Tree art from Green Burien Partnership Urban Forestry Plan

By Nicholas Johnson

Burien’s planning commission is expected to make a recommendation to the city council Wednesday (Oct. 27, 2021) regarding proposed changes to how the city regulates trees on private property.

The proposed update to city code, which primarily focuses on residential properties outside of critical areas such as steep slopes and wetlands, aims to strengthen protections for trees by:

    • boosting the number of trees retained and replanted during new development;
    • establishing a minimum tree density for residential lots based on lot size;
    • establishing off-site tree replacement options as well as a fee-in-lieu program that would provide funding for the Green Burien Partnership Urban Forestry Plan;
    • establishing an “exceptional tree” definition and incentivizing the preservation of those trees;
    • managing invasive species through prevention and removal requirements;
    • and providing for the gradual implementation of the Memorial Drive Corridor Plan on residential and commercial private properties.

The proposed code changes would create permit requirements for tree removal and establish civil monetary penalties for unlawful tree removal or damage.

The proposed changes include definitions for terms such as wildlife snag, tree topping, tree pruning, prohibited plant, hazard tree, grove, critical root zone and exceptional tree, among others.

Although the proposed changes would establish a fee-in-lieu program to offset the value of trees that cannot be replaced on site during new development, the details of that program would be established through a separate resolution by the city council.

Money collected through that program would pay for tree plantings on public lands, enforcement of the tree code, forestry education, restoration activities and purchase of land for tree restoration.

The process for developing the proposed code changes grew out of the development of the Green Burien Partnership Urban Forest Stewardship Plan, with focus-group meetings in January 2020, a community webinar in July 2020 and a community tree forum in February 2021.

Some five people spoke during an Oct. 13 public hearing held by the planning commission, and city staff have received an additional 24 written comments. The planning commission is set to discuss the proposed regulations and potentially make a recommendation to the city council during its 7 p.m. meeting Wednesday.

To learn more about the proposed changes, check out the Frequently Asked Questions webpage created by city staff.

Nicholas Johnson (he/him) is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer who grew up in Boulevard Park, graduated from Highline High School and studied journalism at Western Washington University. Send news tips, story ideas and positive vibes to