6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Public Health Laboratories
Wednesday, March 24
6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Richmond Beach Congregational Church
1512 Northwest 195th St
Overview & History
On January 5, 2009, the City Council added to the Planning Commission's 2009 Work Program the project to study development regulations for trees, and asked staff to return with ideas for specific issues to include in the scope of work for proposed amendments to the tree regulations. Staff came back in February with ten "decision modules" (DM) and asked the Council which ones it wanted to include in the scope. There was Council consensus to refer DM 1-9 to the City staff and Planning Commission for input/consideration and to postpone work on DM-10 because it was related to a code amendment for vegetation management plans in critical areas. The nine DMs are as follows:
DM-1 Establish a baseline urban forest canopy city wide. This baseline would provide the context for the Council to make a policy decision, most likely in 2010, about a long-range City target for desired tree canopy. The target could be no-net loss of a city-wide percentage of canopy, or an increase or decrease of some magnitude, keyed to specific schedules. With such a baseline and target in place, the City could then monitor the overall City canopy, say every 5 years, to assess its health and identify any further programs or code amendments as needed.
DM-2 Reorganize SMC 20.50.290 to separate clearing and grading provisions into a different subsection because the intent, purpose, exemptions, and regulations are different. Clearing and grading regulations will need to be modified to be consistent with the newly adopted storm and surface water manual.
DM-3 Change the provision in SMC 20.50.310.B.1 that allows the removal of 6 significant trees every 36 months without permit. This is potentially a huge hole in our city-wide tree canopy because we don't regulate or monitor this provision. Theoretically, if we have 16,000 single family lots then as much as 32,000 significant trees can be removed per year without review or monitoring. People sometimes cut trees that they think are not in a critical area and therefore do not notify the City.
DM-4 Amend SMC 20.50.310.A to establish clear criteria and thresholds when a tree is hazardous that is reviewed by a City third party arborist. Add requirements for replacement trees when hazardous trees are removed. Currently, property owners use their own arborists to determine a hazardous tree without thresholds to determine when it is hazardous. If the City doesn't agree with the assessment then we can require a third party assessment. This costs the property owner twice and prolongs a basic decision. Requiring the use of a City's arborist makes the assessment more objective and less costly for everyone.
DM-5 Amend SMC 20.50.360 to allow for reasonable tree replacement ratios and the possibility to replace trees on other land within the City. Most development sites do not have the room to plant all the replacement trees. These replacement trees are easily cut down after the 3 year protection period because they are not defined as significant trees.
DM-6 Amend SMC 20.50.350.B.2 to remove code provisions for 30% preservation of significant trees if a critical area is on site because trees in critical area trees are already protected under the Critical Area provisions of SMC 20.80. A relatively small critical area could trigger 30% preservation on the entire site when the intent is to preserve the critical area and its trees. The change would keep the base significant trees preserved as well as all trees in the critical areas.
DM-7 Amend SMC 20.50.350.B.1 to remove and replace the flat code provision for 20% preservation of significant trees. The existing rule is inequitable because, for example, a site that is covered with 100 trees would have to retain 20 trees, while a small site with only 5 trees would only have to save one. We could devise a more equitable system that requires tree preservation based at least partially on lot size.
DM-8 Reorganize and clarify code provisions SMC 20.50.350.B-D that give the Director flexible criteria to require less or more trees to be preserved so that site design can be more compatible with the trees. The current code requires that all trees with the following qualities shall be preserved - in groves, above 50 feet in height, continuous canopy, skyline features, screen glare, habitat value, erosion control, adjacent to parks and open space, and cottonwoods. In general, these are good qualities but if all these requirements are applied inflexibly, the result would excessively preclude development on many lots.
DM-9 Amend SMC 20.30.770(D) to provide greater clarity and specificity for violations of the tree code. Currently, code enforcement has difficulty proving violation intent and therefore exacting penalties.
Staff has been at Planning Commission several times in 2009 to discuss tree regulations. At the July 9 Planning Commission meeting, staff presented a modified purpose section and a different approach to the core requirements of tree retention and replacement using a tree credit system. On September 3, Staff brought back a modified version of the tree credit system that tested other scenarios and resolves a number of issues: simpler to understand, provides more effective protection for larger and more viable trees, assures that trees which must be removed are offset with replacement trees, and recognizes the reasonable property rights and expectations of owners. For more details on the proposed tree credit system, please see the meeting memo in the table below.
At its September 3 meeting, the Planning Commission indicated they wanted to pursue staff's recommended approach to the Purpose, Retention, and Replacement sections of the tree code and have staff return the next time with the full draft tree code.
The full draft will include recommendations for tree retention in other land uses besides single family, for hazardous and landmark trees, for tree protection during construction, and to add clarity to tree violation and enforcement sections. The study session on the full draft is scheduled to come before the Commission in spring 2010.