A person bicycles down a tree-lined path in Seward Park

Seattle City Council Vote on Amended Tree Protection Ordinance May Increase Local Tree Canopy

by Ronnie Estoque

On May 4, the Land Use Committee voted to pass amendments to CB 120534, which is an ordinance that pertains to tree protection. According to District 2 Councilmember Tammy Morales, who serves as the Vice Chair of the Land Use Committee, CB 120534 will be up for a vote by the full Council on May 23.

“If approved, there should be increased tree canopy because fees will be used to fund tree plantings in South Seattle,” Morales said in a statement via email. “Our district is directly impacted by a severe lack of tree canopy.”

According to Morales, the approved amendments made to CB 120534 “ensure that any revenue generated from in-lieu fees would come to South Seattle first to expand our tree canopy.” Developers and homeowners can anticipate increased fees for proposed tree cutting on their properties.

The Last 6000, a campaign to document and preserve Seattle’s majestic trees, reacted to the approved amendments by the Land Use Committee via Instagram post, stating: “Having mature trees where we live is important during heat waves like we are experiencing now. The Last 6000 knows that Seattleites benefit when large shade trees drop the temperature and keep the interiors of our apartments and homes cooler inside. CB 120534 makes progress in planting trees for the future, but doesn’t protect existing trees when development is occurring. Most existing trees grow on the perimeter of lots and can be saved when new housing is built.”

Councilmember Morales acknowledged that her office has received different responses from her constituents regarding CB 120534.

“On one hand, many constituents want the City to take actions that will drastically increase a tree’s protection and decrease the chances of a tree being cut down during development on private property,” Morales said. “On the other hand, we’ve heard from affordable housing advocates and developers that this will hinder progress for affordable housing production and further slow down the permitting process and construction timelines for developers.”

According to the fiscal note for CB 120534, additional general fund support may be needed for both code compliance and enforcement work. Land Use Committee Councilmembers Dan Strauss, Teresa Mosqueda, Sara Nelson, and Morales voted in favor of the amendments to CB 120534. Alex Pedersen voted against it.

“Our goal in this process was to find the right balance between increasing trees on public land in the South End while centering our housing needs for this region,” Morales said.

Amendments were approved by all Councilmembers on the Land Use Committee for CB 120535, which would add three full-time employees funded by permit fee revenue to the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) to implement the updated tree regulations. The number of newly regulated trees would increase, creating a need for additional SDCI staff for both permit reviews and site inspections.

“Our vision is that South Seattle residents will see a more green and shaded community that alleviates our heat domes and other environmental impacts,” Morales said.

This article is funded in part by an Environmental Justice Fund (EJ Fund) grant through the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE).

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Photo is attributed to TIA International Photography, from Seattle Parks and Recreation (under a Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0 license).

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