UPDATE: The Camas City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed urban tree program at the council’s regular meeting at 7 p.m., Monday, Aug. 6. A previous version of this article listed an incorrect date for the hearing.
Efforts to preserve Camas’ urban trees in the midst of rapid residential and commercial development are moving forward.
Camas Planning Commission members voted in mid-June to send a proposed urban tree program forward to Camas City Council.
On July 2, council members agreed to open a public hearing to discuss the pros and cons of establishing a citywide urban tree program. That hearing will be held at 7 p.m., Monday, Aug. 6.
“Sarah has done a great job working with the ad hoc committee … and it’s about time we get some teeth in protecting our (tree) canopies,” Camas Councilwoman Bonnie Carter said July 2, referring to Sarah Fox, the city’s senior planner who has been working on the proposed urban tree program for the past two years.
“This was something people cared about, and asked about when we were doing our comprehensive plan update,” Fox told The Post-Record in early June, after planning commissioners told city planning staff they needed to do more outreach with commercial developers before the commission would forward the program to the city council. “Most people didn’t know that we didn’t have any protections for our trees. We couldn’t do anything about the areas already being developed, but we could look at (creating a new urban tree program).”
City staff secured a Washington Department of Natural Resources’ Urban and Community Forestry Program grant to pay for consultants from Davey Resource Group, formed an ad hoc committee, and spent nearly two years researching what other cities require from developers and individual property owners when it comes to protecting urban trees.
The city’s current code on tree retention, which states “to the extent practical, existing healthy, significant trees shall be retained” and “preservation of groups of significant trees, rather than individual trees shall be preferred,” is vague and open to interpretation, which has caused legal problems in the past, Fox said.
The current code doesn’t prohibit people from tearing down existing trees on their own property, require developers to retain a certain number of trees or even adequately protect trees within the city’s open spaces.
Councilwoman Carter, along with Camas Parks and Recreation Commission member Cassi Marshall, sat on the eight-person ad hoc committee that reviewed the city’s tree codes and researched other methods of retaining and preserving an urban tree canopy.
Both women told Camas planning commissioners in May that the city also has a problem with people removing trees from public property.
“We have citizens who take down trees in public, open spaces to preserve their view,” Carter said at the May 15 public hearing. “They can do it, and we have no restoration means to put (the trees) back. This affects all of us in this community.”
Fox came back to the Camas Planning Commission on June 19, and said she and other city staff had sat down with developers and tried to do more public outreach about the proposed tree regulations.
In its current form — which could be altered by city councilors — the urban tree program would require a street tree permit, change the city’s code relating to park and open space trees, add tree preservation language to existing city code and amend the fines and fee schedule for removing trees.
Much of the program takes its cue from the tree preservation efforts in Olympia, Washington, a city that has had an urban tree program in place for more than 20 years.
The ad hoc committee looked at several urban tree programs, and sent Camas staff to Olympia to meet with that city’s planners and urban foresters to better evaluate what did and did not work.
Under the proposed program, the city would — much like Olympia and Vancouver — require developers to meet a “tree unit” threshold based on the size of the project, its usable amount of developable land and the type of existing trees on the site. If developers absolutely could not meet the tree unit requirement, they could opt to instead put money into a city tree fund to preserve healthy trees and plant new trees inside city limits.
The program would also allow city leaders to fine people who illegally removed trees from the city’s public open spaces and require them to replace the stolen trees.
People looking to remove street trees from their private property would need to secure a permit first. The city may charge a permit fee and could require property owners to replace the street tree within six months. Under the permit program, “tree topping” or cutting off a tree’s upper branches would be prohibited and considered a form of tree removal.
In the most recent version of the urban tree program, presented to planning commissioners in mid-June, developers would still need to retain or plant a minimum of 20 tree units — with older, more established, healthy trees worth more units and new, 2-inch diameter trees worth one unit — and the city would give priority for trees at least 36 inches in diameter.
City council members are expected to open the public hearing on the urban tree program at their first regular council meeting in August, which begins at 7 p.m., Monday, Aug. 6, at Camas City Hall, 616 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.
For more information about the proposed urban tree program, visit ci.camas.wa.us and click “Minutes, Agendas and Videos” link under the “Your Government” tab at the top of the page. Find the May 15, 2018 or June 19, 2018 Camas Planning Commission public hearing links to view attached documents, written comments and/or watch video from the hearing(s).