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Seattle debates new law to require permits for tree cutting on properties

Seattle lawmakers are discussing the idea of requiring home and landowners to get a permit and pay a fee to cut down a tree six inches in diameter or larger. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - Seattle lawmakers are discussing the idea of requiring home and landowners to get a permit and pay a fee to cut down a tree six inches in diameter or larger.

The proposal stems from a larger discussion involving the upzoning of 27 neighborhoods into high density urban villages. In doing so, there will be the removal of larger tress to make way for multi-story mixed use buildings.

But, the Coalition of a Stronger Tree Ordinance claims the proposal is two sided. It believes the proposal will require the city to oversee roughly 50,000 trees on private land from being cut down unnecessarily but will also give developers a pass

Council member Rob Johnson is proposing to update Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance with a requirement that land and homeowners get a permit first, before they can remove a tree six inches in diameter.

Currently, the city has protections on certain trees that size or smaller. The proposal will streamline the requirements.

“The question before us is how do we balance the protection of trees on site versus where the trees might get cut down,” said Johnson. “Or how a single family homeowner or developer pays into a city fund to replenish those trees.”

The Coalition said a draft of the proposal discussed at a recently Planning, Land Use and Zoning committee meeting would not require developers to get the same permit.

Critics claim the city is too focused on creating high density urban villages to protect the trees that development would eliminate.

“He is proposing updating it for homeowners, he's excluding as he's done in the past, excluding developers having to comply with the tree ordinance,” said Steve Zemke of the Coalition. “We are asking they have to get permits the same as homeowners.”

There is also discussion of raising the threshold to either 12” or 18” in diameter.

The permit process is intended to hold tree cutting companies responsible for ensuring the property owner has a permit to cut the tree down.

Johnson is hoping to have the city council vote on the proposal in August.

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