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On leafy 13th Ave E, some speak up for two 40-foot trees set to fall for sidewalk improvements — UPDATE

By Ryan Packer

The fate of two Norway Maples along one of Capitol Hill’s most leaf-covered residential streets seems sealed— but some neighbors are hoping to influence the decision at the last minute. 13th Ave E, with its unique curving streetscape, features a lush tree canopy along most of its length.

But a project moving forward to replace two houses currently occupied as duplexes with five rowhouses has led the city toward the determination that two 40-foot-tall trees in the planting strip along 13th cannot stay. With the new homes comes rebuilt curb ramps, and ripping up the sidewalk to install new ramps will do too much damage to the trees, according to the City of Seattle.

“After more than a year of review of the project site and design requirements, there were no options to meet SDOT Traffic or Urban Forestry standards for public safety and accessibility without removal and replacement of the trees,” reads an email sent by SDOT Arborist Ben Roberts that was posted by a concerned neighbor at the site within the past few days. According to the city, a notice was posted alerting nearby residents that the trees would be removed, but that notice is no longer there as of this week.

 

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The plans for 635 13th Ave E dictate that the trees along the street edge be protected, but sidewalk work adjacent to the development may prevent them from surviving the project.

An arborist’s report from 2019 noted hurdles to retaining the trees as the site was redeveloped. “Future impacts of an adjacent planned development are uncertain as tree protection measures have not been defined,” it noted. “Significant canopy pruning and root disturbance will be required to develop the site.” Both trees exhibited “signs of decay”, according to the report, but were only rated a moderate risk of having to be removed. Only since late 2018 have new developments been required to install new curb ramps when they are rebuilding an adjacent sidewalk; before that requirement was introduced it’s possible that impacts from sidewalk construction on the trees wouldn’t have been as major. But many sidewalks in the area are missing curb ramps, a fact that the city has been ordered by a court to rectify.

“Please do rest assured that SDOT Urban Forestry has worked with the applicant [of the rowhouse development] to ensure optimum conditions for early growth and longevity of replacement trees,” SDOT’s letter continued. It’s city policy to plant two trees for every one that gets removed.

Most of the comments that the city received about the proposed development on the site focused on the fate of the two Norway Maples. A meeting has been scheduled for this Wednesday, but the city appears to be keeping the number of invitees small. It’s unclear if there’s still a path to saving the trees.

One neighbor who is hopeful that the trees can still be saved is Jenna Mark, who lives across the street from the Maples in question.

“I think we probably have a shot [at saving the trees]. There’s a lot of people who are pissed about this,” she told me, suggesting the project’s developer would want to avoid a backlash from the neighborhood. She told me that there wasn’t enough public outreach done around tree removal here, and that the fact that the curb ramps are being used as a justification for their removal is a loophole that should be closed.

An update to the City’s tree protection ordinance has been a priority for the current iteration of the City Council, with District 6’s Councilmember Dan Strauss and District 4’s Alex Pedersen pushing on the issue from the Land Use and Neighborhoods committee. The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections is expected to present an updated tree protection ordinance to the council by the end of the year, but many tree advocates want tree protections to be housed in a city agency that doesn’t also directly oversee housing permit approvals.

According to the City, the area of Seattle containing Capitol Hill maintains tree canopy coverage over 34.9% of its street right-of-way, among the highest rates in the city and far above neighborhoods in southeast Seattle where street tree coverage doesn’t even hit 20%. But every area in the city contributes to the overall goal of getting to 30% citywide by 2037- currently that number is 28%. Of course, trees everywhere help mitigate local impacts of extreme heat events, which are becoming much more frequent.

Neither SDOT nor the developer of the parcel, Graham Black (a frequent developer on Capitol Hill), have responded to requests for comment from CHS on the issue. For now, the fate of the Norway Maples hangs in the balance.

UPDATE: Black tells CHS he does not see a path forward to saving the trees. “From my perspective, the decision has been made,” he said.

