FAUNTLEROY FIGHT: Family pleads to save big tree threatened by SDOT project

Even as the city moves slowly toward a policy aimed at protecting trees, more are taken out daily, mostly for development. A short distance north of Lincoln Park, one big old tree is endangered for a different reason: A city transportation project.

Crews are working right now on the west side of Fauntleroy/Fontanelle [map] to build curb ramps. When they get to the east side of the intersection, Sara says, the huge chestnut tree at that corner of her yard is in danger.

She’s launched an online petition drive to try to save the tree, which they believe is more than a century old. The petition page tells the tree’s story in detail, including Sara’s personal plea:

We cherish this tree and its history. We love observing the animals it provides for, and are honored to behold its abundant glory and all the creatures that enjoy it. I gather snips of the flowers to make arrangements for meditiation. My housemate and her daughter collect the chestnuts annually and use them for arts and crafts! We were set to create a ladder this year so that we could climb it and build a treehouse! We long to protect it. Trees like this are sacred and SHOULD NOT BE DESTROYED!

Similarly, our neighbors over at the Kenney take walks and come to our tree specifically to gather chestnuts for their own decor, and to enjoy its sentimental value, as many of them have grown up visiting this tree in their childhood. We have many West Seattle residents pass by this tree to enjoy its splendor. This is a generational staple of our neighborhood.

After hearing from Sara, we asked SDOT about the tree. Here’s the response we received from spokesperson Ethan Bergerson:

SDOT has not made any decisions to remove this tree. At this point, we are only planning to temporarily remove some of the adjacent concrete sidewalk panels which were already lifted up by the tree roots, so that our arborists can get a closer look at the root structure. Our immediate objective is to better understand our options, and whether it is possible to trim the tree roots in a way that maintains the health of the tree so that the sidewalk can be repaired and the curb ramp installed.

As you noted, this tree is on private property. We have been having an ongoing conversation with the property owner, who has been aware of this situation since last September and understands that they share responsibility with SDOT for repairing the sidewalk damage. Their tenant learned of the situation more recently and initially believed that we had made a decision to remove the tree. We have since spoken with both the owner and tenant to make it clear that this is not the case and we will continue to share information about the tree and curb ramp design and construction as they become available.

Sara’s not taking any chances. Her online petition is collecting signatures, and her housemate’s 9-year-old daughter has written a letter with her own plea:

The petition page even includes a design proposal for building the curb and saving the tree. Sara writes, “I want to be very clear: we absolutely want our sidewalk and streets to be accessible for everyone! There are ways to do this that do not involve killing our tree.”

26 Replies to "FAUNTLEROY FIGHT: Family pleads to save big tree threatened by SDOT project"

  • Treeless April 13, 2022 (1:03 pm)

    What the city call arborists are in reality corporate butchers with no regard to the health or well being of trees. They cut the roots of a 30 years old redbud I’m front of my house without cause and the tree eventually fell into the street causing a hazard and killing the tree. SHAME on these so called arborists who are in truth just hacks.

  • Jim P. April 13, 2022 (1:17 pm)

    I love trees but handicapped people need to be able to move about the city freely.
    If the tree is damaging the sidewalks and will continue to do so or interfere with free passage, something has to be done. The pleas of a child notwithstanding.
    Explain it to her as a choice between people in wheelchairs getting around or the tree and see what she says.

  • Saul Notgoodman April 13, 2022 (1:22 pm)

    It is simply not true that “more [trees] are taken out daily, mostly for development”. Any development in the city of Seattle has to follow strict tree preservation and replacement rules. Most old growth trees, unless they’re damaged or diseased, are deemed “significant trees” and must be fully preserved (including full canopy and root system) during new construction. In addition, the number of trees planted after new construction is always greater than the number of trees allowed to be cut.

    • WS Res April 13, 2022 (2:55 pm)

      If only this were true when it comes to developing adjacent private lots!  We suspect that the root system of our tree was severely damaged when the lot next door to us was developed the year before we purchased our home. We’ve had the tree carefully trimmed to reduce some of the burden on its system in hopes it can recover, but we have a worried eye on it, as we’d be unlikely to have any luck recovering any cost from the (now long-gone) developer.

