Burien lawmakers review tree removal regulations

By Eric Mathison

Burien lawmakers reviewed the city’s tree preservation ordinance at their June 16 meeting.

City Manager Kamuron Gurol emphasized city staffers were just looking for guidelines from the council members in a process that would take several months before changes could be adopted.

The regulations on removing large trees apply only to undeveloped vacant lots or property to be developed as part of a land use review or permit. Trees in designated critical areas are regulated by another city ordnance.

Community Development director Chip Davis emphasized that trees on already developed lots are not protected by the ordinance and may be removed without a permit unless they are subject to a previous landscape agreement. The regulations also only pertain to healthy trees, Davis noted.

Councilmember Gerald Robison said changes he favors include changing the definition of “significant” trees, possibly extending the ordinance to developed properties in some cases and enacting a “saner” tree replacement requirement.

Robison noted trees grow rapidly in the Pacific Northwest.

“It is somewhat preposterous than when you take out a big tree you have to replace it with so many small trees,” Robison declared.

Councilmember Debi Wagner said her main goal in revising the tree ordinance is to protect “monument” or historic trees in the city.

Councilmember Nancy Tosta said she wanted more information on tree preservation ordinances in neighboring cities. City Manager Gurol promised staff would research tree regulations in other municipalities.

Davis said significant trees are defined as having a minimum diameter of eight inches for evergreen trees and 12 inches for deciduous trees.

Significant trees must be retained on an undeveloped lot and a significant tree retention plan must be submitted as part of a land use application, according to Davis.

Total trees to be retained when developing a lot range from 30 percent for single-family residential developments to five percent for commercial and industrial developments.

When the required number of significant trees cannot be retained, transplanted large trees or a number of new smaller trees must replace them, Davis added.

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