New tree regulations are adopted

December 22, 2008

By Jon Savelle

The City Council approved new tree-preservation regulations at its Dec. 15 meeting, and it is hoped that they will take the guesswork out of tree removal while also protecting the city’s green canopy.

Under the amendments, single-family properties must retain two trees per 5,000-square-foot lot. Four trees are required for every multifamily lot of the same size.

A key tool in the new code is the tree removal application form, available on the city’s Web site, which asks prospective tree cutters for some basic information. This includes the size of the lot, the trees to be removed and whether or not any code restrictions apply to the property.

If the number of trees proposed for cutting is within the allowed limit, simply filling out the form is all the city requires. There is no charge.

However, should the applicant wish to remove more than the allowed number of trees, or any landmark tree (defined as being at least 30 inches in diameter at 4 1/2 feet above the ground), a tree removal permit is required.

Created as amendments to the Land Use Code, the new sections are the result of 17 months of work by city planners, the council and interested citizens. They will affect the owners of commercial, multifamily and single-family properties throughout Issaquah, and are intended to maintain a tree canopy over at least 51 percent of the city.

“This will help us meet our overall environmental goals,” said Councilman John Rittenhouse as the council voted unanimously for approval of Agenda Bill 5904. “It is a good first, second and third step.”

The other members concurred, with several praising the work of city staff members in drafting a large and complex piece of legislation.

A particularly thorny, if you will, issue was how to track the removal and replacement of “significant” trees on single-family lots. A significant tree is defined as being at least 6 inches in diameter at 4 feet above the ground. How to manage them has been the subject of public meetings, City Council discussions and dozens of telephone calls, letters and e-mails to and from planners and citizens.

Now, the code spells out:

  • Minimum densities of trees per lot.
  • The maximum number of trees that may be removed in one year or five years without a permit (based on lot size).
  • The review procedure for tree removal via a new tree removal form and a tree removal permit.
  • The criteria for removing hazardous trees.
  • Tree retention criteria for new development.
  • The requirements for replacement tree quantities and locations.

The tree removal permit costs $240. It is up to the property owner to determine whether a permit is needed; if cutting occurs without a permit that is subsequently found to be necessary, the fee will be $480.

Of course, there are exceptions. No tree removal permit will be required if the tree is a hazard, if it is causing obvious physical damage to permanent structures, if it is blocking active solar devices or if it is part of a thinning program in a heavily wooded area.

In some instances, neither a removal form nor a permit is required. Nonsignificant trees that are not otherwise protected may be taken out; so can trees in right-of-way easements or in association with mineral extraction. And in emergencies, any number of hazardous trees may be removed.

The next step is to monitor the new regulations and determine how well they are working. Council members decided that at least a year of implementation is needed before drawing any conclusions, at which time a report will be provided to them by planner Debi Kirac.

In the meantime, the costs of administering the new regulations will be partly supported by a new “tree fund,” fed by fines from violators. Such monies also will be used for acquiring, maintaining and preserving wooded areas; for planting and maintaining trees on public property; and for urban forestry education.

THEN

More than a year and a half of research and public involvement has been put into the city’s tree regulations.

NOW

Implementation of new regulations begins

NEXT

City officials will monitor the program for a year and determine its effectiveness.

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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