Seattle's 2023 Tree Protection Ordinance
Some good things, some bad things, a questionable process, and a lot of controversy
The much anticipated Seattle Tree Protection Ordinance was passed by the Seattle City Council May 23rd with a June signing ceremony and press conference planned by the mayor’s office. But there was no signing ceremony or press conference… the controversy around this legislation had already become the main story.
First, Some History
- First Tree ordinance passed 2001 (Jan Drago – sponsor)
- Exceptional Tree Director’s Rule –2008
- Interim Tree Ordinance 2009 (Richard Conlin – sponsor)
- Urban Forestry Commission (UFC) created 2009 (Nick Licata – sponsor)
- SDCI released 2 drafts of Tree Ordinance 2010/2011 to weaken tree protection
- 2017 draft Ordinance to weaken tree protection (Rob Johnson)
- 2019 draft Tree Ordinance by the Seattle UFC ignored by Council and Mayor
- 2022 draft Tree Ordinance released and challenged by the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS)
- 2023 passed Tree Ordinance rewritten with assistance of MBAKS
Mostly related to the parts of the ordinance written for and by the developer lobby
- Low-rise residential zones: Guaranteed 85% hardscape allowance
- Mixed-use zones: Guaranteed 100% hardscape allowance.
- Neighborhood Residential: Allowance for the removal of exceptional trees for all types of construction projects (includes building roads etc for lot subdivision in master use projects) , rather than being limited to grading and permitting projects. A land-use attorney recently opined that the associated tree loss could be massive.
- Inside the tumultuous debate behind Seattle’s tree ordinance Eric Scigliano / Crosscut / September 1, 2023
- How Developers Helped Shape Seattle’s Controversial Tree Protection Ordinance Eric Scigliono /Investigate West /July 19,2023
- Seattle’s Heritage Trees and the New Tree Ordinance Eric Scigliano / Post Alley /July 25,2023
- Seattle City Council’s actions belie empty talk of saving trees Seattle Times, Editorial Board, August 23, 2023
Some Actual Good Parts of the Ordinance!
Related to property not being developed
- Reduced exceptional trees definition (Tier 2) from 30” DBH to 24” DBH
- Added tree groves (8 trees 12” DBH and larger) to exceptional trees (Tier 2) in ordinance
- Tree groves can cross property lines
- Grove remains a grove even if a tree or trees are removed during development
- Limited non-development tree removal to two 6-12″ DBH trees/3 years from 9 non-exceptional trees(old exceptional tree definition, so any trees < 30″ DBH) /3 years in NR, LR, MR, Commercial and Seattle MIxed Zones
- Registration of Tree Service Providers with SDCI, online reporting of removal of any trees 6+ inches DBH 6 business days prior to removal. Both for property owners and development. Tree Service Provider trucks must identify the company name.
Urgently Needed Fixes and Changes
- An outside evaluation of the impact of the new Tree Protection Ordinance and Seattle’s tree canopy.
- Remove the 85% lot coverage guarantee for development in LR zone and 100% lot coverage guaranteed for MR zone, Seattle Mixed and Commercial zones.
- Require a permit and limit developer removal of tier-2 trees to those in the building footprint only when its determined that the building cannot be moved in order for the developer to achieve their highest use of the property.
- Require developers to maximize the retention of all trees 6” DSH and larger during entire development process.
- Require Tree Inventory and Tree Plan (Landscaping Plan) be done before any building permit is issued. Portland, Oregon requires this. Include all trees 6” DBH and larger.
- Require 20% for MF zones and 40% for NR zones Tree Retention and Tree Planting Areas like Portland, Oregon has set up as an option.
- Lower tree grove requirements to 6 trees from 8 trees 12” DSH and larger. Portland, Oregon grove size is 6 trees.
- Include street trees in tree grove definition.
- Require street trees be planted when ADU’s are built. Currently they are exempt.
- Require street trees be planted for any addition over 500 square feet. Currently, it is only required for over 1000 square feet additions.
- Harrell’s One Seattle Tree Fund for in lieu fees needs to be in the Ordinance.
- Time frame to update in-lieu fees, should be at least every 2 years in budget process.
Start $17.87/square inch diameter at 12” DSH not 24” DSH. Ordinance says only $2800 for any 12- 24 inch DSH trees while Parks says $4000 is their cost to plant and maintain tree for 5 years. Adopted in-lieu fee in Director’s Rule is higher than last year.
- Spell out zones not covered by ordinance rather than say “all other zones” are exempt from ordinance. Add industrial zone to ordinance.