Dubbed as a “city of trees,” Lacey’s City Council reviewed a proposal to provide Home Owners Associations (HOA) with more flexibility to remove otherwise healthy trees within their property.
On Thurs., Sept. 9, Lacey Associate Planner Jessica Brandt introduced an amendment to the city’s strict tree protection regulation indicated in the Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) for HOAs.
Based on the policies in the current management plan, HOAs are required to submit a Clearing Permit Application to request for tree removal. The request is then reviewed by the city’s contract forester to determine whether it is healthy or not. If the forester identifies the tree as healthy, the permit is denied.
With the new amendments, Brandt explained that it will give HOAs more flexibility as it provides a set of criteria for removing healthy trees, instead of outrightly denying the application. She shared that one of the primary considerations for removal is if the tree has become a nuisance.
Lacey’s Community and Economic Development Director Rick Walk explained that a tree can be considered a nuisance if it drops branches or limbs which can cause damage to cars or nearby properties. “Large trees needed that maintenance…that’s what we’re putting in the criteria in the application, what is the issue with the tree and why it has to be removed,” Walk said.
City Manager Scott Spence explained that the amendments do not automatically allow HOAs to remove a tree. Spence stated that “the intent was...to provide at least an avenue. I don’t think...trees being requested to be removed will [automatically] be removed, there has to be some criteria or condition. He noted that these criteria, “should not [be] overly burdensome to the HOA.”
Several council members also expressed their concerns regarding the amendment. Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt and Councilmember Ed Kunkel said that apart from the city, an external agency or personnel should help in deciding whether a tree could be removed or not. “It seems that you need to work in conjunction with a forester that actually understands those principles,” Pratt said.
Urban forestry commission proposed
Councilmember Michael Steadman also agreed that the city needs additional input before it can arrive at a decision. With this, the councilmember expressed the need to establish an Urban Forestry Commission. “We’ve been working and talking about this for 16 years and… it sounds like nowhere,” Steadman said. He stressed that a forestry commission would have been helpful in providing an opinion and recommendation regarding the proposed amendment.
Aside from staffing concerns, Steadman said that removing trees would have been counter-productive given that each year, Lacey is losing one percent of its tree canopy. “That’s not maintaining, that’s reducing our tree canopy,” he stated.
In response, Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder shared that while he is concerned about the environmental impact that it would have, he is also “concerned about fairness in these circumstances.” The mayor added that it would have been unfair to provide different guidelines for HOAs and single residential properties. “We’re treating two property owners differently,” Ryder said.
Councilmember Lenny Greenstein disagreed, “We have to give the HOA some flexibility here...there are a lot of reasons that aren’t just the health of the tree.” As a former HOA president, Greenstein believed that “we have to allow the HOA to take care and maintain their property.”
Walk suggested that property owners must provide some sort of financial guarantee to allow the city to replace the trees. Ryder also suggested HOAs replace at least seven trees for each tree that would be removed.
To move forward, Walk plans to create a sub-commission together with the Planning and the Board of Parks Commission to work on the new version of the amendment.