To cut or not to cut, it could be a pricey issue in Edmonds

The Edmonds City Council is heading into the next phase of updating the city’s tree regulations.

EDMONDS —City leaders are closer to rolling out updated regulations that aim to better preserve tree canopy in the city.

“What we’re experiencing right now is a lot of tree loss,” said Susan Paine, Edmonds City Council president. “The past practice was to take every blade of grass off of that lot so they can have maximum space.”

Paine said the council is moving through phases of updates to the regulations, beginning with those for developers.

Last week, city council approved an ordinance amending the tree regulations for developers, including incentives for those who retain 50% or more of the original trees on the property and a cap of $2 per square foot for fee-in-lieu payments.

According to the ordinance, developers should plant a number of native trees that in combination with the original trees meet the retention requirement or make a fee-in-lieu payment of $2,500 for every tree not planted to meet the retention requirement.

The city can use fee-in-lieu payments for purchasing and planting new trees or acquiring open space.

The amendments will be placed on the July 6 consent agenda for the city to formally approve.

“We’re proceeding pretty deliberately and we’re not breaking any kind of speed barrier here,” Paine said. “But what we’re doing is to just make sure we have all the elements in place so that we understand what we have and we can make some decisions about how we want to go forward.”

Next steps include evaluating how the city can create incentives for protecting and planting trees on private property and hiring an Urban Forest Planner, who will be tasked with community outreach and education, reviewing permits for tree removal and providing input on tree regulations, among other things.

The city began reviewing its tree regulations in 2020, using the framework outlined in the city’s 2019 Urban Forest Management Plan.

Some of the primary goals outlined in the plan are maintaining or enhancing citywide canopy, proactively managing public trees, providing education on tree planting and care and promoting the planting of species of trees that best serve the location.

Though the plan is only a few years old, the city is seeking updated data to help guide future tree preservation efforts.

“We finished our Urban Forestry Management plan and that plan suggested that we should have like 30% canopy cover, but that was also working off of old data,” Paine said.

A review of the city’s current canopy began this week to update a 2015 canopy review, said Kernen Lien, environmental programs manager. This data will help guide city officials in updates surrounding retention requirements.

Efforts to strengthen tree protections have been in the works for years.

“I was on the tree board here in Edmonds… and this was 2014.” Paine said. “Seven years ago our canopy was a lot more abundant. They were these great little punctuation marks… it offered some sort of refuge for wildlife. Most of them are gone now. And so, you know, that’s why we’ve had to put in some emergency ordinances just to take a breath and keep things stable until we can move things forward.”

Some residents have been vocal about their discontent with the ordinances.

“We’re asking only for the same freedoms allowed to those who built the homes you live in. Freedom to divide and build our property with no tree fees, and without 100% taxation for the timber and carbon footprint of our trees worth, or even to $2 per square foot, which would still be $100,000 for three homes in unproductive spending,” Linda Ferkingstad said during public comment at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

“You took that away from us in March and April with your regulatory and monetary taking tree ordinance,” she said. “Before we’re allowed to build three homes on our 1.2 acres we’re required to pay the city, either 250,000, 100,000 for the worth of our trees that we own on our property needing removal. Any amount is illegal. Edmonds is forcing us to purchase our trees — our property —twice.”

Many Edmonds residents, however, do value the tree protection rules.

A majority of the 415 respondents in a spring survey of Edmonds residents, said that they supported an increase in carbon sequestration — a process trees are essential to.

“The trees and canopy are very, very valuable for all of us,” Susie Schaefer said during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s really a matter of life and death as far as I’m concerned — particularly when you build in climate change and trees are one of the ways of combating climate change and we need to all be responsible for that.”

Paine said she hopes the community remains engaged as the council continues to update the regulations.

“There are opportunities for all sorts of good things to happen across all of Edmonds, and it’s gratifying and exciting,” Paine said. “It’s a good time to be on council, if you’re an environmentalist.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @BredaIsabella

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