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Remember those 13th Ave E trees? City sticks to removal plans for sidewalk improvements

(Image: CHS)

With reporting by Ryan Packer

A neighborhood fight to save two 40-foot-tall Norway Maples in the planting strip along Capitol Hill’s leafy 13th Ave E will end with the city deciding to stick to its plans for removal despite taking “a second and third look” at the situation, according to an email from the Seattle Department of Transportation.

CHS reported here on the argument from a group of neighbors and arboreal advocates trying to save the trees that the city said needed to be removed to make way for sidewalk and curb improvements part of redevelopment and construction of new townhouses on the street.

“Despite the follow up step to involve SDOT Engineers in additional Divisions to look with fresh eyes for other options, SDOT has made the determination to allow the removal of these trees,” an email sent Thursday by the city reads:

This determination has been made based on the City of Seattle policy governing both Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) and SDOT development review and approval processes, that Street Improvement Project (SIP) 60% approved plans prevail. At this point in the development project process there is no mechanism for SDOT to require the applicant to engineer an alternative design for the ADA ramp at this intersection for compatibility with tree retention and protection from construction impacts.

The city says a permit issued for the removal will be valid starting Monday, September 20th.

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 Seattle and far above neighborhoods in southeast Seattle where street tree coverage doesn’t even hit 20%. Seattle has a goal of achieving 30% coverage citywide by 2037– currently that number is 28%.

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 protections to be housed in a city agency that doesn’t also directly oversee housing permit approvals.

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Nic
Nic
4 months ago

Terrible to remove such large trees. Street trees are a VERY valuable part of city spaces with benefits to the environment and people. Short-sighted decision.

yetanotherhiller
yetanotherhiller
4 months ago

“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 Seattle and far above neighborhoods in southeast Seattle where street tree coverage doesn’t even hit 20%. Seattle has a goal of achieving 30% coverage citywide by 2037– currently that number is 28%.”

If this is intended as justification for the removal of large, mature trees, it’s akin to the World Bank statement, famously endorsed by economist Larry Summers, that toxic waste should be shipped to Africa because “Africa is vastly under-polluted.”

Is SDOT hiding behind the timing of decisions instead of discussing what alternative approaches might actually preserve the trees? Did they explore any other approaches?

Scott
4 months ago

SDOT is Seattle’s latest bureaucratic whipping post. They are now also in charge of parking enforcement–which basically dumps homeless RV parking at their feet. The tragic human comedy that is Seattle continues to unfold, without informed leadership.

What is needed is a principled approach to the issue. Perhaps based on rationally defensible positions and justifications.

Calvin
Calvin
4 months ago
Reply to  Scott

SDOT is one of the most disappointing departments in the City, maybe because their work is so public. Road maintenance, Move Seattle Levy, public transportation… They usually don’t deliver much and never come under budget. Sigh.

farrelro
farrelro
4 months ago

Since they not native trees I think disabled people deserve access and we might want to discuss what to plant in their place.

A_Pissed_Off_Neighbor
A_Pissed_Off_Neighbor
3 months ago
Reply to  farrelro

Sure, let’s definitely make sure we have access. Totally agree the current sidewalk is not navigable on wheels. BUT surely smart engineers can figure out how to fix a sidewalk without sacrificing valuable mature shade trees??!! *THAT* is the issue, not access. Access is awesome. SDOT’s stunning lack of creativity here is distressing.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
3 months ago

BUT surely smart engineers can figure out how to fix a sidewalk without sacrificing valuable mature shade trees??!!

Unless these “smart engineers” construct a sidewalk reroute that completely avoids impacting the roots of the trees, those trees will likely not survive. Then we have the case of a less than optimal sidewalk routing AND dead trees.

I’m sure SDOT’s smart engineers would love to hear ideas from an armchair engineer!

RememberMontlakeMarket
RememberMontlakeMarket
4 months ago

SDOT has no interest in listening to anyone. Ever. They give lip service to listening, but their minds are decided before they ask.

David
David
3 months ago

I think it is Interesting that these Trees are also in front of the “Pagoda House” on 13th Avenue – This a 100 year old Bungalow House which used to have Japanese Inspired Pagoda Style Roof – Historic Seattle Expressed an Interest in designating it as an Historic Structure and the Current owner wants to tear it down and put townhomes – the Owner Cut the Pagoda Style elements of the Roof to curtail Historic Designation – Now the Trees in front are going – I used to live next door – it is very nice Tree Lined Street – With Global Warming we need all the trees we can for the City Tree Canopy,,,,,, Geeze”

yetanotherhiller
yetanotherhiller
3 months ago
Reply to  David

The Landmarks Board encouraged the neighborhood to nominate the Pagoda House years ago.

A_Pissed_Off_Neighbor
A_Pissed_Off_Neighbor
3 months ago

@yetanotherhiller: wondering who “the neighborhood” is that the Landmarks Board encouraged? I live next door to these trees and never heard a word about a landmark designation……..(which I would have enthusiastically supported if it meant preserving a unique house and some valuable trees). Bummed. Seriously bummed.

yetanotherhiller
yetanotherhiller
3 months ago

This happened in the late 90s, perhaps before you lived on 13th.

A_Pissed_Off_Neighbor
A_Pissed_Off_Neighbor
3 months ago
Reply to  David

I can just about bring myself to live with townhomes, but losing the trees is an obscenity.

Are SDOT seriously saying that in 2021 they can’t fathom how to fix a sidewalk without cutting down mature and valuable trees?!?!?