LFP Hearing Examiner decision for habitat retention could save Northwest salmon

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Salmon fry
By Jim Halliday Co-chair StreamKeepers

On October 24, 2018, Mr. John Galt, the Hearing Examiner for the City of Lake Forest Park (LFP), rendered a Decision that could mark the beginning of a change in land use development policy that will save northwest salmon.

The hearing resulted from a developer requesting a Reasonable Use Exception (RUE) for relief from the City of LFP’s Tree Canopy Preservation and Enhancement Ordinance regulations.

Mr. Steven Crane, the developer, had sought to maximize his return on investment (ROI) by building the largest house possible on the small non-conforming lot he had purchased.

To accomplish that, he sought an exception from tree canopy requirements in order to remove two Exceptional trees – one 52”dbh and one over 42”( in which neighbors had seen and recorded Ospreys in their nest for the past three years).

The developer’s hired arborist claimed the large Exceptional trees needed to be removed in order for a house to be built.

However, Kim Adams Pratt, the City Attorney, through careful questioning of the City’s Consulting Arborist, Paul Thompson, was able to show the Hearing Examiner and the City Planning Department that by using trenchless or low impact excavation construction methods, (such as dry-vacuum or hydro-vacuum tunneling for utilities), that a reasonable use could be made of the property without removing the Exceptional trees.

The City proposed conditions such as a “no-dig driveway” and methods for protecting the “interior critical area root zones” (ICRZ) that would have to be met before the City would recommend approval of a building permit. These conditions were intended to protect the Exceptional Trees during construction and the five-year post construction Maintenance Bond period.

In his Decision the Hearing Examiner stated he was not convinced that either Exceptional Tree needed to be removed to allow reasonable use of the property and their removal was not approved.

His Decision adopted most of the City’s recommendations and also stated that in the Conditions wording, “should” will be replaced with “shall” and that the word “applicant” will be replaced with “permittee” (or other word meaning “holder of the approval”) to ensure that no confusion occurs in the future regarding that an RUE “runs with the land.” His own set of additional stringent conditions included such things as:
  • The building footprint shall be limited to the area outside of the ICRZ of both Exceptional Trees.
  • Any changes to the tree protection measures shall require City Arborist approval.
  • The permittee shall provide a performance security (bond) prior to development permit issuance. 

The Decision and conditions can be viewed on the City’s Planning Notices and Announcements page and scroll down to File 2018-RUE-0001 Hearing Examiner Decision (10/23/18)

This is a very important precedent-setting ruling that could result in more trees being retained all over Puget Sound and land development practices evolving in favor of habitat retention for salmon. 


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