A Mukilteo tree ordinance in 2014

By Heather McCartney, Planning and Community Development Director | Apr 03, 2013

Within the last year several residents have inquired about the city adopting a tree ordinance. The planning staff has had this on our To Do List.

I have personally worked with an intern this last year to move efforts along allowing us to propose an ordinance that would also qualify us as a “Tree City USA” from the Arbor Day Foundation.

A path forward

Two years ago, the city received a grant for a “Forest Management Plan.” This was undertaken and remains in draft form while we develop a street tree inventory.

We applied to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for a street tree inventory and have been awarded $10,000 in grant funding that becomes available July 1, after the state budget is passed.

We are grateful for this grant as it will start or possibly complete the street tree inventory that follows the prescribed protocol that the DNR is using.

We, however, did not receive a grant for developing an ordinance and application for Tree City USA. With the help of another volunteer intern this summer, we will work toward creating a Street Tree and Forest Management Plan that can be approved by City Council.

Along with developing a draft plan, staff will also work toward drafting an ordinance and the national designation. We will be working with the council Sustainability Committee.

I am confident that we can complete all of the tasks in time for the 2014 Comprehensive Plan update.

Background on trees & regulations

This also gives me a chance to provide some background on trees and development.

Many of the few remaining parcels of land that have second/third growth Douglas Fir trees 120-150 feet tall, when developed, go through a process of determining where steep slopes and wetlands are located.

These are now being required to be put in separate tracts as Native Growth Protection Areas (NGPAs), while the portion that is subdivided into lots is allowed to be cleared.

It is hard to watch large stands of trees disappear, but the unfortunate fact is that we have the glacial till just below our top soil and the till is above mixed sand and clay layers. The glacial till does not allow for the root systems of the Douglas fir or Western Red cedars to penetrate into the glacial till.

Thus, the root systems are shallow and spread out in the first 5-10 feet of top soil. The roots from one large tree are inter-locked with the other trees in the stand and once one is taken down then the roots of the next are disturbed or cut. This makes it harder for the remaining trees to withstand high wind conditions.

We often see blow downs along the edges of the remaining stands in the NGPAs. Blow downs have even occurred on the inter-edge of stands 10-years after the clearing.

So to avoid creating additional hazardous situations, we have the developers plant trees that will grow as a singular trees and often are a shorter species. We are saving the second- or third-growth trees in larger stands of 100+ feet in width.

I worked in Bellevue and helped create the codes Kristin Kirk referred to in her letter [“City needs tree ordinance,” The Beacon, Letters, page 4, March 27].

Bellevue was having the same problems with narrow NGPAs and blow downs and, thus, we came up with this more manageable approach.

I am sure they have updated their codes since I left, but this approach is still on the forefront of forest management and development standards. We have been tracking Everett’s tree code efforts as well and are always looking for better approaches.

Mukilteo is fortunate to have the large gulches that were preserved with the Harbour Pointe Master Plan development and then transferred to us. We were not as fortunate in how land was platted back in the late 1890s, for the “paper plats” did not consider stream corridors or steep slopes.

This is a disadvantage in the middle and north ends of Mukilteo; we don’t have the large parcels we can manage as a whole.

Our codes presently do not allow trees to be cut on undeveloped property, only when it comes in for land subdivision or on individual developed lots. We work with at least 50 property owners a year on retaining, trimming and, if dangerous, removing trees both on public and private lands.

Resident workshop opportunity

Over the last five years, the city has provided three steep slope workshops to help residents further their understanding of the importance of retaining trees and vegetation in our community, especially along steep slopes.

Another workshop with Beach Watchers is coming up on @May 1 at 7 p.m. at Rosehill Community Center.@ This will cover vegetation that protects slopes and allows for some water views.

Many of the slides that have occurred along the Sound and within gulches appear to be where the above property owners have created large lawn areas up to the bluff or may have cut vegetation for views and/or have not diverted water from the top of bluff area.

I hope this helps clarify our on-going efforts. We will look forward to having residents commenting on a draft plan and ordinance in 2014. I can be reached via email at hmccartney@ci.mukilteo.wa.us.

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