“We spent a year studying the issue [of whether the trees could be retained]… in the end, it’s the city’s decision on how to balance competing values.”

Black says he pushed the city early in the life of the project to resolve the issue of retaining the street trees and doesn’t feel the project’s design influenced that decision.

 

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ClaireWithTheHair
ClaireWithTheHair
3 months ago

I really do think the city is too lax with tree requirements when zoning for these new developments. The developers want to maximize their lot space, so they cut down all the trees and don’t look back. The more we do it, the more barren our streets get. And it’s a real crying shame because tree cover is an essential part of the beauty of residential CH.

kasa
kasa
3 months ago

our landlords are selling their houses this year and allowed the developers to come in and cut down trees on the property a week before new city limitations came into affect even though they aren’t leaving for months – I’m big on increasing density but also making our city denser and more affordable shouldnt mean a race to the bottom in everything else.

Removing the trees is not necessary
Removing the trees is not necessary
3 months ago

Who would be the best person to contact about this? The developer? The city arborist? The city proper?

hayley b
hayley b
3 months ago

route the sidewalk around the trees into the street! it’s not trees vs peds/ADA, it’s everything vs cars.

Removing the trees is not necessary
Removing the trees is not necessary
3 months ago
Reply to  hayley b

I walk on that sidewalk daily and it’s not even realistic to traverse it on a wheelchair. Super hilly, lots of cracks and imperfections.

Mike
Mike
3 months ago
Reply to  hayley b

I agree. Roy St is essentially an alley at this location. Why not install something like a driveway apron across Roy which would prevent the need to dig into the ground too much and distub the tree roots. The small amount of traffic would come up to the same grade as the sidewalk similar to what SDOT did at 15th Ave E as part of the greenway project.

kasa
kasa
3 months ago
Reply to  hayley b

there are absolutely curbs that route into the street like this all over the neighborhood and this is NOT a through street – no reason why we can’t do this

Defund SPD Now
Defund SPD Now
3 months ago

KEEP THE TREES! Come on!

Fund SPD Now
Fund SPD Now
3 months ago
Reply to  Defund SPD Now

I see your comments pop up frequently, and it amuses me that we stridently disagree on policy matters (police funding, for example) but stridently agree on matters of aesthetics (the new light rail station development looks like soulless Lego blocks, the trees are old and beautiful and should be saved)

Defund SPD Now
Defund SPD Now
3 months ago
Reply to  Fund SPD Now

I might change it to Abolish SPD. I truly think entire department needs to be scrapped.

RWK
RWK
3 months ago
Reply to  Defund SPD Now

Right….really great and nuanced suggestion. Hope you don’t have to call 911 sometime.

d.c.
d.c.
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

911 isn’t handled by the police any more (and wasn’t for a long time originally) and most 911 calls don’t want or need a police response anyway.

joanna
3 months ago

Thank you to all in Seattle who stand up for our trees.

Michael Calkins
Michael Calkins
3 months ago

Those are old trees there is no reason to cut them down other than the developer making money. Talk about whitewashing a city of culture and anything organic.

Barb
Barb
3 months ago

What if they cut down trees for more parking, you’d probably be ok with that?

Colleen K
Colleen K
3 months ago

I live at this intersection on 13th and all of our neighbors are so sad and frustrated about these trees being removed. They are beautiful, but they also provide shade and clean air for our kids, the elderly and our full community. Save the trees!

Anne
Anne
3 months ago

The cycle with development plantings in my neighbourhood in the border zone of CD/Capitol Hill has been removal of existing street/lot trees and vegetation followed by skimpy replacements after building. Without fail, the new owners and tenants neglect the landscape surrounding their units, and especially the parking strips, so the trees and shrubs all die slowly.
The effect is profound for humans, birds, pollinators.

