SHORELINE — Tree-huggers and tree-cutters who reside in Innis Arden may soon have one thing in common besides trees — mediation.
Funding for as much as $15,000 was approved on a 5-2 vote by the Shoreline City Council at the Oct. 3 meeting to provide mediation for two parties involved in contentious tree cutting-related issues in Innis Arden. The proposal, however, is now dependent on whether involved parties agree to participate.
“This is an issue that is enormously contentious,” Council member Paul Grace said. “This would be a good benefit to the community and serve as a platform to resolve the issue.”
Established in the 1950s, the Innis Arden neighborhood has a view covenant that restricts vegetation height. Over the past 50 years, trees have grown both on private property and in the 52 acres of common areas, known as reserves. From north to south the areas are: Eagle, Blue Heron, Running Water, Grouse, Bear Trail, Coyote, and Boeing Creek reserves.
Some residents say club board members are creating views by cutting down trees in the reserves, rather than preserving views. There are a number of private lawsuits among Innis Arden neighbors regarding trees and views.
Deputy city manager Bob Olander said the issue involves cutting and trimming trees for view preservation as opposed to preserving trees, which has been difficult to resolve.
“It is a very complex issue we have been unable to resolve all these years,” Olander said. “Private property owners and the existing system does not work well; there must be a better way.”
According to city documents, city staff become involved in the issue when tree trimming or removal is proposed in critical area steep slopes or stream buffers. The city also has a hazardous-tree exemption, which has upset citizens against tree removal.
City planner Matthew Torpey said two issues are proposed to be taken out of the critical areas ordinance and worked on through mediation; one is a Critical Areas Stewardship Plan that would allow for tree cutting contingent on the plan preserving habitat and soil stability; the second is the definition of hazardous trees.
“They would be better served if there is mediation with parties involved in matters,” Torpey said. “Proposed funding is available in the Comprehensive Plan Budget.”
According to documents, the city Planning Commission decided it would be difficult to reach a decision acceptable for both sides after hearing written and oral public comment during a review of the critical areas ordinance. The Commission opted to remove all references to view preservation from the critical areas ordinance update and recommended planning staff work with both sides on an agreement.
According to city documents, “Leaving the development code as written will leave the situation as it exists today, with neighbors taking legal action against one another and creating general animosity within the neighborhood. Additionally, the existing code language results in permit actions that are extremely costly to both parties once all legal avenues have been exhausted. Amending the development code without direct input from both parties may exacerbate the situation and cause further animosity.”
Council member Bob Ransom asked staff if the parties involved had agreed to participate in mediation. Olander said that although he had spoken to members from each party who said they may be interested, neither side had committed.
Council member Grace favored mediation, although he was unsure of the level of participation. Grace said $15,000 was a high estimate for the cost of mediation.
“My hope is a settlement would be something to apply to other areas and use beyond Innis Arden,” Grace said. “It is a good investment of public funds.”
Council member Rich Gustafson also supported the mediation, saying the Council will have the responsibility for the final decision.
“I have spoken with people in Innis Arden on both sides,” Gustafson said. “I agree we need to move forward on it.”
Council member Maggie Fimia said there should be mediation, but questioned why it would be paid for with public dollars. She thought mediation should be paid for by the private parties.
Council member John Chang said there is a lack of direction regarding the critical areas ordinance, which needed to be evaluated before mediation.
“We don’t have rules in place,” Chang said. “Once we have rules of the ordinance in place, it will be the beginning of resolving the issue.”
Council member Scott Jepsen said money for mediation would be well-spent, so the city can avoid legal fees for appeals and the court process.
Fimia said mediation is not binding and that it was “absurd” to think the city would be protected from future appeals.
Mayor Ron Hansen said it would be beneficial for the parties to discuss the issue, which could save the city money in the long-run.
A motion by Fimia to require the parties to reimburse the city $15,000 or services failed. The main motion passed, with Fimia and Chang dissenting.