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Seattle council member suggests eyesore deterrent to tree cutting

Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold suggested adding billboards in the place of illegally chopped trees. (AP)

Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold suggested a sly deterrent Thursday morning for stopping homeowners from illegally chopping down trees: replacing them with a billboard.

“Sydney, (Australia) I think actually puts view-blocking signs,” she said. “It’s a very creative way to make sure that there’s a deterrent and people can’t just pay the fine and get the view in exchange.”

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This discussion stems from the now-infamous West Seattle tree-cutting case, where homeowners hired a tree-cutter who removed 150 trees. Although the homeowners claim it was an accident, some legal experts disagree and the City Attorney’s office says they may face felony charges.

Some have speculated that the homeowners figured the fine from the city would be less than the gain in value of their homes, which now feature a pristine view.

The City Council committee didn’t adopt Herbold’s suggestion as a new city ordinance, but certainly discussed it.

The Seattle Department of Transportation owns part of the land where the trees were cut. SDOT director Scott Kubly told the council that the department is taking the situation “very seriously.” Kubly admitted the department could have done better. It took more than a month before the city responded to the removal of the trees.

“We got an email from a constituent, a resident, we didn’t follow up to ask a clarifying question and we should have done that, so that’s pretty clear and that way we can truly get an understanding of the severity &#8212 versus make assumptions.”

The tree-cutting issue is similar to an incident that sparked a lawsuit decided this week, with important implications. Neighbors dug a ditch and cut tree roots on Jennifer Mustoe’s Rainier, WA property. Mustoe claimed the neighbors cut the roots so severely that she worried the tree would die and fall onto her house.

Ultimately, she lost the lawsuit. On Monday, Judge Gary R Tabor ruled against her claim.

Attorney Mike Spence, who works on real estate cases that include tree-cutting disputes. He says the ruling, which happened earlier this week, sets a new precedent.

“The old law says that you have a duty of due care to prevent damage to your neighbor’s trees, but the court rejected that,” Spence said.

Mustoe valued the tree at $16,000 and said she spent $4,000 to remove it. But the court disagreed, saying this was a “reasonable” reason to remove the tree.

Kubly says SDOT is working on other plans to address the issue, such as setting up a deadline response time for calls about tree-cutting incidents.

He noted that there is a maximum 72-hour response time for potholes, but there isn’t that sort of mandate when it comes to trees.

The full City Council is expected to continue the discussion when it meets next year.

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