Aaron
Aaron
3 months ago
Reply to  Anne

The City fails to keep up with its own maintenance of public green areas all over this city. You see 4-5’ high weeds on median strip blocking pedestrians’, cyclists’ and drivers’ views at intersections. Take a look at the new parks.You see very few trees. Lots of hardscape and gravel instead.

On my block alone we’ve lost eight 60’+ trees within in the last 7 years. With new developments and new owners, trees and green shrubs are being replaced by hardscape and artificial turf. People are buying AC units now.

This City is greenwashing to benefit developers and corporations. Tax dollars build one of the world’s most expensive, disjointed bike paths along with new curb ramps so people can rent motorized scooters to zoom up and down for thrills. My dog was hit by one when the operator lost control of the scooter on a busy sidewalk. No apology or even a stop. This isn’t a traffic solution, but a thrill ride. Who needs Disney world when you can have 21st century Seattle theme park full of magical thinking and fairy tales.

This emerald City is fat with get-rich and get-elected grifters. Big old trees are in their way. Greenback is the green in this city.

Those green leafy trees will fall. New people will move in and will never know what was there.

RWK
RWK
3 months ago
Reply to  Anne

Exactly. The developers of new buildings maintain the landscaping only as long as it takes to sell/rent the units. Then they are MIA, and the plants die. For condos, the new owners are responsible for watering/maintenance but they often abdicate this responsibility.

Barb
Barb
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

You would love the suburbs

RWK
RWK
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

No, I wouldn’t. Do you actually object to landscape maintenance and attractive, green streets?

Barb
Barb
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

I think that it bugs you so much with what people do on their property you should move to the suburbs and join an HOA.

RWK
RWK
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

It’s routine that some commenters here, instead of writing a considered response to something they disagree with, that they take the easy way out and just suggest that someone move somewhere else. It’s a cliche and it’s become tiresome.

Kyle on the Hill
Kyle on the Hill
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

The trees aren’t on their property is the point

KinesthesiaAmnesia
KinesthesiaAmnesia
3 months ago

The developer’s mom exhibited “signs of decay“ when she had him. SAVE THOSE FRIKKIN TREES ALREADY!!!

Howard Metzenberg
Howard Metzenberg
3 months ago

Norway Maple is an invasive tree whose dense root system and intense shade crowds out desirable native species. Norway maple has the ability to displace native plants in our Pacific Northwest forests.

Seattle’s tree ordinance should focus on native species, as well as those that under natural conditions would spread to Seattle in the next 100 years with global warming (for example, California redwoods and incense cedars).

Norway Maples belong in their native habitat.

Aaron
Aaron
3 months ago

The invasion defense rings hollow. On 13th Ave E. it’s not an invasive flora here and the replacement isn’t a native maple, evergreen or redwood, but expensive housing.

With climate change, it’s better to plant trees that will thrive in hotter and drier Seattle. And leave existing healthy trees be.

If you are going to be a purist, the most destructive invasive species is the bipedal one that invaded these shores some 400 years ago.

Joe
Joe
3 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

The replacement is curb ramps for pedestrians. The only reason the developer is involved is that they need to tear up a separate part of the sidewalk, and the city laws say that when you tear up any sidewalk, you need to update any nearby sidewalk that doesn’t have curb ramps.

Aaron
Aaron
3 months ago
Reply to  Joe

Curious that when the latest new build on our block got put in with closed sidewalks for months while new sewer line and driveway put in, curb ramp wasn’t upgraded. Trees were cut down anyway.

City should own the doublespeak and stop greenwashing us. A big price to rapid growth and developers’ control of city hall is the loss of our green canopy and simultaneously, our diverse affordable housing stock.

Not a coincidence.

BCPHLS
BCPHLS
3 months ago
Reply to  Joe

curb ramps? you mean those handy electric scooter parking spots?

Howard Metzenberg
Howard Metzenberg
3 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

If you don’t build the housing that’s needed in Seattle, it will displace potential homes and they will be built instead in suburban communities, leading to further sprawl.

