City to fine homeowner for tree removal

Tree removal crews cut down a large Monkey Puzzle tree at the corner of NW 60th and 9th Ave. last week. Today, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development tells My Ballard that they’re preparing to fine the homeowners for removing an “exceptional tree” without a permit.

An exceptional tree is defined “by virtue of its size, species, condition, cultural or historic importance, age, and/or contribution as part of grove of trees,” explains the city rule (.pdf). In this case, a Monkey Puzzle tree is exceptional if it measures over 1 foot 10 inches in diameter at 4.5 feet above the ground.

“We’re anticipating a violation,” said Alan Justad, Deputy Director of DPD, explaining that the removal required a permit. “They needed to go through the approval process.” Justad says the fine will be based on the estimated market value of the tree, which he expects may total “several thousand dollars” for a tree that size, although the final amount is still being calculated. Fines also typically involve a restoration requirement, he said.

Some neighbors were disappointed in the new homeowner’s decision to take down one of the largest Monkey Puzzle trees in the city, while others supported the move, explaining the tree was in danger of damaging the house.

197 comments on “City to fine homeowner for tree removal”

  1. What Ballardemican means is that Chile and Seattle are roughly the same distance from the Equator which would indicate similar weather patterns/flora/fauna. That seemed pretty obvious to me.

  2. You bet I would! I would rather live in a condo I could afford to take care of properly than a house I couldn't.

    Wait until spring and you get that first infestation of moisture ants (my 2nd house) or you go to replace a leaky toilet and find the sub floor is rotted through and the entire bathroom floor needs to be replaced, and it's your only bathroom (1st house). $750 a year will be the least of your problems.

    Home ownership is expensive. You can't often mitigate your long term maintenance with short term solutions.

    Btw, if you want to cut down a tree because it's blocking all your sun, makes a huge mess, is damaging your sewer lines, go right ahead. But doing it because you don't want to pay to take care of it is sad. It was there long before you, have some respect for the history of your Grandfather's home.

  3. Just saw your post about it being a pine and possibly cracking the foundation. Much more valid argument than “I don't want to pay for maintaining it.” Too bad, but if it's compromising the integrity of the house, removing it might be your best answer and the city should recognize that with a permit.

  4. I live on this particular block and can say, that tree was awesome and what-not.
    however, it was very large and very soon it's root system would probably start doing
    to the street what it already is doing to the sidewalk, destroying it.
    Who, then, would get fined? If that tree was in a forest or park, cutting it down would have
    been a tragidy.

  5. I'm an Arborist who owns a small tree service here in Seattle. I have worked in this city as an Arborist for the past 8 years. I have a few things to say.. The superficial first.
    1. You cannot climb a monkey puzzle tree. I have pruned two of these in my career. I have removed one. They are covered in sharp thorns arranged in circular disks. The upper 75% of the trunk is covered in thorns as well. I heard on the radio a neighbor talking about her fond memories of neighborhood children climbing the tree and how she had a tree fort in the tree. As I said before, I've pruned two of these trees and removed one. Every time I was wearing head to toe protection including a helmet and two pairs of gloves. Every time I was stabbed numerous times. At the end of the day when I removed my clothes I looked like I had been dragged through a blackberry briar. The jobs were worse for the groundmen, whose j0b it is to haul off the removed branches. Monkey puzzle branches have cylindrical rows of sharp thorns that point outward and down the branch. This makes it impossible to grab a monkey puzzle branch from the butt end and drag it. The branch must be grabbed at the tail end and dragged awkwardly backwards to the chipper were it is again flipped over and precariously fed into the chipper. In addition to the difficult drag, the monkey puzzle branches explode when they hit the ground sending thousands of thorns in every direction. I have never done a monkey puzzle were the groundman was not a bloody mess. So this should clear up any confusion about whether children were playing in the trees or not. They were not.
    2.Every Arborist worth his salt will attempt to discourage the homeowner from removing a tree unnecessarily, or mal-pruning a tree. Ex. topping a tree. This is exhausting, as the level of ignorance about trees and tree pruning is staggering. At least half the customers I have had, I've had to talk out of removing healthy trees or mal-pruning them. However some people cannot and will not be dissuaded from removing their trees. What do I do in such a situation? I do what any Arborist worth his salt does. I cut the tree down. The bottom line is, it's there property, and it's their right to do whatever they want with it. I'm a highly skilled proffesional, and better the tree gets removed by me or someone like me, rather then someone who has no idea what there doing. I may disagree with the homeowner, but at the end of the day it's their decision. Or at least it should be, if this is still a free country based on individual freedom and property rights.

