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.

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Comments

8 Responses to “Talus trees are still standing for now”

  1. Connie Marsh on August 20th, 2014 7:31 am

    I am dismayed with the City of Issaquah’s decision to allow trees to be cleared in Talus to allow for views of homeowners. This is occurring on top of many years of failed planting efforts in Talus near the Forest Path* system. The City’s system of review for Talus has broken and needs your immediate attention.

    The Talus Development Agreement (DA) spends a significant amount of print discussing the protections for open space areas outside of critical and Native Growth Protection Areas. It clearly requires trails and connected green spaces, with limited clearing, to supply habitat corridors and “Incorporate the existing forest into buffers or corridors to the extent possible, and add evergreens.”**

    Rather than allowing for trees to be taken down to supply views for the residents of Talus the DA requires trees to be planted, of large variety including forest type trees, to mitigate views from offsite. In addition, to offset the human inclination to clear the open spaces, the DA requires an educational packet for the residents of Talus to help them understand the forested nature of Talus and adopt it into their lives.

    The definitions of maintenance in the DA do not include large scale cutting of trees, only the removal of hazardous trees and judicious pruning. (Pruning is not cutting down trees.) Further after reviewing the conditions from the actual plats, the existing vegetation is required to clear only the minimum necessary to create the trail through the open space and extra landscaping was to be added.

    Now, after the neighborhoods were built adhering to those conditions, there are two problems. First, many of the planted areas along the forest paths are dead and not maintained. Second, some Talus residents want views. Indeed the Talus HOA passed a rule that allows the taking down of trees for views, in large part along the forested paths and the City held the position that this does not violate the DA. Further the City permitted the removal of 30 some trees in Division 5 along a forested path. So Talus has a double whammy of dead landscaping and large tree cutting in the areas required by the DA and by Plat conditions to be protected and improved with landscaping.

    It is frustrating and disrespectful of the time and energy put into the DA, the Plat review by UVDC, Council and the hearing examiner to have the required conditions overturned by lack of enforcement and a staff permit approval to clear trees.

    Sincerely,

    Connie Marsh

    *Forest Paths are narrow, soft-surface, low impact trails that meander through critical areas,
    critical area buffers and forested areas with existing vegetation. Link to Talus Master Trails Plan https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/52624212/Talus%20Master%20Trails%20Plan.pdf

    **Appendix T, Environmental Mitigation 7.1 Landscaping number 1. (Look at all of 7.1)

    http://issaquahwa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1835

  2. C.A. Christensen on August 20th, 2014 10:16 am

    “Tree preservation in Issaquah is a high priority”

    Really?

    I rarely see that it is when development is concerned, when most of the time every green thing on an entire parcel is allowed to be scraped away and bulldozed into oblivion.

    There are of course, some trail corridors, open spaces and buffers that are supposed to be “protected”, but they can still be and are cleared for utilities, service roads, and water towers like the ones in Talus.

    When growth is concerned, the above reflects the City’s “commitment to conservation”. It is the way things are done in many places these days, but to use words like “conservation”, “protection”, and “preservation” to describe it is disingenuous at best.

    The greater issue with the Talus trees that effects all of us in Issaquah, is they are adjacent to long completed neighborhoods, not in undeveloped parcels. These trees only “crime” is…surprise, surprise….they grew up out of the clearings.

    Growing trees is something that we all deal with, and is an issue that the City Council extensively discussed and dealt with a few years back when they created the City’s current tree ordinance. It outlines the rules and pathways for trimming, cutting, and maintaining views.

    Logically, these Talus neighborhoods should be following the exact same rules the rest of have to. However, the City has decided to punt this issue back to the Talus HOA for a decision. I guess when the going gets tough, the City gets going.

    The nut of the problem is once upon a time, Issaquah had a Planning Department whose Department Head really tried to follow the City’s rules and the City Council’s policies, and attempted to apply them fairly.

    What we now have is a “Development Services Department”, and from their title is is pretty clear who they serve. What we have seen from them is an explosion of phonebook sized Development Agreements, uniquely tailored to each project. Different rules for different people, but with enough “Alice in Wonderland” rabbit holes and contradictory verbiage to make is so anything can always be done or squirmed out of.

