Art Wright stood in his driveway in the rain, looking at the big Western red cedar towering over his front yard.
The cold Monday morning’s stillness was broken by the sound of chain saws revving up. Wright watched as workers began cutting off the top two-thirds of the tree and many of its vast branches.
Susan Wright stayed inside, refusing to join her husband on the driveway.
“I’m too emotional,” she said.
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Monday’s trimming of the stately red cedar ended a three-year battle between the Wrights and their Innis Arden neighborhood, an exclusive community in Shoreline.
About 90 feet tall, the tree stood between a low, green house on the hill behind the Wright property and nearby Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.
In 2009, the owners of the green housecomplained that the tree violated neighborhood bylaws ensuring no house’s view would be blocked.
”There were many other residents whose Puget Sound and Olympic Mountain views were blocked by the Wrights’ tree,” in addition to the petitioners, said Innis Arden President Michael Jacobs in a recent email.
An independent arbiter decided the tree was, in fact, in violation of the bylaws. The Wrights then appealed to the city of Shoreline, looking for some way to keep their tree intact.
Art Wright said the city, after extensive studies, determined that the tree was in a wetland buffer zone and was vital to preventing erosion. But the city later reversed the decision, finding instead that if Wright planted 14 younger trees and dozens of shrubs to replace the massive cedar, the erosion problem would be solved.
So, Monday morning, Wright watched as the tree was cut down to the same height as his roof. His wife agonized over how short it would be.
“Birds don’t nest in little Podunk trees,” she said. “They like the tall trees.”
Their efforts to preserve the tree could end up costing the Wrights as much as $70,000, Art Wright estimates.
Part of that has already gone to pay his lawyer and the arbiter, and to cut the tree back to a third of its size. Part will go toward the replacement trees.
A much larger portion, though, may go toward fines. The neighborhood association has been fining the Wrights $50 per day since 2009 — throughout the city’s wetland studies and the time it took Wright to receive a permit to cut back the tree — claiming they deliberately delayed the process.
A hearing will be held to determine whether the Wrights have to pay it.
“I’m not going to pay anything,” Art Wright said. “I would say that I have followed all the procedures the city set out.”
Sarah Freishtat: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org