    3. Having a mature monkeypuzzle tree in your yard is in itself a legitimate reason to cut the tree down. A certain segment of the population of Seattle seems to forget that we live in a city, not a forest. Having a large maturing tree in your yard poses a significant threat to your property and your safety. All trees will eventually fall down. Yes this tree could have been thinned and deadwooded, making it safer and less susceptible to a blow over, but that is not a failsafe to a disaster occuring. Case in point, the massive windstorm of 2006, when rain saturation and sustained high winds caused the blow over of many heathly, previously thinned trees. Secondly, as I have already stated, a monkey puzzle is a pain in the ass to clean up after, maybe they didn't want to deal with it. Maybe they wanted more light. Point is, agree with the removal or not, it's not anyone's decision but the homeowners. Or at least it shouldn't be…

    -Well that was more then I intended to write. In closing I'd like to wish the owner of said tree service the best of luck… And remind those Ballardians that their neighborhood, as all of Seattle and it's glorious suburbs, was once an old growth rainforest, and was deforested to make room for them to live, and if that's making you feel guilty, you should be protesting the expansion of such townships as the Issquah highlands and the Sammamish plateau, not your poor neighbors yard maintenance efforts.

  6. I want to know what makes you people think that regulating this persons property is acceptable. I'm sure he has or is paying for and being taxed on this property. I think the people that are pursuing this non-crime should worry about there own lives and keep there noses out of other peoples business!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Their property value just doubled. Their neighbors should be leaving them gifts for improving this part of town.

  8. The difference here is you are causing direct harm to others with your example.

    Tree removal is not causing direct harm to anyone else in the neighborhood.

  9. Too many people have this idea that the DPD and the city in general is this evil oligarchy but whenever I've called DPD or gotten inspections they've been super helpful and nice. Just call 'em up and ask before you even apply for the permit and they'll tell you what's what.

  10. I've found that you don't really “fight” DPD unless you are doing something really stupid, wrong, or both. Usually they have a very good reason for denying something or just want minor changes in the name of safety.

  11. apollo




    since the zoning is there to protect you more than it is there to take your freedom. Don't get all america up in everyone's face when you don't know what you're talking about.

  12. We need to look out for the crazies especially when they're advocating violence and destruction. The idiots? Not so much.

  13. Is this the new homeowners way of saying welcome to the neighborhood? Talk about a giant FU to the neighbors.

  14. I suspect the homeowners will appeal the fine. If they don't and the city fines them for the size and age of the tree they'll be screwed. Way more money than replacing a sewer line.

  15. sbaked1598, You obviously don't care about community so perhaps you would be happier living out in a sparsely populated area. You'll need to really get out there deep though, because in all my experience of living out amongst the property rights crowd they are the absolute worst neighbors.

  16. Yeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaw! That's how you country boys greet each other right? Then tip your giant cowboy hats and put your thumbs behind your WWF sized belt buckles? Then get all brokeback mountain on each other? Really? That's not how it is?
    How many other stupid hyperbolic stereotypes can we cram into the argument?

    In all seriousness the issue that you mention of dense building is why the city has acted to preserve the remaining trees. Because we have a lot more people living in close proximity to each other we need to have a certain amount of regulation so that we can have a thriving community without allowing one person's actions to unduly impact everyone else.

