I’m joining the chorus whining about developers destroying what makes Seattle livable: established trees, yards for dogs and socializing, and buildings on a human scale that aren’t looming over their neighbors’ lots.
My wife, Erin, and I live in Seattle’s Central District. She bought the house at the end of the ’90s without appliances because she was lucky to find anything affordable so close to downtown. I moved in seven or eight years later before we got married and was proud to live in the traditionally diverse neighborhood.
We love our house. We have painted and re-roofed, redone the bathrooms and kitchen, planted trees and flowers. The neighborhood continued to gentrify around us: a brewery opened around the corner on Jackson; there’s now a barbecue joint across the street and a pizza bar just a few blocks east. And of course the developers followed, tearing down single-family homes and building three or four town houses on narrow lots.
In our yard, we have the tallest cedar tree within blocks, planted so close to our house that we have an arborist check its health regularly. It’s a habitat for birds just off our back deck and screens the construction site next door. When the design review was open to public comment for the new development, Erin sent a list of concerns to the city, including protection of that tree. We understood that the developer was to accommodate the cedar, as we were told by the city that the townhome design was to preserve the tree and limbs, and that a tree-protection plan was required with the building permit.
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Last week we brought the arborist out for his assessment of the root damage due to construction, and then on Friday, out in front of our home, met a logger preparing a bid for the developer to lop off every cedar branch hanging over their property line. Erin’s calls to the city revealed that the tree was not considered “exceptional” and afforded no protection. Further, following the developer’s planned attack on the cedar, it would have about a 60 percent chance of surviving. Should it fall, it would be our responsibility to pay for any damage, despite that the developer destabilized the tree’s roots and removed branches.
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The irony isn’t lost on me that I moved to Seattle more than 20 years ago for trees, for progressive values, for the culture of the Pacific Northwest. I’ve found rewarding work in nonprofit arts administration, and Erin owns a neighborhood restaurant and bar. Ironic that we were part of a new wave of gentrification and have benefited from rising home values, but our concerns are being swept away in the tsunami of development. We, too, have had ridiculous offers to sell our corner lot and, to be fair, the neighboring developer has called us to discuss the tree situation.
We love our house in the CD and we love that cedar beside it but, to be truthful, cashing out and leaving Seattle seems a viable option. And so I’m joining the chorus whining about developers destroying what makes this city livable: established trees, yards for dogs and socializing, buildings on a human scale that aren’t looming over their neighbors’ lots. I’m saddened that the values that brought me here are so out of step with those the city is currently embracing.