Save Our Silent Giants!
We live in a community where many choose all-wheel drive vehicles over luxury sedans. Our automobiles are a means that transport us to the mountain peaks, the river valleys, and seashores to recharge our souls. And when we are at home, we find respite in our gardens and urban forests. Our community’s fabric is knitted together by sidewalks, green spaces, and tall interwoven canopies. This is the best of the northwest and this is why we choose to live here.
Many of us are currently standing for a common cause: to protect our silent giant in West Seattle’s urban forest who can’t defend itself. It is a magnificent 100+ foot ponderosa pine tree that we all have enjoyed for many years, some for a lifetime. Given its towering height, it is part of the framework of so many of our yards. It is part of the West Seattle skyline and can be seen from down town Seattle. It is the lungs that purify the air we breathe.
Our ponderosa pine is considered an “exceptional tree” by the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC 25.11) and therefore protected, with one exception. SMC 25.11.060 allows a tree to be removed on a site undergoing development if the maximum lot coverage (as defined by the Seattle Land Use Code - SMC Title 23) cannot be achieved without extending into the tree protection area.
Our tree is located in the middle of the side yard of 3038 39th Ave SW. An elderly gentleman sold his home to a developer (something he swore he would never do - but the developer misrepresented himself during the transaction) at the end of last year for $505,000, cash. This developer asked the City if it considers the side yard a “buildable lot” since it is under the minimum allowed lot size (SMC 23.44.010) by almost 2,000 sf. The fee for this request was $1,000. The City has rendered their preliminary opinion that the lot is “buildable” based on a “historic lot exemption” (SMC 23.44.010 (B))(1)(d). Given this preliminary opinion, the developer can now secure a building permit for a home he estimates will cost $337,000 to build. We estimate, that the developer stands to gain $350,000+ and the City will collect property taxes in perpetuity. We loose a tree because it impedes on the house’s footprint.
The City’s website (web6.seattle.gov/dpd/edms, Projects #3024037, #6513178, and 3022995) contains more than 80 comments all of which oppose this project. We love our big beautiful tree and want it protected. We live in a built up high density single family zone and have challenged the City’s determination that this is a buildable lot. The City has taken the liberty to justify their opinion based on an “interpretation of actions” taken in 1930. They have set the facts aside. What is even sad and humorous at the same time is that the arguments we are making are the same arguments the City made previously to deny a developer the chance to build on a differing side yard. The City made this legal case successfully three times with the third being in the Court of Appeals (affirming the King County Superior Court’s decision). This is the highest level of legal recourse. While the politics have changed, the code has not.
As we understand it today, our remaining option is to request a land use interpretation from the City once they issue a Master Use Permit (MUP). The cost is $2,800 for the first 10 hours and we anticipate it to exceed this amount. This reserves our legal rights to challenge whether or not this lot qualifies for an historic lot exemption. At the same time, we have a 14 day period to appeal the MUP to the City of Seattle’s hearing examiner (another $170 City fee). Our legal advisor has asked the City to rescind their preliminary opinion based on the facts, the law, and previous court rulings. As of today, the City has not responded.
What We Need
We are learning as we go… We know there is strength in numbers. To create a political will for change we need solidarity and an extensive community/media/electeds outreach. We hope you will lend us your voice of support by sending your comments to the City’s website, project #3024037 and writing your electeds asking them to Save our Silent Giant! We are also raising funds and are asking you to lend us your financial support to cover our expenses. Any remaining funds will be spent on advocating for the protection of our urban forest.
Saving our urban forest, one tree at a time for our generation and the future generations to come…
Lisa Parriott, PE
Lisa Parriott has lived across from the Silent Giant for the past 24 years. She is a Washington native - her family was part of the original European founders of Seattle. She graduated from the University of Washington in Civil Engineering. She is a professional engineer, served in the Army, an artist, and helicopter pilot among many other things…
What Keeps Needling Me…
Sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up for what you believe in even when the odds are stacked against you. How true this is given the current times we live in. We have been sharing our story for the last 9 months. He is our update.
