Citizens group wants Wyatt trees spared

A row of trees along Wyatt Way is at the root of a debate over a planned mixed-use development.

Several black locust trees, a towering Babylonia willow and a Scouler’s willow, are among those slated for removal to make way for Wyatt Place, a mixed residential and retail development proposed for a parcel on the corner of Wyatt Way and Madison Avenue.

The city issued Winslow Holdings LLC a mitigated determination of nonsiginificance for the project in September. On Friday, Hearings Examiner Margaret Klockars heard an appeal to that determination from the citizen group Save Bainbridge Trees, which is arguing that the removal of the trees would have a significant historic and aesthetic impact. The group wants a full environmental review of the project to be completed, and that options for maintaining the trees be considered.

“Really what’s being asked here is that these impacts be examined,” said attorney Ryan Vancil, who is representing Save Bainbridge Trees.

Representatives of Winslow Holdings were unavailable for comment this week.

In the developers’ plans, all but one of the trees lining the side of the property facing Wyatt Way would be replaced with a sidewalk and eight parallel stalls. Six new trees would be planted at intervals along the sidewalk.

The Wyatt Place property is within the city’s Madison Avenue land use district, where, under city code, new developments can either retain 30 percent of existing tree canopy or 15 percent of the total number of “significant trees.” As defined by the city, a deciduous tree is significant if it has a trunk more than 12 inches thick at four feet above the ground.

To meet that quota, a 50-inch-thick big leaf maple tree at the southwest corner of the property will be kept in place and surrounded by a pervious surface. A condition of the city’s DNS stipulates that the the developer must submit a arborist-approved plan for protecting the root structure of the maple.

A number of citizens testified in favor of retaining the trees along Wyatt Way in Friday’s hearing, including tree experts Olaf Ribeiro and Jim Trainer of Save Bainbridge Trees, and Michael Oxman of Seattle. Bainbridge Historical Society Executive Director Hank Helm wrote a letter extolling the history of the intersection, as did Bainbridge native and former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro.

“These trees are all that remain of this historic place,” Munro wrote. “I have nothing against a new development plan for the area, but please save the trees. They are healthy and help us to tell the story of ‘old Bainbridge’ and the world we enjoyed so much.”

Land on the corner was originally part of 160 acres homesteaded by Riley Hoskinson in 1878, and was later bought by the Pratt family. The settlers brought along seeds of trees familiar in their old hometowns. Many of the trees along Wyatt Way were planted nearly a century ago, and lined the entrances of the homesteads. Descendents of the Hoskinson and Pratt families testified to the history of the land at the hearing.

Despite the age of the trees, Ribeiro said he had done drillings and resistographs of the trunks to test for decay, and found all of them in good health. Many of the trees have English ivy coating their lower trunks, and ivy has almost entirely swallowed a dogwood tree on the southeast corner of the property.

The Babylonia willow is the most imposing of the trees. Ribeiro measured its trunk diameter at more than 40 inches; its gnarled branches spread a dense canopy above Wyatt Way.

“I think it would be well worth it to save this tree,” Ribeiro said. “So what if you lose one parking space?”

The hearings examiner has until Dec. 19 to rule on the challenge. Vancil said he had confidence in his case, but that the group would be ready to appeal the decision if necessary. Ribeiro said he is prepared to tree-sit in the branches of the large willow in protest if clearing is allowed to proceed.

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