City proposes vegetation control ordinance

By Larry Waters, Public Works Director | Jan 30, 2013
Larry Waters

It may be a surprise to some folks in Mukilteo, but the city doesn’t have any means in the Mukilteo Municipal Code for dealing with vegetation problems.

Why is this an issue or important to the citizens of Mukilteo? Not having a vegetation control ordinance has been a concern to residents because, except for the Mukilteo Speedway and a short section of 92nd Street, the vegetation along the streets does not belong to the city. Thus, city staff are not responsible for maintaining it.

So who is responsible? Because almost all of the street right-of-ways are actually perpetual easements to the city (the city doesn’t own them), it is the adjacent property owner that owns the vegetation.

The exception to that is where the city planted landscaping as part of a project, like along 92nd, just west of SR-525, or on SR-525 where the city actually owns the right-of-way (even though it is a state highway).

For the most part, the city does not do vegetation maintenance in the right-of-ways around Mukilteo. The one exception is we do some mowing of shoulder areas with a rather crude device that lacks any finesse whatsoever, called a “boom mower.” These are generally areas that the adjacent landowner can’t be expected to maintain the vegetation, due to its location or for some other legitimate reason.

So, back to why a vegetation ordinance is needed (as a side note, I might add that most all cities have a code that allows them to deal with vegetation issues). The main reason is that unmanaged vegetation causes problems. The most obvious problems are:

1. Overhanging vegetation can block access to sidewalks.

As you can imagine, this kind of problem is particularly troublesome to folks with disabilities, either visual or mobility wise, but also is dangerous for walkers and joggers, especially during periods of low light where the overhanging or offending vegetation may not be visible until a person has run into it.

2. Unmanaged vegetation on sidewalks can lead to slippery conditions or make it difficult to impossible for a wheelchair to use the sidewalk or walkway.

3. Unmanaged vegetation may limit sight distance at intersections, decreasing safety for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

4. Finally, unmanaged vegetation often causes damage to sidewalks and street pavement. These are usually situations were tree roots causing a lifting of the sidewalk or street pavement.

Presently, when we get a complaint about any of these problems being present or if we see them ourselves, we try to contact the property owner where the problem is located. We explain the problem and ask them to correct it.

Most of the time this works, but not always. And that is where the lack of an ordinance is felt. If a property owner declines taking action, the city does not have a clear-cut code laying out the authority to address the problem.

We would like to fix that deficiency.

Our approach to correcting these problems won’t change in that we would continue to contact property owners to ask for correction. And most folks will respond favorably and correct the problem.

But if they don’t, we would have a tool to take the issue further and hopefully get correction.

The proposed ordinance was presented to the City Council in November, however, no residents offered comments. Rather than adopting it then, the council decided to bring it back again at a later date to give more residents a chance to weigh in on the issue.

The council is scheduled to discuss the proposed vegetation ordinance at the Feb. 19 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at Mukilteo City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.

If you have any questions or comments on the proposed ordinance feel free to contact me. If you would like to read the ordinance proposal, it can be found on the city’s website at www.ci.mukilteo.wa.us.

Larry Waters is the Public Works director for the city. Contact him at 425-263-8080 or lwaters@ci.mukilteo.wa.us.

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