  17. Dawn is neither an idiot, clueless or a whiner, and you shouldn't assume that quotes found in local papers (or blogs, for that matter) are accurate. Dawn has done more to promote neighborhood involvement and improvement in East Ballard than anyone I know.

  18. exactamente — these trees are native to about -45 degrees lat. South, and their place in the ecosystem is similar to that of our native big trees. I meant to say that they fit in well and don't compete aggressively w/ native species, so they are not invasive troublemakers.

    Think of them as Finnish, not as Californians :)

  19. Just when I thought your post could get no better, you threw in that last sentence. Bravo.

    Can anyone recommend an Arborist? My neighbor has a Doug Fir that is ill and tall and will fall unless we do something to help it. We are prepared as neighbors to split the cost.

  20. I could argue that eveeryone entered the party voluntarily, so get off my porch, but alright then:

    With my snuff film profits I will build a new house on MY property with MY money. It will be 300 feet tall and depict an exact, photographic likeness of Ron Jeremy's money maker in money-making mode, warts and all. Every day at noon and midnight it will ooze a couple hundred gallons of icing from a centrally located chimney.

    Since it is MY property and MY house and others are not being directly harmed I absolutely should have the right to do this, right? To build a giant, spurting erection house visible for miles, and right next door to you, and maybe a church and daycare center?

    Of course not — the simple absolutist arguments about property rights crumble in the face of community standards and the common good. My point is that if you aren't arguing about relative degree of public vs private rights in this case you likely stopped paying attention after the 6th grade.

    I think there should be strong individual property rights. For instance I disagree with the Supreme Court decision to allow private comercial developer to exercise forcible emminent domain take overs of private property when the commercial project would help revitalize a neighborhood. If some lone holdout wants to stay in a rundown area then private companies need to find somewhere else to build a Jamba Juice, no matter how much of an unreasonable tool the holdout is.

    But big trees give a neighborhood character and definition. They outlast almost all homeowners and make the hood a nicer place to live for everyone, raise the local property values, etc. Because of this ordinance Ballard will be much more beautiful in 20 or 30 years. So we agree to limit rights to cut certain trees down, as we limit many other activities on private property.

    A good friend once told me when he bought a house: “this is all mine, except the big trees — I just get to take care of them until the next steward comes along.” I think this is a mature attitude.

    If one can cut down any tree on one's lot in our neighborhood, it most certainly will be done eventually as a result of owners coming and going. The trees will not be able to keep up with the capricious whim of some. In effect then a minority gets to defacto tyrranize the majority, and that can't be what liberty is all about even to a libertarian, right?

  21. Thanks for the positive feedback. I'd be glad to look at any trees you have, I'm an Arborist and own a small tree service. I'd prefer for the time being to not put the name of my tree service up here lest it be dragged into any controversy. Send me an e-mail though… and I'll come out and take a look a the tree right away. Now is a great time to have tree work done. Due to the slowness of the season, I can give you a great price. Thanks again for the reply…

  22. Again, all of you arguing that a property owner should be able to do anything they want with/on their property are either disingenuous or not clear thinkers.

    The argument here is about the degree to which public benefit ought to supercede individual property rights. Some of you have made pretty good arguments for why an individual's right to cut a tree outweighs the community's right to improve the quality of the neighborhood in general (e.g. big trees don't improve a hood, they do but their potential harm and cost balance against that, there should be no right to communal goods [this one is very hard if you work it through], etc).

    Bald neighborhoods look like crap. I'm not gonna hug one but I'm glad we keep the big trees standing in Ballard, even if that means I need to maintain/put up with the ones on my lot.

  23. Thanks for standing up for me. I was misquoted. I did not say anything about climbing trees that I remember, and I didn't make an effort to correct the Ballard News Tribune. That is partially my fault.