It all started with us trying to save our neighborhood’s magnificent Silent Giant from the developer’s chain saw, a vibrant 100 foot ponderosa pine that reaches straight up to the sky like a cathedral’s spire.
We have had quite the educational journey wading through the City’s land use code. What has been even more difficult is trying to understand the DCI staff’s practices and procedures that extend beyond the code, in part because there is no documentation to support or explain. The only people who know how to pass successfully through DCI’s secret back doors and the land use code’s loopholes are the developers and their real estate agents.
The ones who are unaware, often times our elderly community (and surprisingly our real estate agents), end up transferring their wealth unknowingly to developers when they sell their homes they have lived in while raising their families. These homes have small side yards that the developers subsequently develop through the code’s Historic Lot Exception. Squeezing towering toaster boxes onto undersized lots impact the quality of life of those in the surrounding community (see onehomeperlot.com). It also affects the community’s wallet when they are left paying more City taxes to accommodate the growth and strain on the infrastructure; the developers pay nothing but walk away with a large profit ($400K+).
Interestingly, in our case the “legal building site” inquiring emails began passing between the City staff and the developer’s real estate agent two weeks before the for sale sign even went up. Our neighbor sold his home to the developer for a mere $30,000 over the asking price ($475K in November 2015) with the understanding that he would pull his house off the market immediately (within 48 hours of posting the sign in the front yard). Our elderly neighbor never had a clue what was going on behind the scenes or the potential worth of his home that he had lived in for 40+ years.
In order for us to challenge the City’s Historic Lot Exception approval and “left over piece of pie theory” in court, we had to “exhaust all administrative remedies” through the City’s processes first. The City charged us a fee of ~$15,000 for this effort. This “exhaustion” left me out of breath! The fee was to compensate the City for the work they had done and been paid for twice before. Then we had to pay for the staff to defend their decision in front of their Hearing Examiner. The developer paid a mere $1,000 to get his “Legal Building Site Letter of Opinion.”
We settled the matter of the fee with the City. We will continue to work with the Council to try and amend the code that required the neighbors to pay this outrageous fee in the first place. As we have stated all along, we believe exercising the current code is unlawful and a social and equity injustice. The City has also agreed to work on documenting and publishing the Historic Lot Exception practices, Legal Building Site Letters of Opinion practices, and notifying homeowners when third parties are inquiring about legal building sites.
What remains unsettled is the validity of the “left over piece of pie theory.” Yesterday afternoon we were finally able to file an appeal with King County Superior Court. It is now our time to stand tall and brave the stormy winds….
Thank you for all of your support,
The schedule: final briefs are due this week. We should be notified of the decision within 2 weeks.
We had 3 media outlets present at the hearing: Kiro 7, West Seattle Blog, and Crosscut. After the hearing, King 5 came and interviewed us by the tree and aired their report live on the 9-10-and 11pm news. Here is the coverage:
1-13-17 Dori Monson Show: West Seattle Tree
We also appreciate all of the support that Seattle Green Spaces and Washington Forest Law Center have given us. Without their support, we would not be where we are today. Thank you!
Send positive thoughts over the next 2 ½ weeks and take a stroll by the tree if you get a chance. If we are not successful, I anticipate the tree will be cut down shortly (if not the day after) the decision is made.
Why are we trying to raise $15,000. how will this save this tree?
I'm with Justin, how can we leave a comment? You have not given us any site where we can add our voice?
What has the response from Councilmember Herbold been?
thanks for helping save our trees. can you help me understand how to add my comment to all those listed under #3024037 on http://web6.seattle.gov/dpd/edms/ ?
Hildegard, Have you been getting my email updates? I will send another one shortly. Let me know if you haven't been getting any of them.
Do you have an update for us?