    • anonyme April 14, 2022 (7:10 am)

      Developers (and others, to be fair) continually find loopholes around laws protecting trees.  Even if they do actually plant more trees than they cut down, many do not survive due to improper planting, lack of aftercare, and horrible soil conditions due to slash & burn construction techniques.  The trees purchased by the developers are usually the cheapest possible, some already in decline.  I’ve done remediation on many such sites, where the soil is compacted like concrete with a few inches of compost thrown over the top.  One of the worst sites I’ve seen was left by a ‘green’ developer.  The only thing that will survive in such conditions is sod.  And the idea that construction workers preserve roots is laughable.   One last note” beware of “tree trimmers”.  If you really care about a tree, consult a certified arborist – and not one employed by SDOT.  Trees are not large shrubs and do not require ‘trimming’.

      • John April 21, 2022 (7:18 am)

        antonyms makes two untruths- “slash and burn” and “Trees are not large shrubs and do not require ‘trimming’.”  Slash and burn is a logging term and never happens in Seattle, being banned. And any arborist will confirm that trees do indeed require trimming for a variety of reasons including safety of people and health of the tree.

        • Lee April 25, 2022 (11:15 pm)

          Both of you are right. I’m an ISA Certified Arborist, and lots of trees I see in the city are completely fine as is and should NOT be pruned. On the other hand, there are many trees that may have some issues and are conflicting with the built environment, and human needs, and do require some pruning.

    • Marfaun April 14, 2022 (8:15 am)

      The City’s own tree counts — from Urban Forestry Commission & others — indicate more tree loss than tree gain, despite Seattle’s “commitment” in its upcoming Comprehensive Plan to achieve 30% tree cover by 2037.   If tree is removed, several other trees need to be planted in order to compensate for what the tree provided (oxygen, carbon sink, property value enhancement, drainage & stormwater management, etc.)

  • TJ April 13, 2022 (2:38 pm)

    You can’t have it all, added density and a city full of old trees. This one here isn’t related to added housing, but there’s no way to avoid losing canopy in this city. The rocks laying around are thousands of years old and nobody bats an eye to those getting tossed. Head to the mountains. You can get lost in old growth trees. 

    • Morgan April 13, 2022 (7:38 pm)

      Disagree; this is blinkered. There’s ingenious design solutions that can balance both…we have to care enough to protect it. This isn’t about housing anyways, it’s about transportt and the liability involved in making sure there ramps, which is court mandated and correct call.  But there must be compromises—give SDOT space to do the right thing…we need to value old trees more not less in urban areas if we are going to be able to accommodate more people—we need them to filter air, offer cooling shade, and nourish wildlife passing through on migrations between forest fragments.

  • Anna Silveira April 13, 2022 (3:07 pm)

    No, sorry. First of all, making this a choice between people getting around on wheelchairs and the tree is not fair. I think it’s a matter of sidewalk access for all, although I also think it’s a matter of a property owner not paying attention to their responsibilities.  In addition, there is a difference between tree protection rules and actual implementation. The current rules have been in place for more than a decade; they were supposed to only be interim. Trees are removed frequently for a variety of reasons, particularly old ones. There is a difference between SDOT trees and trees directly in the path of development overseen by SDCI. Developers can make arguments that trees are hazards when they simply don’t want to incorporate them into design (density and trees can go hand in hand, but developers can be lazy.) Trees can also be removed without the city being aware and the penalties are often quite small. Property owners sometimes choose to simply cut because they know that they may not be caught or held liable. There are many loopholes and, in fact, trees are often removed without permits, even by SDOT contractors. Finally, old trees serve a different ecological niche than young trees.  There is a lot more to be said, but these are vast oversimplifications of a far more complex issue.

    • Foop April 13, 2022 (3:57 pm)

      The city tends to prioritize ramps where someone reports a nearby home with someone who needs curb ramps. So consider that you have someone in your neighborhood, on your street for whom this would make moving around the neighborhood more accessible. It’s typically not just a random ramp being added for the sake of it. People with mobility issues can report stuff like this to the city and they will prioritize adding these features.https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/permits-and-services/make-an-ada-request/request-a-curb-ramp

  • StopCuttingDownTrees April 13, 2022 (3:58 pm)

    I don’t trust SDOT or any city agency to protect our tree canopy anymore. We’ve lost a staggering amount of trees in the city limits and a recent city council made it even easier for developers and property owners to destroy trees. I hope this owner can save this tree from the City’s tree butchers, but I’m not optimistic anymore. Urbanization is inhumane.

  • Michael Waldo April 13, 2022 (6:00 pm)

    Fourth ave, just south of Roxbury, there was a whole forest of large trees. They were all cut down to build more Green Bridge homes. I couldn’t believe they could not leave at least a few up. It was heart breaking to see.

