Op-Ed: It is not in Shoreline's best interests to relinquish oversight of 6,000 trees to a golf club

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Susanne Tsoming is a member of Save Shoreline Trees and has been closely following the proposed code amendments being reviewed by the Shoreline Planning Commission - in particular an amendment proposed by the Seattle Golf Club for their property adjacent to The Highlands in Shoreline.

On July 2, 2020, the Shoreline Planning Commission began its study session of proposed amendments to the Shoreline Municipal Code (“SMC”) as proposed by its staff. Prior to it, Save Shoreline Trees (“SST”), a local non-profit group, had reviewed the proposed code amendments that pertained to trees and made a public comment at that meeting.

SST called particular attention to proposed Amendment #38, which was privately initiated by the Seattle Golf Course (“SGC”) for an exemption from activities that included grading and tree removal and replacement. SGC pointed out that King County, Seattle and Bellevue exempted golf courses from their clearing, grading and tree removal regulations, and it would like the same status.

After SST’s investigations, it decided that SGC’s proposed code amendment would not be in the best interest of Shoreline’s residents and property owners because it allows no oversight of Shoreline's valuable assets, its evergreen conifers and urban tree canopy.

SGC was established in 1900 and is surrounded by hundred-plus-year-old Douglas firs. Many of these trees are undoubtedly Significant Trees according to Shoreline’s current tree codes and would likely be considered Heritage Trees for their age and uncommon species. These trees on SGC property comprise approximately 2% of Shoreline’s tree population and are consequential to Shoreline’s urban tree canopy.

In SST’s public statement, it further pointed out that if the City of Shoreline (“City”) approved SGC’s exemption request, the City would be transferring oversight of approximately 6,000-8,000 trees on the SGC property to SGC. The City would no longer be involved in tree removal decisions, and SGC will not be held to the City’s tree codes, as long as 50% of the SGC tree population is maintained. Consequently, there no longer would be (1) communication between the City and SGC about these thousands of trees, and (2) approval would establish a precedent for other large private property entities.

SGC made an application to the Planning Commission for this exemption in 2012, but it was disapproved. The ruling was summarized in a code interpretation, Administrative Order #301795 dated 3/5/12. Under Section IV Decision, it stated that “It is clear that a golf course is not listed as being exempt from SMC 20.50, Subchapter 5 [Tree Conservation, Land Clearing and Site Grading Standards]”.

Since 2012 SGC has functioned under existing City tree codes, but in 2018, SGC applied again for the same exemption, known as Amendment #38. One has to ask what has changed since SGC’s 2012 request. It is understandable that SGC would like to streamline the permit process as requiring “a permit for each of these activities is onerous.” Yet, approval of such permit exemptions regarding tree removals or tree replacements for a private entity should not be given because of it is administrative inconvenience.

Following SST’s comments, one of the attorneys for The Innis Arden Club (the “Club”), which opposed SGC’s 2012 efforts, acknowledged SST for its valid points. It is SST’s intention to follow Amendment #38’s progress to its conclusion.

--Susanne Tsoming, Save Shoreline Trees


Ruth Williams,  July 4, 2020 at 10:26 PM  

Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention and for standing firm on preserving this community resource. As you stated, 'administrative inconvenience' is no excuse to ask for carte blanche in dealing with 100-year-old trees.

Anonymous,  July 5, 2020 at 7:50 AM  

Our tree laws are really a mess. A neighbor just cut down about 10 Doug firs in her backyard. I know she never reported the work to the city and avoided the laws. Those who don't follow the laws are rewarded. Those who do follow the laws must pay fees and go through a process. Kind of ridiculous.

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