Mayor, planner, concede tree ordinance ‘loophole’

In an afternoon meeting Tuesday with Mayor Kim Abel and Associate City Planner Glynis Casey, approximately a dozen citizens came forward to discuss their concerns regarding the city’s tree ordinance — an ordinance residents say is not being enforced.

The meeting, titled the “Significant Tree Retention Discussion,” was not the first time Port Orchard resident Christine Sanders, who organized the meeting, has tried to work with the city to allay her concerns regarding the development beyond her backyard and the significant and historical trees she said she feels need to be protected.

“I did what I could working with the city,” Sanders said outside City Hall before the meeting. “We need to force the city to do its job. All citizens need to know they can speak up.”

The meeting centered on the development of Flower Meadows and the Leora Park Project, both headed by local developer Chuck Childress. Citizens voiced concerns that significant and historical trees were being cut down without the city’s permission.

However, Abel and Casey agreed a loophole in the ordinance was to blame.

The city’s tree ordinance states that trees are considered “significant” when their diameter is at least 18 inches at the four foot mark.

A “historical” tree’s diameter must be at least 36 inches. Both significant and historical trees are protected by the city’s tree ordinance — except for those on private property.

“The loophole in the ordinance is the policy that excepts single

structure residential lot developments or short plats from the tree

retention requirements,” Casey wrote in a subsequent e-mail. “Trees identified for protection within an approved Tree Retention Plan on single family residential lots that have been created thru a PRD or subdivision process are protected and cannot be removed without council approval.”

Casey and Abel explained at the meeting that because Childress owns the properties he is cutting on, he is considered a regular property owner. The ordinance is put into place when an applicant intends to develop.

Until then, the property owner is free to cut down trees.

“Maybe you’re drawing attention to some problems in the ordinance,” Abel said.

“I think we have an unethical builder,” said Jerry Arnett, who attended the meeting. “(The developers) don’t care. Your own city planner just testified there’s gray matter in the law. You can’t make (Childress) do anything, but you can stop giving him permits.”

“I know places aren’t going to stay the same, but it’s getting a little extreme,” echoed Robert Zollna of Sidney Avenue.

However, many said they know Childress is not the only developer to violate the law.

Childress was unavailable for comment.

Sanders said her trouble began when Childress began development of Flower Meadows. She said she was more concerned about felled trees damaging her property. The development’s retention pond is located on property adjacent to her backyard.

“The first problem came when they were clearing for the retention pond,” Sanders said. “A tree fell into my historical maple tree.”

Sanders’ maple is 47 inches in diameter at breast height and she quotes the tree’s damage at $3,000.

“Restoring the tree will take five years of maintenance. And even then, it may die,” Sanders said.

Sanders is also concerned with the fate of a poplar tree on her property, felled by the wind after being damaged by a bulldozer.

“If a tree is damaged now, it doesn’t take much to topple it,” she said.

Sanders said Childress has permission to take out one of several Douglas firs grouped together near the side of her house. She said she is concerned damaging one tree could weaken the others.

“I’m concerned about the rest of them that are standing,” Sanders said. The ordinance states one foot of protection for every inch the leftover tree is in diameter.

According to community forester Jim Trainer, who also attended the meeting, root rot and sick trees in general are a legitimate safety concern, since falling trees have caused fatalities in the past.

“I understand the (Childress) wants to develop ... but this could end up costing (the city) millions and millions of dollars,” Trainer said.

Sanders said she is just as concerned with the health of the standing trees as she is with trees being cut down.

“They’re supposed to be protected. My maple was supposed to be protected ... (damaged trees) could fall on my kids’ playground, on my house.”

Several citizens also voiced concerns at the meeting regarding illegal dumping at Flower Meadows’ retention pond and the state of the grass and landscaping.

Sanders said she has little faith in the enforcement system.

“(The city) pretty much disregards (the code enforcement officer),” Sanders said.

Kathy Woodside handles code enforcement for Port Orchard. “We’ve had a couple of issues with Mr. Childress and they’ve been dealt with,” Woodside said. “I was told of issues (residents) had concerns about and responded the the mayor regarding the complaints.”

Woodside said she is currently working to enforce city code regarding the allowable height of grass and weeds.

“Grass and weeds can’t be higher than 12 inches,” Woodside said, citing potential violations at the retention pond and individual lots in Flower Meadows.

According to Woodside, those violating a city code receive a notice of violation. If left unanswered, the violation goes into the “abatement process” and then the violator is cited.

“Grass and weeds are considered a public nuisance and the fine is $205,” Woodside said. “For land-use and zoning violations, it’s $308. For stormwater violations, it’s $513.”

For some residents, that’s not enough.

“When you consider a developer that has a large sum a money, $300 is chump change,” Sanders said. “It doesn’t do enough to make them aware. The fines that hurt are the $5,000 to $10,000 fines.”

Sanders said she is just one of many frustrated citizens and is considering taking legal action for damage to private property.

“Nothing has been done to keep the tree ordinance in place,” Sanders said. “Childress is getting away with too much.”

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