Developers choose to "save" Significant trees that are dying

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Significant tree? Yes. Healthy? No.
A tangle of bare branches and what foliage remains is yellowing.
Photo from Save Shoreline Trees

By Claudia Turner
Save Shoreline Trees, Tree Preservation Code Team

As a supporter of Save Shoreline Trees and a member of the Tree Preservation Code Team, I am pleased to see a majority of our recent tree code amendments approved and become part of the City Code. They will affect permitting processes especially in our neighborhoods and its development. 

Last week, near my Richmond Highlands residence, Arcadia Homes began a project that will demolish a home in order to build two homes. Very soon, 26 of 32 existing Significant trees will be removed on this 17,000 sf lot at 16835 Fremont Ave N. 

The lot is tucked back and accessed only by a long driveway that, in addition to the single family dwelling, has a grove of conifers, maples and a Pacific madrone, currently filled with birds’ busy nesting activity and a resident weasel. 

I and my neighbors are distressed and sad to imagine the grove destroyed. We emailed our concerns to the city project manager, but unless we have Code-based remedies, there is little we can do. This is why the Tree Preservation Code Team was established.

When developers begin clearing a lot, they are required to follow one of our recently passed code amendments. SMC 20.50.310 Exemptions from permit, regulates how many trees they can remove – “the removal of 3 Significant trees on lots up to 7,200 square feet and one additional significant tree 7,200 square feet of lot area,” and “the removal of any tree greater than 24 inches DBH shall require a clearing and grading permit.” 

Therefore, 6 Significant trees will be retained with required new 50 replacement trees. Of the 6 Significant trees, I can see that one of the trees, a pine labeled “N” in the worksheet, has a DEAD top as well as other signs of dying. 

I also notice that a nearby “retention tree”, a small double trunked cypress labeled “GG” also appears to be dying. As you can see by the photo, “GG" is mostly a tangle of bare branches and what foliage remains is yellowing.

This is a common practice among developers, to select to retain trees in poor condition. 

 In 2020, near the Richmond Beach Saltwater Park, a majestic Pacific Madrone was taken down instead of a dead cherry tree because the developer had chosen the dead cherry tree as its designated retention tree. 

Another example in 2019 on Ashworth Ave N. in the Echo Lake neighborhood, where, as reported by a Save Shoreline Trees supporter, the developer designated a “token sickly old apple tree” on the north edge of the project property. 

The developer will be removing 4 healthy Doug firs along the front edge of project property because there is zero-foot setback from the City sidewalk requirement. 

Thankfully, this loophole will no longer be available to developers going forward because TPCT successfully added one word, “healthy” to the Code’s definition of a Significant Tree. (See Ord. 955 SMC 20.20.048 T Definitions – Tree, Significant.)

Yet it is up to us, the public, to notice and report to the City’s Planning and Development Department any possible violations and curb the developers’ common practice of selecting trees in poor condition as part of its tree calculation. 

The public can email or call the City project manager to investigate, and if appropriate, he/she can issue a stop work order until the developer-selected retained trees can be evaluated by an arborist and if available, healthier trees can be chosen. 

We know that retained trees in a construction area often don’t fare well so to provide the best opportunity for their survival, it’s imperative that chosen trees are as healthy and resilient as possible. 

Also, urban forestry practices consider dying trees or standing deadwood good “wildlife trees” so woodpeckers can create cavities in them for owls, nature’s rodent deterrents, to nest. (See 

The public can urge the City to make site visits to ensure that trees are being adequately protected during construction by protecting their critical root zones. 

Essentially, Shoreline’s trees are a valuable resource and should be treated accordingly. We are at a point as a community that in order to preserve these trees, each development project will require close scrutiny.


Anonymous,  April 21, 2022 at 6:49 PM  

You contradict yourself with the urban forestry perspective. Don’t forget trees were torn down to build your home. Hopefully the new family will bring you as much joy as the trees.

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