like it as well. We have a climate crisis right now, and as long as we haven’t achieved 100% renewable energy yet, there is no wiggling room for chopping down huge trees and waiting for the replacements to grow up. Trees enrich the air with oxygen, filter out dust and dirt, hold carbon, regulate water circulation, keep us cool in the summer, provide food to wildlife, and so on.  We need those giants now, for our health and that of the planet! 
  • Stu June 13, 2016 (11:34 am)

    You all are worse than NIMBYs. I’ve been a Seattle resident all my life and just when I thought I could afford a house, the market has exploded over the last few years. My only hope is tiny houses like the one that will be build on a tiny lot, but those are nearly impossible to find. Trees are fantastic, but your selfish fake-environmental concern is not. The city is growing and changing, and it is affecting us all. But please stop pretending that the only people who can’t find housing are Californian transplants (which some of you are) who are changing the city. Many people in their 20s and 30s that grew up here are seeing the true colors of their selfish neighbors as they restrict housing options because they got theirs. 

  • Fauntleroyfairy June 13, 2016 (12:01 pm)

    I love trees too, but forget about that argument.  The fact that the city may allow a 2 story home, regardless of size, on a very small 3000 sq. ft. lot is beyond irresponsible!!!!!!  

    We can not continue to cram people into spaces that force us to practically live on top of each other.  Where will it stop? No variance should be considered!

    • Stu June 13, 2016 (1:26 pm)

      That’s not irresponsible at all, regardless of how many exclamation points you use. The city is growing, and the only way to keep it even remotely affordable is making more housing. I get that you bought your home at whatever amazing price you got however many years ago and the golden age of the city you remember is passing you by, but the good thing is you don’t get to make decisions about the city. A small house next to a medium size house in the city limits is not living on top of each other. You are what’s wrong with Seattle. You are selfish, entitled and enjoying the fruits of a zoning code that shouldn’t exist. Please think about what your opinion will do for the next generation who just wants a shot at what you had–a chance to buy a home. You are selfish. 

      • King June 15, 2016 (10:48 pm)

        You are incorrect in your description of the size of house.  Take a look at the plans on the web site and you will see that it is the size of the houses on either side.  It is just longer which takes more of the land.  There is no yard which makes this a condo or duplex without actually being a condo or duplex.  They are squeezing it in the limited space available which has a negative impact on the exiting homes.  I have no doubt that the city it going to allow it.  The developer that purchased this property already had the city’s approval before they bought it.  I seriously doubt they would have out bid everyone else for the property unless they were certain of the additional revenue from developing the side lot of less that 3500 sq ft.  That is the only way they can make a profit.  It has no impact on me personally, but I do think the city needs to take control of what is being allowed in this area because they are craming a lot more people on the West Seattle Bridge.  This is going to become a very big traiffic problem within the next year.  Just look at all of construction on California Ave.  I love growth and bringing some your families to the area, but the commute is going to be horrific.  We can not wait for light rail 10 or 20 years from now!  Our city planners always put infrastructure before building permits…maybe not!!  I hope you all enjoy getting up early to go to work, as the West Seattle Bridge will be a parking lot in the coming years, and anyone heading out after 6:30AM will be sitting in a parking lot.  Especially during school months.  I just wish we had some leaders that actually thought about how growth impacts the simple effort of getting to work.  I really done thing they care as long as the tax revenues are filling the bank.  

  • Ponderosa Pine June 13, 2016 (10:41 pm)

    Does any one have recommendation for a good land use attorney who would be able to help our community protect this exceptional tree?

  • Andy June 14, 2016 (2:49 am)

    Save the tree. Stop the developer!  What would Emmett Watson say?

    It’s too late, but I miss lessor Seattle. Just wait until all the usable space is used up.

    But would anybody care? 

  • JimB June 14, 2016 (6:38 am)

    Re: good land use attorneys:

    Eglick Kiker Whited PLLC, 1000 2nd Ave #3130, 441-1069

    No land use attorney is inexpensive, but if those who oppose granting a variance to this project pool their money, legal consul can be very effective. Several letter writers seem to know the background on this property as well as the relevant city code. If an attorney is too expensive, there is always the option of acting as your own consul and appealing a land use decision favorable to the developer to the Office of the Hearing Examiner. The cost to file an appeal is modest and if you do your homework you have a shot at overturning the planning department’s decision. Win or lose, you at least will have given it your best effort. However, the first step is to ask for an extended comment period (30 rather than 14 days), second, organize and make sure you get your letters to the Planning Dept. within the comment period  and third, if you contest their decision, file your appeal to the Hearing Examinern within the 14 day window allowed after the decision is issued. 

  • PonderosaPine June 14, 2016 (12:40 pm)

    Thanks Jim B.  I am going to start calling attorneys and will keep the community posted.  Can someone help by asking for the 30 day exemption from the City?  We need a community’s tree roots effort :)

    On another note…  Our tree can be seen from downtown Seattle.  It is the tallest tree on the West Seattle peninsula’s horizon.  Look for its distinguishable top (see pic at the beginning of this article).  Hopefully  this tall standing silent giant can inspire us into action in the face of difficult odds.  The same odds that John Muir faced when trying to fight off developers who wanted to profit from our National Parks.

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