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Seattle Updates Tree Ordinance

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July 27, 2023

The Seattle City Council has increased protections on trees with the goal of increasing the urban tree canopy while balancing the needs for greater housing stock. The ordinance expands protections to a total of 175,000 trees across the city.

SKCR, in collaboration with a broad-based coalition, worked to shape the ordinance in a manner that preserves trees and without precluding the development of much-needed housing. We advocated for a balanced, objective, and predictable tree code that supports a thriving tree canopy and delivers housing at the same time.

The coalition included the Master Builders Association, the American Institute of Architects, the Chief Seattle Club, Habitat for Humanity and the Housing Development Consortium.

Key Provisions of the Ordinance

  • Creates a 4-tier system to categorize our city’s trees and designate different protections for each tier. Heritage trees are tier 1 and removal is prohibited unless the tree is hazardous. This tiered system also expands the definition of “exceptional” trees so that 24-inch diameter trees are included; the previous requirement was 30 inches diameter.
  • Establishes a new mandate requiring new developments to include street trees in their plans, helping to increase the overall tree canopy in our city while improving the quality of our urban environment.
  • Increases penalties for illegal street cutting.
  • Expands Seattle Public Utilities (SPU)’s Trees for Neighborhoods Program that has already helped Seattleites plant over 13,400 trees in their yards and along the street.
  • Creates additional penalties for unregistered tree service providers performing commercial tree work, such as loss of a business license or significant fines.
  • Replaces trees onsite if they’re removed for development or requires a fee be paid to plant and maintain trees in under-treed areas.
  • Increases street tree requirements for developments in neighborhood residential zones.
  • Addresses the lack of trees in historically underserved communities through the establishment of a payment in-lieu program that will help fund tree planting and maintenance programs around the city.
  • Significantly restricts tree removals on Neighborhood Residential lots:
  • Near absolute restriction on the removal of Tier 1 (Heritage) Trees.
  • Restricts the removal of all Tier 2 trees. Removal of a Tier 2 tree for any reason other than construction or safety is now prohibited.
  • Lowers the size threshold for Tier 2 (currently Significant) trees from 30 inches to 24 inches diameter.
  • Lowers the number of Tier 3 (formerly Significant) that can be removed from original draft. Limit of 2 trees that can be removed to two trees every three years.
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