  24. Attention big tree lovers. I have a large evergreen on the south side. The day after I sweep, there are needles all over everything. Anything in the driveway gets sap on it. I have no sunbeams in my house. It is one af 7 large trees on that edge of the lot. Walnut, locust, ash, red cedar. and the laurel. It's a constant souurce of frustration and depression.

    I would love to take it down but perhaps I could just limb it up. I am near 70th and 27th and if anyone would like to help me limb it up so at least I could enjoy the sun, then I would not have to take it down. I need a cherry picker and I have the cutting tools. I am thinking a lodgepole pine haircut.

    Just thought it couldn't hurt to ask.

  25. “Cover several square miles with concrete, buildings, houses, and then complain when a tree gets cut down. I can hardly stop laughing.”

    Yeah, it's not like the property developers have to get any permits or submit to land-use reviews or anything. Ha! Ha! Ha!

  26. Bp posted about the fir tree which I am fairly certain was on my friend's property – quote “We just went through a similar situation here in Crown Hill. About two years ago, some new people bought a house built in 1914. In their front yard was an enormous Douglas fir that was clearly as old as the house, if not older. (Later, after it was down, I counted 110 rings on the stump).”
    First I counted around 89 rings. And, it was an unhappy ugly tree, having had almost all its limbs lopped back, it looked like a toothpick tree. And, I have planted about 4 dozen native bushes, plants, and wild flowers were there used to be turf yard. And – they are replacing that one tree with three. And in another 80- years, when the owner of the house then cuts down one of those trees – you can bitch again.

  27. These same city maggots required me to remove a tree, not on my property, but adjacent to my property last year and pay for it myself. If I didn't they would remove it and charge and fine me. In addition if I don't plant another tree in the same spot, again not my property, I will get fined. These people are pure puss. Get me out of this rat hole.

  28. Quote:
    “How, exactly, is that a case of the city “overstepping its bounds” to “find more money for its bloated financial needs”?
    Some people look for conspiracies that just aren't there.”

    Well, if you want to justify the paycheck you get, you make up reasons for your existence. If your boss calls you in for your annual performance review, you better have a laundry list ready of everything that you did during the year. If you just show up and say that you kept the status quo, you'll find yourself at the front of the line for budget cuts.

    If I were the property owner who got fined, I would paint my house the most obnoxious glow in the dark color that I could find. It's not like you can see the color when you are in your own house.

  29. Ballardemican, you make a good rational argument but the other side has their measured response: MINE! MINE! MINE! ARRRRGH! HULK SMASH!!!

  30. This tree WAS the first specimen of the species listed in Arthur Lee Jacobson's “Trees of Seattle” (2nd ed, 2006) p. 267.

  31. I would like to offer my support for the home owner. I do not know the specifics of the case, however I have had a similar experience with this type of situation. Last May, I had a large doug-fir removed from my front yard. I had three companies bid on the job, and all three told me I did not need a permit.

    I also called the Seattle DPD on their permit specialist hotline and again was told that I did not need a permit for one tree. I mention this to point out that although it is true “ignorance of the law is no defense”, what remedy do I have when the DPD is ignorant?

    Much like the homeowner in the story, a neighbor called in and complained. I know who called, and I even asked him why he called. His answer? “200 years ago there was a lot more trees here”. He is what you would call a fanatic.

    Anyway, in November I received a notice of violation and a fine for $23,500. This was for a 80 year old doug fir. I was told by the woman in charge of my case that I was the second person to receive this type of violation. I know for a fact there are more people since then that have been subject to this violation.

    I have been fighting this since mid-november and am still waiting for my directors appeal, even though the woman at DPD told me there was no appeal process. Sounds like a money grab to me.

    I seen one of the posts here question whether this is an ordinance for the good of the community or a way to balnce the budget. Well, if you read the DPD directors blog, they usually read like a profit and loss statement.

    I'm out over $5000 in legal fees so far. I'm sure the homeowners in this story will soon be in the same situation, unless the city decides this will be a good case to test in court.