The sidewalk zones on 13th Street are not a good habitat for most native PNW trees, many of which can thrive only in a plant community with other native plants. There are many good choices of ornamental or shade trees that can survive in these difficult conditions and are not invasive.

The Urban Tree Protection argument in Seattle has served as a stalking horse for NIMBYs who simply want to block development. Usually, they have little interest in blocking such developments outside their own neighborhoods. Nor do they show any interest in protecting trees from what is the real threat to Seattle’s trees … invasive vines like English Ivy and clematis vitalba.

Aaron
Aaron
3 months ago

Well it seems to me that the stalking horse is the one who puts up “NIMBY”, “suburban sprawl” etc. to avoid acknowledging the (un)intended consequences. Here’s the thing, you can distract with English Ivy, holly etc. but Seattle’s climate is changing. You can’t plant your way out of this because we don’t have the decades waiting for these trees to reach maturity. But what the city can do is hang on to the mature large trees. Provide incentives to property owners to do so. Hire arborists to evaluate and manage existing trees in public parks and green space. I’ve seen the need to thin out some young evergreen trees that are crowding each other out in parks. Cull diseased ones so they aren’t a danger to the public. Manage hillsides for slope stability and prevent people from camping and chopping trees down to make shelter (it is ridiculous that we have people living on such steep slopes in this city given the vast budget for homelessness).

Just like the City could have provided money and tax incentives to small landlords to upgrade their affordable, older apartments and keep them affordable for tenants instead of displacing them out of the city and into the “suburbs” or onto the streets.

The loss has resulted in a less diverse city, with more transient and higher income dwellers who don’t put down roots in the local neighborhood. I don’t blame the newcomers when they are here for only a few years. These workers will chase better paying jobs and opportunities. The city is too expensive anyway if they want to buy a home or start a family. It’s great for developers of course who got tax breaks and all the newly built public funded amenities which made their new developments attractive to those who can afford to pay.

Politicians might call themselves and this Emerald City progressive. But it’s the kind of progressive few can afford.

Pilly
Pilly
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron

FYI they are cutting one of the trees today. :(

yetanotherhiller
yetanotherhiller
3 months ago

Regarding conditions on 13th being “difficult” for trees: Are you aware that there are three Exceptional elm trees just up the block, and an Exceptional London Plane? Two of them are each about 4.5 feet in diameter, among the very largest street trees on the Hill, and they are not invasive.

Your comments about Seattleites interested in tree preservation are simply ignorant. The late Cass Turnbull, founder of Plant Amnesty, for example, was a champion of building narrower, taller buildings in order to save existing trees and provide adequate space for new ones. The recently revised Capitol Hill neighborhood design guidelines stress the preservation of existing tree canopy and call for sensitivity to the health of existing mature street trees in positioning new construction.

yetanotherhiller
yetanotherhiller
3 months ago

“Nor do they show any interest in protecting trees from what is the real threat to Seattle’s trees … invasive vines like English Ivy and clematis vitalba.”

In reality, they organize volunteer work parties to do that in parks and greenbelts, and do it on their own as well.

RWK
RWK
3 months ago

“There’s a lot of people who are pissed about this,” she told me, suggesting the project’s developer would want to avoid a backlash from the neighborhood.”

Many developers (not all) don’t give a damn what the neighbors think. They only care about making as much money as possible.

Barb
Barb
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

Many developers (not all) don’t give a damn what the neighbors think.”

Good. Why should you have a right to tell other people what to do with their property?

I think you should tear down your Single-Family Home and build something that would allow more people to use it, instead of hogging property.

RWK
RWK
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

Wow, you have a really warped opinion of land use. Should all single-family homes in Seattle be bulldozed in favor of rampant (and often ugly) development?

Barb
Barb
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

I think anyone should have the option to do that, yes.

RWK
RWK
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

P.S. You are accusing me of telling people what to do with their property, yet that is just exactly what you are doing regarding my property.

