Tree Retention in Developments

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Tree Retention Challenged at Stream Meridian Project | Whatcom Million Trees Project

WMTP Tree Protection Project

Greater Tree Retention in New Developments

Advocacy to Improve New Development Plans That Fail to Protect Significant Trees

WMTP recognizes that Bellingham needs more infill development — especially affordable, smaller footprint infill housing. As the city grows, high-density commercial developments will also become more common.
New developments should not compromise the livability of our city nor skimp on key infill criteria or climate resiliency goals. That means doing everything we can to preserve significant trees (tree retention) wherever possible in private parcels, whether it’s protecting mature native confiers scattered within neighborhoods or on densely forested sites undergoing development.

Infill versus mature urban tree retention is not an either/or choice. BOTH goals are simultaneously achievable.

People want balance with these issues. They don’t want the livability of our City to slip away in the name of developer profits. Residents are concerned about climate changes and the increased need for climate resiliency that mature trees will provide. This is especially true in neighborhoods which lack tree canopy (Birchwood, Meridian, etc.) compared to other Bellingham neighborhoods.
You might assume WMTP is full of tree-huggers who are fervently against any tree removal anywhere. Sure, that may appeal emotionally to some of us, but it’s rarely realistic or practical for our growing community. Therefore, as a nonprofit, we consciously try to balance multiple needs when we advocate for a position.
Selective WMTP Advocacy on New Developments
Development advocacy is needed because currently COB currently has relatively weak or non-existant tree retention ordinances, unlike many other WA cities of similar size. The City’s upcoming Urban Forestry Management Plan is meant to address that, but draft recommendations won’t be released until early 2024. Meanwhile development and significant tree loss continues unabated.
There is currently not enough of a nudge/reward for developers to take a nature-integrated design approach that values urban tree retention from the get-go. In the City’s Infill Toolkit, there is a green factor analysis, and preserving existing trees does earn needed points to reach an overall green threshold required, but no mature tree retention is required.
Projects Flying Under The Radar
In addition to the above lack of ordinances and incentives for tree retention, community feedback to newly proposed projects is limited due to the City’s currently weak notification system
It’s often difficult for our community to be informed about new developments since notifications are limited to physically mailing the nearest landowners and a neighborhood association representative, plus posting a few small yellow signs around the site that few people can stop to read. Also, for nearby apartment complexes, only the listed landowner receives a mailed notification (and that person or entity may not even be local), Large numbers of apartment dwellers who reside there are not separately notified.
Also, the City’s Development Dashboard and Current Planning Notices webpages that summarize all new development applications are dificult to navigate and understand. Some simple improvements would make a world of difference in the accessibility and usefulness of those online resources.
Proposed new development projects often fly under the community radar in this way. If a proposed project manages to be covered in the press or otherwise become more known, often it’s too late to have public feedback meaningfully alter its design path.
We strongly believe notifications for major projects should be broadened and more easily discovered. In our upcoming Urban Forestry Management Plan draft report feedback, WMTP will strongly push for public notification of major projects to be broadened and more easily discovered.
Current WMTP Pushbacks
We’re very selective about which development projects we target for advocacy. We currently focus on multi-family, commercial, and public development proposals, not single-family homes. In such projects, we check, for example, whether the proposed plan unnecessarily removes many mature native trees and has significant other nature-related drawbacks.
Only two projects currently qualify: The Stream Meridian project and Mud Bay Cliffs.
Stream Meridian Project

Important Update: The Hearing Examiner session that will decide the fate of this project will be March 13, 5pm at the City Council Chambers in Bellingham’s City Hall. Please attend!

The 68-unit infill housing development proposed by the Bellingham Golf & Country Club (who took over the permit application after Stream Real Estate Development of Seattle withdrew from the project) more than meets our advocacy criteria. It would be built in a densely forested area along Meridian Street at the southeast corner of BGCC, kitty-corner from Cornwall Park. (See aerial image at top left of this page.)
The project, as currently designed, would remove 327 large native trees (actually many more we believe, after examining the plans closely). Most are 70-100-year-old majestic conifers similar to those in Cornwall Park. Among them are some of the tallest trees in northern Bellingham.
The proposed Meridian project has major problems and deficiencies that we detail in our eight-page public comment letter that we submitted to the City of Bellingham’s Planning and Community Development Department.
We also created an online petition for this project — if you haven’t signed it yet, please do! More than 1,400 citizens have signed to date!
The Hearing Examiner’s session for this project will be on March 13, 5pm at City Hall (Council Chamber). We will be summarizing our concerns and encourage others to do likewise.
Jones Development @ Mud Bay Cliffs
This 38-home luxury home development above the cliffs at Mud Bay would remove most of a sizable mature forest ecosystem and would have negative environmental impacts on a sensitive shoreline and bay below. The project’s site plan unfortunately is an attempt to maximize profit by crowding 38 homes into a land area originally zoned for four homes. Thi means many of the homes are aligned right on the edge of a historically unstable cliff.
WMTP has been assisting hundreds of concerned community members in publicizing and evaluating this proposed project. Currently efforts are foused on persuading the City of Bellingham to require the developer to submit a full EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) for the project that would document the various impacts.
For more details about the community effort to modify this project, please visit their website.
Know of another proposed project that we should consider? Please contact us. Remember, as mentioned above, we do not focus our advocacy on single family home projects, just larger developments.

Volunteer Opportunities

Want to help our tree retention & protection advocacy? Even if you only a have a few hours available per month, please contact us if you have the time and interest!

Related Links/Resources

City of Bellingham’s Urban Forestry Management Plan webpage

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Whatcom Million Trees Project

Bellingham, WA, USA
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