    The tree ordinance was revised in April last year, which is why the DPD is now able to hand out these fines like candy. McIver is the only one on the city council who voted against it. I will try to get in touch with these homeowners to share my experience with them.

  32. Well, “stupid and wrong” depends on your point of view. To me this is more an aesthetic issue and less one of public safety.

    My main point wasn't that there was some big conspiracy. I can't stand those arguments. It was that maybe we've given up too much to the City and community (“the Collective”, humorously) regarding trees. The base issue seems to be the existence of the tree ordinance in the first place.

    Property owners should be able to do what they want on their land. On the other hand the community has a right to say what is allowed in it. Zoning, land use and views are some things most of us have agreed the community has a right to restrict us on.

    But it's apparent from this thread the tree ordinance is one we don't all agree on – at least as far as Monkey Puzzle trees go.

  33. Does it really cost $1500 to have a tree trimmed? It seems like you could have a tree trimmed periodically for many years for $3000

  34. Sometimes you get the permits, and sometimes the homeowner elects to do so. That's fine. But what if the homeowner says, “Naah, we don't need no stinkin' permits”? Do you proceed with your heavy equipment (and that looks like a pretty big crane they used there) without any permits? Or do you turn down the job, 'cause it's presumably ILLEGAL to do it without the permits?

  35. Unfortunately, using that logic would turn trees into a liability to the value of the property. Example: you have a 1200sf home valued at $100,000 -but- it's has a large tree that requires trimming and maintenance every 18-24months at a cost of $1500.

    Now homeowners are having to figure in the time/money/aggravation factors involved with maintaining the tree. The majority will choose to buy elsewhere. Of course there will be some who feel the aesthetics of the tree outweigh the costs/hassles. Unfortunately the seller has to wait for that buyer to come along. Also, a savvy Realtor will pick up on such an issue and use it as leverage for price reduction (trust me, I most certainly would).

    Under either scenario the tree has had a negative impact on the property value. So, along come the dreaded “unintended consequences”.

    Homeowners don't want to hurt their property values so they begin considering these “tree hassle” issues more closely when designing or changing their landscaping. The obvious choice to homeowners becomes either (1) stop planting large trees -or- (2) plant them but cut them down before they grow past the threshold to trigger the ordinance. A 3rd but equally depressing scenario is that eventually you begin to find large trees only on more expensive, upscale homes where the value of home itself offsets the cost/hassle of the tree(s) involved.

    Under any of these scenarios the end result is fewer large trees, the exact opposite of the original admirable goal. *sigh*

    Now, you allow the homeowner the freedom to control his own landscaping as he see fit and the entire issue resolves itself. The vast majority of people will leave such trees in place unless there’s a pressing need to remove them. Of course there are some that will cut down a large beautiful tree simply because it interferes with their backyard sun or because they hate leaves. As frustrating as this is, it’s the price we pay to live in a free society with individual property rights. Loose sight of that and you’ll end up missing a whole lot more that just trees.

  36. Protect me from being able to landscape my yard? Protect me by letting the neighborhood snoop spend her days citing neighbors for heinous crimes like trimming (or not trimming) the shrubbery?


    I (or my predecessor in interest) plant a tree…and then when I want to cut it down I need permission? Freedom? Liberty?

    Life, liberty property?

    I forgot, I shouldn't get all “America” here…this is, after all, the Soviet republic of Seattle…

  37. I don’t understand how a city can claim ownership of a tree on private property.
    I can sell the city all my trees and then they are the city’s. Until then they belong to me . I will sell my trees for “several thousands of dollars”. Only then I understand a recompense to the city.

  38. The contractor does not own the land, therefore they are not responsible. It is always up to the property owner to make sure the work is permitted. Besides, Monkey trees are poisoness and so not belong in the Pacific Northwest.

  39. More like tear down the house and plant another tree. Maybe that will make the city happy.

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