Seattle Courant Archive

Seattle City Council Votes Yes on Tree Chopping Permit

Seattle City Council Votes Yes on Tree Chopping Permit

By David Murakami
February 24, 2009

“Trees are the lungs of the environment,” Councilmember Jean Goddon said. “This was a very good first step.”

The bill states that before chopping down more than three trees a year that are six inches or greater in diameter, and at least one and a half feet tall, a permit must be obtained from the city. This applies to residential lots of 5,000 square feet or larger, as well as any low-rise, mid-rise and commercial structures regardless of lot size.

The new tree regulations are supposed to be temporary - put in place while the city works out a more comprehensive tree protection plan. The council was motivated to pass this bill because of two recent lawsuits involving the Seattle School District (Ingraham High School remodel) and Maple Leaf residents that opposed the removal of a stand of trees at Waldo Woods in North Seattle.

From a tree activist’s perspective, the current tree protection system is broken.

“Any property owner can cut down a tree because there are no permits in place to regulate,” Steve Zemke of Save the Trees said Monday.

While some trees are exempt from the new regulations, such as those deemed hazardous or interfering with a construction project, to cut most trees down a permit will be necessary, unless of course you’re cutting down three trees or less a year.

The only dissenting vote was by Councilmember Richard McIver. McIver said that the city could be opening itself up to litigation if it denies a removal permit for a tree that later causes damage.

“It’s a liability for the city,” McIver said. “It’s not just the tree, it is the location of the tree.”

But McIver stood alone with his concerns. The other members of the council seemed more interested in aesthetics and property values than with legal fees.

“We need to protect the vibrance and beauty of our cities,” said Council President Richard Conlin.

“Property values,” Councilmember Nick Licata said, “are increased with foliage.”