By Mellow DeTray

Monday night’s (Sept. 26, 2022) Burien City Council meeting was a Study Session, meant to be a time for Council to discuss and learn more about important issues and policies they are considering.

The two topics of the evening were the new Tree Ordinance, and an extension of the Affordable Housing Development Program.

Public Comments
The great majority of public comments were in support of adopting the new tree code as written. They reiterated that trees filter our air, take up storm water, provide habitat and shade, and reduce the impacts of climate change in our neighborhoods. Some commenters worried the new regulations would be too stringent and would limit new housing construction. One stated there should be no permit needed for dead tree removal, or for removing up to 25% of a living tree. Others asked that the restrictions and fines be increased above what the code stipulates, as it might not be stringent enough to protect existing trees from new development.

Burien Council discusses proposed tree regulations, affordable housing at Study Session 1

Proposed Tree Regulations
The stated purpose of the revised regulations includes the following:

    • Increase the number of trees that are retained and replanted associated with new development
    • Establish minimum tree credits for all lots in the city, to provide a basis for planting new trees when lots undergo development
    • Establish off-site tree replacement options when planting on-site is not feasible
    • Prevent the introduction and require the removal of noxious species, which threaten Burien’s urban forest

The regulations would involve a fine for unlawful removal of trees, with the fine amount being determined by the size and age of the tree. Trees considered hazards would still be allowed to be removed without permitting. The city hopes the community will adopt a “call before you cut” practice, to check if a tree needs a permit for removal.

Josh Petter, Burien’s Urban Forest Planner, has worked with staff and the community for more than a year to come up with this new, more clear plan, with restrictions that are easier to follow and to enforce. Any trees being cut down can be reported, and the city will investigate all calls to be sure the removal was permitted.

Burien also has neighborhood matching grants available for groups that want to plant trees. Applications for this grant are due by October 15th, and are available on the city website.

The ordinance will be voted on at the next business meeting, but an amendment was added to it that will make the fines not go into effect for several months, to give time for more community outreach and education.

Burien Council discusses proposed tree regulations, affordable housing at Study Session 2

Affordable Housing Demonstration Program
The proposed amendments would extend the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program until 2025. The demonstration project was originally designed to give developers a chance to try out affordable housing concepts, with incentives from the city for providing housing for people living at or below 50% average median income (AMI). During the years it has been in effect, two housing projects have been approved. One, a Habitat for Humanity project, was approved in 2020 and went through a long permitting process due to a wetland and fish-bearing stream on the site, but was finally permitted in June and should begin construction soon.

This demonstration program is intended as a way for us to learn, as a city, how affordable housing gets built. Eventually it will be written into city code. The amendment being discussed would raise the income limits to between 60 and 80% AMI. Council has more questions they will be submitting to city staff before the October 17th Council Meeting, when they will vote on whether to extend the demonstration program.

Watch video of the full meeting here.

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors Theatre, and Hot Feet Fitness. After working for ten years at Burien Community Center, she moved on to teaching fitness classes and to work the front desk of a Burien yoga studio. For many years Mellow kept a moderately popular cooking & lifestyle blog, and she had a brief stint in political journalism during a local election. Clear and informative writing has always been a side hobby of Mellow’s and she looks forward to bringing you unbiased coverage of City Council meetings.