Alert: Proposed Change to Seattle Tree Regulations

The Seattle Department of Planning and Development issued proposed new protection and development regulations on July 14, 2010.  Recently I attended a DPD presentation to Seattle Great City, where the city presenters reviewed their study which showed the on-going loss of tree canopy in Seattle. The proposal—an update of the city’s existing tree regulations—is aimed at increasing Seattle’s total tree cover from 22.9 percent to 30 percent by 2037. Tree loss has been especially bad in predominantly low-income areas like Southeast Seattle. In the Broadview-Bitter Lake sector, the tree canopy loss was reported to have increased 0 – 2% from 2002 to 2007.  The bright green areas often reflect the increase planting and growth of street trees in the right of way.

Summarizing an excellent article in the Seattle news website,, the proposal would:

  • Require people who tear down existing houses or build new ones to get a specific number of “tree credits” by preserving existing trees or planting new ones. The tree credit system would also apply to institutional buildings in single-family zones.
  • Require land owners in multifamily and commercial zones to meet so-called Green Factor requirements for planting or keeping trees (another complicated formula, this one aimed at retaining trees, which you can read about here).
  • Make it easier for developers to get exceptions to land-use rules if it means preserving an exceptional (very old or large) tree. Currently, getting land-use exemptions to save old trees can add as much as six months to permitting for a project.
  • Eliminate the requirement that land owners preserve all exceptional trees. A “permanent exceptional tree protection requirement would be extremely burdensome for the few people who actually have exceptional trees because it would allow no flexibility to manage trees that may outgrow their space or prevent light access, gardens, or other uses and would be a major incentive to cut trees before they grow to become exceptional,” the city’s tree report says.
  • Additionally, the city is considering: Requiring developers to get a “maintenance bond” to ensure that they actually plant trees at new developments, and allowing homeowners to contribute to a new tree fund instead of planting or keeping trees.

The proposal is not supported by many on the City’s appointed Urban Forestry Commission, who think the proposal is too weak, too complicated and will not adequately protected at large and Exceptional, heritage trees. We recommend you read the full the article, see the graphics and excellent discussion in the Publicola website on 8/25/10- here’s the link:

 Here’s a link to the proposed DPD regulations:

 The City is hosting an open house on the proposed changes on September 21st at the Bertha Landes Room of City Hall, (open house is 5:30 – 7:30,  with the presentation starting at 6:00 pm.)

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