Trees at Fifth Avenue S and Main Street in Edmonds. (City of Edmonds)

Trees at Fifth Avenue S and Main Street in Edmonds. (City of Edmonds)

Edmonds council: Home developers, put down those chainsaws!

A new moratorium halts the subdivision of land that has more than eight trees per 10,000 square feet.

EDMONDS — The number one complaint city councilmember Diane Buckshnis hears from residents of Edmonds is about the loss of trees.

As development continues to boom in the city, woody oases around town give way to McMansions, she said, and many residents prefer the forest.

So last month the council passed a moratorium to pause the development of wooded lots.

“People are stressed enough as it is, and trees are near and dear to many of us that are environmental,” she said.

The ordinance prohibits any subdivision applications for properties that contain eight or more “significant” trees per 10,000 square feet. A significant tree is “any living woody plant characterized by one main stem or trunk and many branches and having a caliper (the diameter at four feet above ground) of eight inches or greater, or a multi-stemmed trunk system with a definitely formed crown,” according to the moratorium.

The council approved the four-month moratorium on a 4-3 vote Nov. 2, and it went into effect eight days later. A required public hearing on the moratorium is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday.

It won’t affect any permit applications currently on the docket, Buckshnis said.

The council reached that definition by talking with the city’s Tree Board and the local Sierra Club chapter.

In her eight years in office, Buckshnis said, she’s seen developments raze at least seven pockets of forest.

“We’re talking Doug firs,” she said. “We’re not talking small trees. So the replacement is not the same.”

But the moratorium is just an interim fix. It’s a placeholder until the city’s new tree code is implemented. The code is part of the Urban Forest Management Plan Edmonds passed last year and will guide tree retention within city limits. There’s a public hearing on the code Dec. 9.

Those code revisions could help shape a controversial proposal to build a subdivision on a forested hillside in the Perrinville neighborhood.

Scores of residents recently raised environmental concerns about the plan, including fears that the construction would destabilize the slope, increase runoff and threaten wetlands and wildlife habitat.

The city council last Tuesday denied preliminary approval of changes related to public access at the project site, roughly five acres west of Olympic View Drive and east of 80th Avenue West. The decision was on the council’s “consent agenda,” a series of items that are typically passed in one vote without discussion.

The property owner could still apply for permission to subdivide the land, said Kernen Lien, the city’s environmental programs manager. Because of the early denials, though, the landowner will likely have to revise his plan to reduce the number of homes from the 14 he originally hoped to build, Lien said.

Prior to the moratorium, Edmonds didn’t have any codes preventing tree removal.

“That is what was bothering people,” Buckshnis said. “The developers can just go hog wild because we don’t have good codes in place for tree retention and low-impact development.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @sanders_julia.

Rachel Riley contributed to this story.

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