Talus trees are still standing for now
August 19, 2014
By Peter Clark
A tussle over trees in Talus continues to take its toll.
After six homeowners applied to the Talus Residential Association to remove 19 trees in a communal area this past spring, a groundswell of protest began aiming to protect the landscape. The homeowner applicants claimed that the trees blocked views offered by the development’s place on Cougar Mountain.
“We had views of Lake Sammamish, downtown Issaquah and the Cascades,” Henry Farber, one of the initial applicants and the attorney representing them, said. “That was part of the interest in buying these houses for all six of us. In the last eight years, all these trees have grown over.”
The removal was slated to happen in April, but city officials halted the process because more trees were marked for felling than had been approved. Then, a subsequent appeal from residents led to the residential association board’s re-evaluation.
To respond to the appeal, the Talus Residential Association held a meeting to hear both sides Aug. 13. There, only lawyers could present their cases, but that didn’t stop about two dozen residents from showing up to watch the proceedings.
Farber’s argument is the tree growth affects the aesthetic value as well as the financial value of the homes.
“There was a significant downgrade with a recent assessment of our views,” Farber said. “There was an $80,000 (each) decrease to the value of our homes.”
The homeowners’ application was made possible due to the Talus Residential Association’s passage of a view preservation rule in January that opened the doors for such situations.
The homeowners offered to pay for the removal of 19 trees and the planting of 63 to replace them. The replacement trees would grow significantly shorter than the big leaf maples currently obstructing views.
“From our perspective, those 63 replacement trees are an important part of this,” Farber said. “They will provide shade, privacy and stability to the land.”
Janet Irons, the attorney representing the Talus appellants, said the application to remove the trees and the view preservation rule itself was against the initial development agreement struck between the city and developers.
“The development agreement has a specific provision that trees and forested areas are protected unless there is a safety issue,” she said.
She said the view preservation rule violates the underlying agreement of Talus, and was passed when the applicants controlled the leadership of the residential association.
“They’re trying to create views rather than preserve them,” Irons said. “One of the contentions of the appellants is that the trees reached their full heights before the houses were built.”
Farber spoke against invalidating the whole of the residential association’s view preservation rule.
“We think that would be a tragic mistake for all of Talus,” he said. “If you look at the development agreement, while there is an appropriate desire to have a tree-like environment, there is just as much emphasis on having views.”
The concern has spread throughout the city as various local activists weighed in on the proposed tree removal. Residents began a Facebook group to garner support for protecting the trees and Issaquah Alps Trails Club President Dave Kappler submitted an open letter to City Council members.
“The tree cutting plan proposed by the HOA is in violation of many of the agreements regulating Talus and the permit should be revoked by the city,” the letter reads. “The proposed removal of many trees, including multistem maples and alder trees, is a major impact to the open space and to the adjoining residents. Justifying this because the trees are perceived as ‘dangerous’ would require the city to close most of their trails on Cougar Mountain, West and East Squak, Tradition Plateau, Park Pointe and some city parcels on Grand Ridge.”
City officials have largely stayed out of the disagreement, instead deigning to let the residential association solve the matter internally. However, Issaquah’s approval was initially needed and granted through officials in the Development Services Department.
“The homeowners association’s election to remove certain trees, and replace them with comparable trees, is not a significant departure from the natural character of the area, such that a new landscaping plan must be permitted and approved,” city Communications Manager Autumn Monahan said. “More often, our authorization simply serves to confirm that the anticipated work is not a ‘significant revision.’”
Under those stipulations, she said the democratically elected framework of the residential association should determine the outcome.
Monahan also reiterated the city’s commitment to conservation.
“Tree preservation in Issaquah is a high priority,” she said. “The city is carefully monitoring this situation in the event ‘significant revisions’ in Talus are proposed.”
The Talus Residential Association will decide whether to side with the applicants or the appellants by Aug. 27.