Sammamish to begin review of tree preservation guidelines

January 10, 2014

By Ari Cetron

New: Jan. 10, 12:16 p.m.

Sammamish will soon begin a study of possible ways to put some teeth in its tree preservation ordinance.

On Dec. 10, the city council reviewed what’s been happening with the regulations. In general, developers are expected to retain 25 percent of existing trees when they build on lots.

Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol said that when his department studied the issue in March 2012, they found about 20-22 percent were being saved. Since then, Gurol said, his department has stepped up efforts to ensure that the terms of the ordinance are being met.

“I do think our tree retention code, today, is working well,” he said.

Council members said that when driving past new developments, it often appears that the lots have been completely denuded.

City Manager Ben Yazici acknowledged that appearance. Often, he said, the trees preserved are on parts of lots away from streets. From the street, it can appear the trees have all been cut, but significant numbers are actually saved further back on the property.

“I don’t know how we solve this issue,” Yazici said. “It’s a perception issue.”

The council wanted to look at changing the ordinance. They were interested in possibly upping the percentage of trees preserved from 25 to 30 percent.

Then-City Councilman John Curley suggested finding a way to give builders an incentive for preserving more trees.

He noted that leaving trees on lots costs developers money, and if people want more trees, they should pay for them.

“They mourn the loss of the trees of their neighbors but aren’t willing to pay for the trees of their neighbors,” Curley said.

The council also suggested looking at the structure of fines for developers who remove trees they are supposed to preserve. Right now, if someone removes only a few trees, the fines are rather low.

However, if they remove a lot of trees, the fines sharply increase and can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

“Our regime goes from zero to 60 very quickly,” Gurol said.

The council is sending the tree preservation regulations to the city’s Planning Commission for further study and recommendations.

“I’d like to see some more teeth in the ordinance,” Mayor Tom Odell said.

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