Sammamish City Council may discuss keeping trees
September 4, 2013
By Ari Cetron
New: Sept. 4, 11:06 a.m.
Many people move to Sammamish for the trees, Mayor Tom Odell noted at the July 15 City Council meeting.
However, there are fewer trees, and seemingly every day, more are being replaced by new developments as the city sees an increase in construction. Spurred by the recent tree removals – and citizen complaints – the City Council discussed the city’s tree retention program, and plans to discuss it again at a joint meeting with the Planning Commission later this month.
City regulations generally call for developers to retain 25 percent of the trees on a lot when the land is developed. Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol reported on his department’s efforts to work with developers to retain trees. He noted that when he last reported on the issue, about two years prior, the city had been seeing a retention rate of 20-22 percent.
Since then, his department has initiated a series of new programs designed to help retain more trees. Primarily, they involve explaining city regulations more thoroughly to developers, and training staff more effectively to work with builders on the site to make sure guidelines are followed.
“We find we’re getting better compliance,” Gurol said. He said that builders are now closer to hitting the 25 percent guideline.
Gurol said Sammamish tries to ensure trees are retained in clusters, since lone trees are more likely to be blown down in windstorms. They also do a better job of making sure construction activities don’t occur too close to trees, since that could damage roots and kill trees, even though they might linger for several years after the end of construction.
Councilman John Curley wanted to know if the city has ways of punishing developers who might take down a tree, then claim it had been accidental.
Gurol said that while that might happen, he’s found no evidence of it. He noted that if a tree which was to be preserved is removed, the builder must replace it, possibly by planting three to six new trees.
He acknowledged that might be cold comfort to neighbors who have seen an old, beautiful tree replaced by a few saplings.
“The replacement is less satisfying,” he said.
Curly and Odell both said they would prefer seeing closer to 30 percent of the trees retained on a site.
Gurol said that there are incentives in place that could encourage developers to preserve more trees. However, since city law says the standard is 25 percent, he lacks the authority to compel developers to save more than that.
He also said that current city policy states he should first talk with people in violation of the city code before resorting to fines. However, if the council would like, his department could fine developers more aggressively.
He warned, however, there would likely be some push-back if the city were to adopt such a stance.
Most council members expressed interest in at least discussing higher standards for tree preservation. Councilwoman Nancy Whitten asked for the council to have a study session where it could explore what other cities do and see if any of their ideas are worth adopting.
Odell said that he’s seen good and bad examples of developers retaining trees. The good examples, he said, prove that it can be done. He would also like to see the city move to the 30 percent tree retention standard.