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Tree-sitter seeks to save 'exceptional tree' in Seattle

A massive Western red cedar is slated to be cut down in Northeast Seattle as part of a development project. But now activists have climbed into its branches, and say they’re seeking to preserve it.

A tree-sitter who goes by the name Droplet said he climbed the tree in the early morning hours of Friday, July 14.

“Our plan is to maintain occupation of this tree until we receive binding protection to prevent this tree from being cut,” he said.

“This lot was originally scheduled to develop six units of housing and keep the tree standing. But after the permit was issued, the lots were redrawn in a way that does not increase the amount of housing, but does kill the tree.”

There’s been a community outcry over plans to cut down the double-trunked cedar in Seattle's Wedgwood neighborhood. The organization The Last 6,000, which is dedicated to preserving Seattle’s oldest and largest trees, organized a gathering on Wednesday night to mourn the tree’s potential loss.

“This tree is not blocking development by any means,” said Andy Stewart who lives nearby. "That's what's so infuriating. And it’s really unfortunate that Seattle has politicized homelessness in such a way that people seem to think cutting that down this tree is going to have an impact on the homelessness crisis.”

The tree sits at the edge of what is now a construction site on Northeast 88th Street, in a residential neighborhood.

caption: The Western red cedar, right, sits at the edge of a lot on Northeast 88 Street in Seattle. Community members created a mandala of rose petals in the foreground.
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The Western red cedar, right, sits at the edge of a lot on Northeast 88 Street in Seattle. Community members created a mandala of rose petals in the foreground.
KUOW/Amy Radil

Seattle granted a permit for the six-unit project to Bellevue-based Legacy Capital, which said in a statement that it is “the lender and assisted the builder in their permitting.” It added, “Legacy is in the practice of removing trees only when absolutely necessary after careful consideration of the site's constraints and approval by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.”

People at Wednesday’s gathering said big trees help counter the impacts of climate change, and they were concerned that Seattle is losing tree canopy.

According to The Seattle Times, city rules define the cedar as an “exceptional” tree — "one that provides unique value due to its size or history and should be assessed before removal for development.”

Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen said neither current nor pending regulations would have protected the tree from what he called an existing "loophole" in city code. He said developers currently have the ability to split a single lot, and then argue that the tree takes up too much of the smaller lot, in order to justify the tree's removal. "The issue of lot-splitting and removing the tree from the new smaller lot is not changed under the new regulations," he said.

Pedersen said he introduced an amendment to eliminate lot-splitting under the city’s new tree regulations taking effect August 1, but it was voted down.

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