Barb
Barb
3 months ago
Reply to  RWK

Lol I was just saying you wouldn’t like it if it was turned around on you.

CH Resident
CH Resident
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

Barb, let me know if I am wrong here (and FYI I’m not against re-zoning). Single family homes seem to be where most mature, large trees are located outside of parks. As we can see from this article, pulling down older, smaller structures to build larger buildings isn’t always good for those trees, and newly planted trees take years and years to catch up to what was taken out. What’s your solution?

Barb
Barb
3 months ago
Reply to  CH Resident

“Tree preservation” is a ruse by single family home owners to protect their areas from changing. It’s similar to landmarking.

If you are building a city and a couple trees are in the way then get rid of them, who cares.

If you care about “neighborhood character” then I don’t really care to continue this conversation. If yours is environmental concerns, continuing to make Seattle denser will prevent many more trees from being torn down outside the city.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/E8hr6ZgVoAMaBHi?format=jpg&name=large

Aaron
Aaron
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

That hasn’t happened. Making Seattle dense hasn’t prevent trees being cut down outside the city. You just need to drive along the intestate corridors to see where swath of trees have been cut down and open meadows and pastures dug up for new housing, office parks and strip mall developments. That’s where people who were displaced went when they couldn’t afford Seattle. It’s where newcomers moved to who prefer (cheaper or comparably priced) homes with yard and better school districts. Take a look at Issaquah.

Companies have set up offices outside Seattle and workers have followed. Expedia had to build shuttle pick up/drop off zone because many of their workers didn’t want to move to live in Seattle. Covid has shown the limitation of living in a cramp studio with no AC or anemic AC. It’s why my apartment dwelling friends slept in my basement during the triple digit heat wave. My little yard with several shady trees was were we hung out in the evenings to cool off and listen to the birds (during the heat wave, we noticed the birds stayed put during the hottest part of the day and took shelter in trees and bushes).

Even the homeless prefer to take shelter under trees. That’s why green belts are popular.

It’s possible to save our big mature trees and still grow. Just like the city could have done so much more to preserve those older affordable apartments. The reality is it’s cheaper to clear cut everything to build and flip apartments for profit.

It’s about money. Not livability. Not community. Not neighborhood.

Barb
Barb
3 months ago
Reply to  Aaron

Seattle is not dense. 75% of it is zoned for single family. You’ve proven my point.

Aaron
Aaron
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

You are off in your estimation of SFH. Even HALA puts it generously at 65% which includes parks and areas that don’t have actual SF homes, but are zoned to allow them. So there’s no need for more fudge factor.

The whole point here is Seattle can preserve its mature large trees if it wants to and still build. These big trees are old and took many, many decades to reach their height. These big trees are miniature ecosystem from its vast root system to their leafy canopy. There’s value in not just being a carbon sink, but these trees hold on to water and soil as well as being homes to the many creatures around us. These big trees provide cooling shade, noise buffering and respite for people.

Trees have worth. And that’s worth fighting for.

yetanotherhiller
yetanotherhiller
3 months ago
Reply to  Barb

Barb wrote: “’Tree preservation’ is a ruse by single family home owners to protect their areas from changing.”

No, it’s actually mostly informed concern about the environment in the city by people who recognize the intrinsic value of having trees in the immediate neighborhood.

In the suburban development, there is space for replacement trees to grow, so if I understand your site’s math, it’s an apples to oranges comparison.

Have you ever heard of the heat-island effect?

I support tree preservation and haven’t lived in a single-family house for decades.

Barb
Barb
3 months ago

 it’s actually mostly informed concern about the environment”

Yawn

dennis
dennis
3 months ago

More concrete, fewer plants and trees, More toxic waste water in Puget Sound. fewer salmon, and where are the orcas ? Couldn’t this development have been designed to preserve these treasures ? Does the Seattle Building Dept care about our environment ? I think not. Just two more sacrifices on the path to a scorched earth