The tree was planted sometime between 1911-1916, and needs to be removed to make way for a side sewer line, according to the school district.
The tree was planted sometime between 1911-1916, and needs to be removed to make way for a side sewer line, according to the school district.

Queen Anne Elementary neighbors upset about the pending loss of a Norway Maple tree to make way for a side sewer line for the school’s new addition building continue urging the city and school district to find a better alternative that spares the tree.

Seattle City Council District 7 candidate Don Harper, who chairs the Queen Anne Community Council’s Parks Committee, protested the tree’s removal to Seattle Parks and Recreation, which owns the property where the tree stands on Bigelow Avenue North. The permit to remove Tree #70 was temporarily revoked while SPR Urban Forest Tree Crew conducted another assessment. The crew concluded the structural condition of the tree was too poor, and SPR reissued the permit to remove it on April 10.

Seattle Public Schools is building the addition with BEX IV Capital Levy funds approved in 2013 to provide eight new classrooms, a cafeteria and gymnasium to accommodate 500 students. Students were relocated to the John Marshall building in Ravenna during construction and are expected to return in September.

A State Environmental Policy Act Environmental Checklist was completed in 2017, and Tree Solutions, Inc. inventoried 48 trees with a diameter of six inches or greater on the project site, 15 of which are on Bigelow Avenue North. None of the trees were determined to be exceptional under City of Seattle standards, and some between the original school and addition did need to be removed. But the Determination of Non-Significance states no trees would be lost on Bigelow Avenue North.

The design team used bad city records when determining where the side sewer would connect to the system, however, and that meant changing plans.

The preferred option would require running a new trench through the root zones of adjacent Tree #69 — a more healthy tree — and Tree #70, which isn’t expected to survive the root damage this work would cause, according to a Dec. 20 memo from David Dahl with lead architecture firm Mahlum Architects.

Geness Reichert, who attended Queen Anne Elementary when it was John Hay Elementary, has lived across from the school for 46 years. Her side yard faces the row of trees along the Queen Anne Boulevard.

She spent two years on the Queen Anne Elementary Addition’s School Design Advisory Team, and is upset that SPS plans to remove the Norway Maple because of a design error rather than find an alternate solution to spare it. She also worries its removal will threaten the two trees on either side of it.

“I would rather have it live another 10 years and then have them realize, ‘OK, we have to take this down,’” said Harper, adding it’s likely a number of the aging trees on the boulevard would need to go in the future.

Arborists believe Tree #70 will only survive about another decade, repeated pruning of trees along Bigelow due to overhead utilities having negatively impacted their health, according to Dahl’s memo. Heavy pruning was conducted in July 2018, prior to construction starting on the addition, but after the arborist’s report was completed.

“Installation of building addition waste line system had been in progress prior to the discovery that the intended connection to the sewer line was capped,” the Mahlum memo states. “It was too late to modify the waste line design and stub out location.”

The follow-up review of the tree’s health by the SPR Urban Forest Tree Crew determined that years of pruning had caused poor branching unions that resulted in wounds and wood decay. One large stem’s level of decay was determined to be a threat to pedestrians.

Licensed arborist Michael Oxman said the pruning of the Norway Maple was not done to required specifications, and he would like to see the permits issued for that work. The way the pruning was done, he said, cut off nutrient supply lines to the tree. Oxman also found issue with a lack of fencing around the drip line of Tree #70 and other trees on the opposite side of the addition project.

Neighborhood advocates for the Norway Maple say its impending demise is an example of a greater issue with the city prioritizing development over tree preservation.

“Trees don’t make a profit,” Oxman said, “and, unfortunately, we have to accommodate that.”

Oxman said there has been a push for a revised tree ordinance since 2009. Former Seattle councilmember Rob Johnson proposed a revised tree ordinance last year that upset conservation groups and resulted in the issue being tabled.

“It wasn’t a tree-preservation ordinance,” Oxman said. “It was a tree-removal ordinance.”

Harper had suggested filing a lawsuit to prevent the tree’s removal during the April 3 QACC meeting, but that proposal appears to have been dismissed. Reichert said she would rather SPS acknowledge its mistake and work with the parks department to find a better alternative

Harper said the Mandatory Housing Affordability program recently passed by the city and plans to loosen restrictions on accessory dwelling units — under appeal by QACC — also don’t provide adequate protection of trees.

The District 7 candidate also wants to make it easier and less costly to challenge land-use decisions, which can cost up to $30,000 depending on the project, he said.

“If you win, you don’t get your money back,” he said. “You just win.”

SPS will need to replace the old Norway Maple with two new trees. Harper said that type of tree grows very large, so it’s likely the school district will be allowed to plant just one. He added he’s not confident a new planting will survive.

Reichert said that side of Bigelow will be used to drop students off for school, and there will likely be impacts from the amount of foot traffic.

Her neighbor Nancy Norling moved into her home in the 1940s, and is also unhappy about the decision to remove the tree. She had a large tree in front of her property die, and it was replaced by the city, after several calls, she said. Now, she worries another tree is on its way out.

“I don’t know why my other one died either,” she said.