Planner barks about Coupeville's new tree ordinance

A proposed ordinance aimed at increasing the number of trees in Coupeville prompted concerns from a member of the town planning commission.

Planning Commissioner Molly McPherson questioned the equity of the proposed regulations, noting that the law would apply to owners of newly constructed homes but not current homeowners.

“It’s not consistent for every homeowner,” McPherson said during a public hearing last week.

Town officials have been working on a tree protection ordinance at the direction of the Town Council.

Coupeville’s planner, Larry Kwarsik, described the new regulations as a way to improve tree canopy coverage in town while providing some flexibility for homeowners.

He pointed out the proposed ordinance comes as the town and Island County are developing design guidelines for properties within the boundaries of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, which includes Coupeville.

The proposed rules also include language establishing a non-regulatory “heritage tree program.” Homeowners could petition to have certain trees included in the program which would give a homeowner assistance from an arborist and qualify for leniency in setback protections.

Kwarsick added the recommended ordinance became more urgent last summer when officials noticed a gap in existing regulations. A property owner was able to clear trees from his property but not have a development application filed. Officials approved the clearing and grading permit and enacted an emergency ordinance requiring future clearing and grading permits tp have a development permit attached to it.

He said the regulations require new development to retain 30 percent of the property’s tree canopy. There are several ways a home builder could achieve the goal. They could plant enough new trees on the property to meet the requirement or they could pay to have the trees planted elsewhere in town or a combination of the two.

McPherson questioned how the town would enforce such a regulation to preserve trees.

Kwarsick answered that the regulations would be placed in a covenant on the property.

Kwarsick added that it is common for current homes to be grandfathered in to new regulations. Whenever a development proposal arises for a new house, then it would have to comply with existing regulations.

The planners decided to forward the proposed regulation to the Town Council. Three members of the commission, McPherson, David Day and Chet Hanson, approved the proposal. Kwarsick added that McPherson’s concerns about the ordinance will be included in the information forwarded to the council.

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