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Shoreline becomes latest battleground for tree-saving activists

There is unrest in the forest. There is trouble with the trees. For the people need space to live, yet they still need clean air to breath.

Don’t Clearcut Seattle is bringing its tree-saving activism across the border and into Shoreline where that community is also racing to keep up with the region’s growth and housing needs. This week, the group protested in front of a plot of land where new homes are planned, not far from a yet-to-be-built light rail station.

“We are very concerned about the development practices that are going on in Seattle right now, there is very little protection for mature, healthy trees,” said Annie Thoe with Don’t Clearcut Seattle, aka Neighborhood Treekeepers. “Large groves of trees are being clearcut. If you look at this recent site on 145th NE and 1st Avenue, an enormous amount, at least 40 big, mature trees, were taken, an entire grove was taken.”

“A dense plan of townhouses are going in there,” she added. “These are not affordable houses. They are expensive townhouses that will go in. As far as I can tell from the site plan, they are supposed to be required to replant trees. But this has been upzoned, so they don’t have to replant, apparently. And many of the developers that are cutting trees are not replanting.”

TreeSisters vigil for clearcut land for light rail

The issue is not unique to Shoreline. Various communities surrounding Seattle are scrambling to accommodate more people moving in. On top of that, light rail is expected to influence future development, placing more housing near the stations expected over the next decade.

In response to the protest, Eric Bratton, with the city of Shoreline, provided the following statement:

Several years ago, the City upzoned areas around the future light rail stations in Shoreline. The City’s goal is to prepare for the growth we know is coming by concentrating that growth around transit. This isn’t just occurring in Shoreline, but across the region. The areas with the highest density in those upzoned areas are MUR 70 zones. These are the areas closest to the future stations. Developments in the MUR 70 zones are exempt from tree retention requirements.

Managing growth is about tradeoffs. While there are definite impacts in the immediate area where the trees come down, by concentrating density in one area instead of having it spread throughout the City, we actually can protect more of our urban forest canopy. Shoreline is dedicated to protecting our urban forest canopy and ensuring that it is not diminished through planting programs and tree retention requirements in most areas of the City.

A note on the particular development where people were protesting. That development is in a MUR 45’ zone, which has tree retention and replacement requirements. Thirty-four (34) trees will be replaced onsite that are code standard planting size (1.5” caliper for deciduous and 6 feet tall for conifers) at installation. An additional 54 trees will be planted onsite that are of a smaller size (gallon size). An additional 29 trees will be replaced off-site, in the street planting area which is between the new sidewalk and the street.

Bratton further notes that there are two areas in Shoreline that do not require tree replacement for development — areas zoned for commercial use or MUR-70 districts (which the protesters are addressing). Areas zoned as MUR-70 are located close to light rail stations. And while protesters are pointing to upzoned areas, the land in question is actually zoned MUR-45.

Trees vs growth

Thoe says that Neighborhood Treekeepers is well aware that the region has housing needs as it grows. But she argues that those needs are not balanced.

“We have to make density livable,” Thoe said. “And so many of these new developments are either large houses that honestly do not need to be so darn big … they could be smaller and have more space for trees and green spaces. We also need to plan for parks for all these people that are moving in here.”

“It’s going to be hotter, noisier, smoggier, and not an emerald, beautiful, green city anymore if we keep cutting our trees down like this,” she said. “Our children will be sicker and people will not really want to live here anymore. Trees make neighborhoods beautiful.”

The Treekeepers promote for Shoreline what they have long argued for in Seattle — a more robust tree ordinance that prioritizes the area’s tree canopy. She notes that trees are one of the simplest tools people can use to deal with the climate crisis. They cool and clean the air, purify water, among other benefits in an urban environment.

Landscape changed by Sound Transit’s light rail clearcutting

“Trees, they are renewable, and yes sometimes we cut them down,” Thoe said. “Sometimes we need to in order to build. But we are not building wisely in Seattle. We need to demand that developers have better ways of developing that incorporate more mature trees … we are losing them real fast unless we get a stronger tree protection ordinance.”

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