    Compounding the problem, is the Development Services Department, beyond making the rules, gets to be the “Designated Officials” that interpret and “rule” upon them. The Talus trees are just one example of this.

    While I am bothered by the potential loss of the trees in Talus, what is more bothersome is how our Government does things in Issaquah. Maybe if our City Manager could balance his budget each year without the ever growing need for more development fees, we would have far fewer of these labyrinth Development Agreements.

    And maybe, if our City Council had it hands more firmly on the controls, and kept the City Staff squarely focused on polices and vision it creates, we would have far fewer of these problems….and more faith in our Government.

  3. Steve Zemke on August 20th, 2014 10:25 am

    What is missing in the proposal to remove and replant trees is the loss of current tree canopy. Cities continue to lose tree canopy and with it the loss of stormwater runoff reduction, removing pollutants from the air and bird and other wildlife habitat. If you remove a 20 year old tree it takes 20 years to restore the original canopy and you lose the additional growth that would have occurred if the tree had not been cut down. We need to respect and protect the trees we have and plant more, not keep removing them. And when we “replant” trees we need to not just put in little trees where big trees were. That is not really an equivalent replacement but represents a net loss of canopy.

  4. bryan weinstein on August 22nd, 2014 5:56 pm

    i’d like to say that this is news, but really, is it? we all know how this is going to go down – the trees will be removed and some lovely dogwoods will be put up somewhere as a “replacement” in accordance with the defined blah, blah in some legal document kept on a shelf somewhere, subject to change without notice. this is your future issaquah, you asked for it, voted for it, paid for it and continue to approve of it. the rest of us just stand by and shake our heads in disbelief and wave good bye to all that was here.

  5. Paul W. Boone on August 23rd, 2014 6:10 am

    Another crucial factor not being discussed is the fact that the only trees the cutters are being forced by the city to leave intact are a few isolated, but very tall (in great excess of 100 feet), Douglas firs on the edges of slopes. The nature of Douglas fir ecology reveals that they, like many conifers, rely upon a surrounding woodland for root system support and wind buffering. After that supporting woodland is killed, these tallest of trees within the community will eventually give way to the westerly winds, with the very real possibility of having them fall on top of our houses. In reality, the clear cutting of these community-owned forest trails will result in the loss of true landmark trees. The profile of Talus, as seen from the town and from Highlands, will be very visible changed, all for the fulfillment of the desires of a few, against the rights of the many. The original greening of Talus has become the browning of the city. This trend will continue, and your own neighborhoods may be next.

  6. L. Pobst on August 24th, 2014 2:13 pm

    The decision by the Talus Residential Association Board will be shared at the August Board meeting to be held on Wednesday, August 27th @ 6:30pm at the Fire Station training building located at 175 Newport Way (open to the public).

    While this decision is specific to one portion of the extensive trail system within Talus, it sets the precedent for all other shared trails within the community.

    For more information, including pictures and maps of the affected areas, please go to the “Talus Trees” Facebook site.

  7. Mary on August 27th, 2014 9:34 am

    Those Talus trees should stay except for the dead and dying for the health of the other trees. I live in a neighborhood that use to have a green belt and witnessed the trees and foliage ripped out of the ground so they could build new houses. I can only describe it as rape of the land it was horrible to watch this happening. To take out trees just for a view can only be describe as selfish and that is putting it mildly.

  8. Paul W. Boone on September 1st, 2014 6:01 am

    On August 27th at the Talus home owners’ board meeting, the board members again refused to hear any comments from homeowners regarding the ongoing threats to their greenbelts. Destruction of greenbelts is definitely a “significant revision” from the rules of the Development Agreement. Three residents presented these facts to the mayor and City Council in July. It is now September 1st, with no notice yet from the homeowners’ board regarding their decision of the appeals, despite a promise of a decision by August 27th. The covert strategies of the board against the homeowners thus continues, keeping the homeowners in fear of losing their environment, and having no recourse against these illegal activities.

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