Quick work by council on tree loss
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:05 PM
"What did it take for some quick city council action to deal with the loss of significant trees to planned developments?While they were already inclined toward new and stiffer penalties, a little pressure from the public didn't hurt.We got a letter from a woman saying 'shame on you,' Councilwoman Christine Nasser told us this week. And nobody likes getting mean letters.Hence a proposal, from Nasser and Councilman Norm Wooldridge, to substantially boost monertary penalties and provisions for tree replacement when protected greenery falls. It's an issue of palpable, visceral concern to many islanders worried about the changing landscape around them. And the issue came to a boil last week when developer Rod McKenzie appeared before the city council to explain the inadvertant loss of a dozen large trees required to be saved as part of his Courtyard on Madison project. McKenzie was genuinely chagrined by the incident, and humbled himself before the council and the island community.We're residents of the island, he said. We don't want to see the island clear-cut.Council members, for their part, took him at his word.I think Rod is as conscientious a developer as there is, Councilman Norm Wooldridge said this week. He just dropped the ball.But McKenzie didn't drop the ball on his own, and therein lies the problem. It's not the developer out on the job site, running the heavy machinery. Its any number of contractors and subcontractors who may or may not be familiar with - or concerned with - the minutiae of a project's conditions of approval.There is a pattern here, and an ongoing question for the community. Last year at about this time, after what was supposed to be a lot-by-lot clearing turned overnight into a moonscape on Wyatt Way, then-councilwoman Shelly Halligan suggested organizing a land use posse. Her notion was to train up a cadre of volunteers to keep an eye on new projects from the point ground is broken. A local builder countered that it's up to the professionalism of the construction manager at a given site. If the manager is reputable, requirements will be observed; if not, there go the trees.Last week, one citizen went so far as to say the city should put someone on site to monitor developments as they happen. Hardly practical from the standpoint of staff time, even if the island wasn't in the middle of a huge construction boom.We agree with Nasser - it's not the city's job to be on the site looking over the contractor's shoulder. And code enforcement is by its nature reactive - the process only kicks in once something goes wrong. Compliance begins with the developer, to make sure his minions are responsible from the get-go - and then it's up to the contractors.Fines with bigger teeth are an obvious but satisfying notion, a way to get everyone's attention."