You’ve seen the “Clear Cut Bainbridge Island” bumper stickers, a little semi-humorous barb against Bainbridge Islanders’ purported love of trees. But how deep is that love? And is it real love when there’s little action to back it up?
Last Friday, September 6, a Bainbridge Islander submitted a formal complaint to City of Bainbridge Island Code Enforcement regarding the felling of around 23 mature trees on August 22 on a waterfront property in development on Bergman Road. (The cleared property is on a subdivision of the property once owned by the son of Charles Lindbergh and later by an heir to the Westinghouse fortune.) The complainant, who asked Code Enforcement and IB not to disclose his identity out of concern for his and his property’s safety, alleges that developer Daniel Brown, who is building a house on the property, cut down the trees for no reason other than to enhance the view from the future house.
I spoke with COBI Planning Manager Josh Machen who said that there is no code on the books that would have prevented the developer from cutting down those trees for any reason, including just to enhance the view, provided he had obtained a permit beforehand, which he had. According to Machen, with proper permitting, it is legal to clear cut a property. However, the complaint also alleges that Brown cut down at least four mature trees “well within 50 feet of the water.” According to Machen, that would be a violation of the newly updated Shoreline Master Plan, which protects a 50-foot buffer of native vegetation along the shoreline. Rough measurements from the shoreline to the stumps indicate that some of the trees were within that buffer, but Code Enforcement has not yet taken official measurements.
About the trees, the complainant wrote, “These trees provided habitat for native sapsuckers and banded pigeons, and perching sites for bald eagles, blue herons, and kingfishers. They also stabilized the shoreline.”
I asked Machen what would happen as a result of the complaint. He said that a Code Enforcement Officer would investigate to determine if there had been a violation. He added that there would have been a visit from Code Compliance anyway at the conclusion of the project. I pointed out that evidence of the trees would at that point have been removed, so the visit would not have shown a violation even if there had been one. He nodded and shrugged to indicate that was true.
I then asked him what the consequences are for a violation of the SMP buffer. He said a person found to be in violation would be asked to replant the trees. According to my quick Internet search, four Douglas fir trees, for example, would cost $4 per tree. Add in the cost of delivering the trees to the site and the labor needed to plant them, and I’m going to ballpark the total at around $100.
Given that slap on the wrist, why would any developer who is seeking to achieve a view bother at all to adhere to the SMP—which, ironically, protesters have opposed as being too stringent? The view will still be preserved for 20 or 30 years as the new trees struggle to grow, something made all the more difficult by the loss of the stand, which used to afford some protection to its members. Replanting four little new trees does very little to offset the loss of four mature firs.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, this case illustrates the hypocrisy of limited codes with paltry repercussions on an island that talks the tree-loving talk. Without real consequences for violators, the codes, which do not do much to protect trees anyway, are meaningless. If Bainbridge Island truly loves its trees, we all need to do more than proclaim our love for them. We also need to stand by them.
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