    • Lisab April 13, 2022 (6:09 pm)

      Heartbreaking indeed.  And looks so sterile and ugly.

    • Buddy April 13, 2022 (6:26 pm)

      That’s why I have a flock of woodpeckers damaging are now my house now because the city chopped down all the trees where they lived and pecked holes into and now they are damaging many houses on the block.  Cut down trees you end up killing areas where animals live. Trees also work as a natural sound barrier and it’s one reason why I can now constantly hear noise of cars and garbage trucks due to trees cut down to build green bridges community. Trees also help with air pollution.

    • Marfaun April 14, 2022 (8:17 am)

      Greenbridge is in King County, not Seattle, so it’s KC’s bailiwick.  Different requirements there, apparently.

  • recognizegreatnessinyourneighbors April 13, 2022 (6:32 pm)

    I have never met her, but I love the woman who stood up for this tree and the people, animals, insects, and other plants that rely on upon it.  She is my hero today. I signed her petition, as did hundreds of others as of 6:30pm today. If the world had more people like her, maybe the world would be a little bit greener, a little bit more beautiful, a little bit more sustainable for all of us. May she walk in grace today and all of her days. 

  • Morga April 13, 2022 (7:34 pm)

    Speak for the trees! SDOT can maybe make a compromise with amount of ROW there generally and work the sidewalks around it or use specialized panels over roots. Let’s not make two good value systems fight in a pit; let’s encourage the bureaucracy to be creative!

  • anonyme April 14, 2022 (6:57 am)

    This is not an either/or situation as some have tried to define it.  Many municipalities have found ways to save big, old trees by diverting sidewalks or constructing around them.  The problem is whether or not SDOT has the brains or the initiative to do so.  SDOT also put in a ramp at my corner that increased the incline on the
    sloped street to such a degree that it is now dangerous for anyone in a
    wheelchair.  Nor do I trust SDOT-employed arborists based on the work observed around the neighborhood, planting trees in such a way as to guarantee their demise.  Two more observations: one, if this is an American Chestnut, it is an endangered tree.  Two, PLEASE DO NOT BUILD TREEHOUSES in living, treasured trees.  A single nail can mean the death of a tree; the fact that they take a long time to die or even manage to survive is not evidence of good tree care.

  • Math Teacher April 14, 2022 (8:59 am)

    This is a magnificent tree, but it is not rare old growth, it is not native, it is certainly not 200 years old, and the trunk is clearly not 10′ 34″ (what does that even mean?) in diameter as claimed in the petition. I hope the tree survives both the sidewalk repair, and the treehouse building.  

  • Larry April 14, 2022 (9:10 am)

    If it’s on my property I can do whatever I want. I pay the taxes nobody else.

  • tim April 14, 2022 (9:30 am)

    I think a property owner should have the right to do whatever they please with their own tree. But, if its affecting the right of way, and the owner doesn’t allow change,  they should be held accountable and pay whatever costs are incurred.  This tree was probably planted before there was a sidewalk, or a sewer, or electric lines.  But that shouldn’t remove one’s responsibility.  Today’s infrastructure isn’t designed to  tolerate a tree of this size/kind in that location.

    • Resident April 14, 2022 (4:48 pm)

      You called it. The design is the problem. Not the tree. 

  • Mj April 14, 2022 (5:51 pm)

    Tim- well said!  I would also add, I believe that they are responsible now for any cost to fix the damaged sidewalk do to their tree.

  • Sara Macko April 14, 2022 (6:57 pm)

    As author of this petition, I want to reiterate what is getting lost here in this thread, which is: WE DO NOT WANT TO ABOLISH THE RAMP PROJECT! WE WANT OUR CORNER TO BE ACCESSIBLE! WE HAVE OFFERED ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO CONSTRUCT THE RAMP! IN NO WAY ARE WE TRYING TO KEEP WHEELCHAIRS OR OTHER VESSLES FROM HAVING A SAFE PLACE TO TRAVEL AND NAVIGATE! WE WANT AN ALTERNATIVE DESIGN THAT KEEPS THE SIDEWALK SAFE AND PRESERVES THE TREE!! We are simply asking that the city workers open their minds and hearts to keeping historical living monuments in this community. We can all win. We just have to work together and give a care!Thanks for taking the time to read, share, and sign yall. Thank you for your thoughts and insight. I value you! So glad you’re my neighbors! 

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