Coupeville plugs loophole to protect trees

A plan to remove trees from a quarter-acre of land prompted the Coupeville Town Council Tuesday night to approve an emergency ordinance to close a loophole in the town code.

However, the emergency regulation won’t apply to the proposed tree-clearing project because the application was submitted before the new regulation was approved.

During the town council meeting Tuesday night, Town Planner Larry Kwarsick described the situation as an “unforeseen loophole” because there isn’t a strong framework for indiscriminate tree removal in certain instances where a clearing and grading permit is issued.

“It really thwarts and undermines the long-term goals in the community,” Kwarsick said during the meeting.

It turns out the town’s regulations mitigating tree removal are based on land use or building permits. However, those rules didn’t apply to people who apply for a simple clearing and grading permit for their property without proposed development.

The property in question is a lot located on Pennington Loop across the street from the start of Maple Drive. The property appears to be packed with trees and has houses on either side. It is owned by Foster Faris, who grew up in Coupeville but currently lives in Texas.

Mayor Nancy Conard said staff is still processing the application to remove the trees.

To close the loophole, the council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance requiring that any clearing and grading permits will only be allowed through a review and approval of an underlying development proposal.

“We have a hole we need to take care of now,” Councilman Bob Clay said.

The approval of the emergency ordinance comes as the town recently instituted low impact development rules that, among other things, regulate tree retention, according to information from the town of Coupeville. Town officials are also working on a tree ordinance.

The new ordinance will last six months and the town council has the option to renew it for another six months.

Kwarsick said the ordinance needs to remain in place until the unified design regulations between Island County and Coupeville are reviewed and approved. Those regulations apply to property located within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Coupeville is required to hold a public hearing within 60 days of the ordinance’s approval. That hearing is currently scheduled to take place Tuesday, Sept. 14, 6:30 p.m., in the Commissioners’ Hearing Room in the Courthouse Annex Building.

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