Seattle's "exceptional" tree ordinance


Author: Daniel Himebaugh

The City of Seattle has embarked on a new project of tree discrimination, having recently updated its tree retention policy to provide strict protection for "exceptional trees."  A property owner in the city must now get special permission from the Department of Planning and Development to remove exceptional trees from his or her property.

So what makes a tree exceptional?

According to DPD, "An exceptional tree is a tree that: (1) is designated as a heritage tree by the City of Seattle; or (2) is rare or exceptional by virtue of its size, species, condition, cultural/historic importance, age, and/or contribution as part of a grove of trees . . . ."  DPD has included further guidance here, complete with a table classifying trees by their species and size.

This policy imposes an obstacle for Seattle residents who would like to improve their property.  For example, on properties zoned for single-family residential use, exceptional trees can be removed only if development cannot achieve the maximum permitted lot coverage without extending into a "tree protection area," or if avoiding development in the tree protection area would result in a house that is less than fifteen feet wide.

Additionally, DPD requires property owners to replace exceptional trees that are removed in the course of development.  The size and species of the replacement trees are determined by the Director, with preference for replacement on private property.

Property owners that fail to comply can be subject to criminal penalties.

For more, see Rachel Culbertson's report for Evergreen Freedom Foundation.