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Tree cutting ordinance a city priority

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By Brian Beckley

The Courier-Herald

Following controversial situations involving tree removal on the Larios and Gunn properties, city staff and planning commission members are in the early stages of preparing a new tree removal ordinance for the City Council.

The Planning Department has sent out questionnaires to planning commissioners and council members to help decide the level of tree retention needed in Bonney Lake.

"We're just trying to get an idea of what the vision should be," Planning Manager Steve Ladd said.

Included in the questionnaire are 12 questions for each of four case studies or scenarios, though not all questions are applicable to every scenario.

"So far I can kind of see a pattern," Ladd said of the preliminary returns.

Most of the returned surveys call for regulation of all four scenarios, including large, heavily wooded sites, small infill sites (such as the Larios property), residential lots not proposed for development and wooded tracts not proposed for development.

While results tend toward allowing cutting of trees to enhance views, Ladd said there was a tendency to not allow tree cutting so the owner can sell merchandisable trees.

According to Ladd, the tree ordinance is a high priority for members of the city council.

"I think it's long overdue," Councilman Mark Hamilton said. Hamilton has been a proponent of such an ordinance for quite some time and is also one of the forces behind getting a "Tree City, USA" designation from the Arbor Society.

Hamilton said the main thing a tree retention ordinance sought to do was "maintain the character of the city for as long as possible" while maintaining the rights of property owners to do as they see fit with trees on their land.

"New development is changing the character of the city by cutting the trees," he said. "This ordinance is not an ordinance that is going to prevent people from clearing their property of all their trees."

Hamilton also said it was important to regulate tree retention because removal of trees affects storm water retention and wind patterns.

"When those trees are gone, you have wetness as in the case of the Larios property," Hamilton said.

Jessica Larios received a tree removal permit from the city to begin work on the development of her piece of property, but neighbor concerns about wetlands and storm water have led to a work stoppage, an environmental study and several contentious exchanges at council meetings between Larios and her neighbors.

"I think this is the struggle that any city goes through as it grows," Mayor Bob Young said.

Young said he has given the staff no direction on how to handle this issue and said he is not sure if such an ordinance is necessary because he worries about over-regulation, as well as under-regulation.

"How do you find the balance in that?" he asked. "We need something, but I don't know what that something is."

Brian Beckley can be reached at bbeckley@courierherald.com.

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