By Midge Pierce
As residents of Eastmoreland celebrate the preservation of three majestic sequoias in their neighborhood, a mile away, Richmond neighbors continue their vigil beside two Douglas Firs left standing on a corner lot that until recently boasted a large walnut, a sister fir and a stand of fruit-bearing and flowering trees.
They have vowed to continue weekly rallies, night patrols, human chains and wrap-around signage until the property owner agrees to preserve the remaining trees.
Developer Vic Remmers confirms that he will build two of his Everett homes on the site. He says it may be several weeks before he makes a decision whether to keep or fell the Doug Firs.
Trees that have grown beyond what he terms “their expected space for a city lot,” often need to be removed, he says.
“I can honestly tell you, we’d love to keep these trees,” he writes, adding that the final decision will be based on arborist recommendations, setbacks, utility locations and the “bottom line”.
“As builders,” he said. “we must encourage a comprehensive discussion of infill and not cherry- pick a series of items to appease a vocal minority.”
On an end of summer day, shade from the Doug Firs extends across 41st. St. and halfway down a block of Clinton St., passions run high among residents.
“How dare he ruin our neighborhood,” a Richmond resident says. “Money can not replace these. The trees he cuts purify our air, cool the city and cut down noise pollution.”
“The heat and noise level are already increasing because of the trees that were removed,” says another. “A five-minute old newly-planted tree won’t suck up carbon monoxide.”
Bystander Jeff Evans says it’s pocket change for developers to pay $1200 per tree for permits to saw them down. “The city has a double standard that makes it easy for developers to remove trees but for homeowners …the cost of removing trees is prohibitive.”
At a Saturday rally, Paul Steele calls on his neighbors to lobby City Hall for code changes. “Trees have worth way beyond what the City is calculating,” he says, explaining that the City set out to simplify a complex code which is now having dire, unintended consequences.
“Developers cram as much as they can onto a lot to make more money,” adds Richard Weber who saw a stand of large trees felled by a developer near his home. “It’s extreme avarice.”
The speakers yield the sidewalk to several children. Eleven-year old Declan Ferranti explained how Douglas firs were a favored wildlife habitat. “These trees are animals’ homes. The squirrels, birds and bugs came before us. They need houses too.”
Several neighbors acknowledge that if a house is in bad shape it may need to be demolished. “I’m not against infill if it’s viable and respectful,” says one. “But it’s the way they come down that upsets me. I watched as the walls, concrete, and appliances all got mushed together here.”
For his part, Remmers claims to be a proponent of deconstruction – his website boasts an 85% deconstruction rate. “When a property requires a tear-down, we donate the entire house to the ReBuilding Center’s DeConstruction Services.”
He claims that 50 – 80% of demolition material is sorted and re-used.
A witness doesn’t buy it. “He claims to support deconstruction. Yet his trucks come in and crush everything in sight.”
A purpose of the weekly rallies is to brainstorm solutions to tree removals. Proposals have ranged from taking pledges not to sell to developers to buying back the permits issued for tree removals.
Buying properties outright is rarely an option. Clinton Street neighbors lament that they lack the resources that enabled Eastmoreland residents to save their trees.
The tree code was recently revised, but more revisions may be all that lie between bulldozers and threatened trees. At minimum, however, it would take months, if not years, to implement. (The problematic code adopted in 2011 was not implemented until 2015.)
While Remmers calls the code one of the most rigorous in the nation, residents are shocked at how easy it is for developers to extract trees.
If a developer demolishes a house, and is approved for a new building permit, no urban forestry permit is required. The same is not true for a remodel of a home. Any time a homeowner “disturbs ground around their house” an urban forester is required to approve, or disallow tree removal.
At this writing, the standoff continues with Remmers who says that hate and anger directed at developers is not going to make a difference. Instead, he insists, citizens should direct complaints to City representatives.
Remmers is a member of the Mayor’s recently appointed Residential Infill Stakeholder Advisory Committee. He is also seemingly part of a construction dynasty that includes Remmer cousin Dennis Sackhoff of Sackhoff Development (famed for big box commercial developments with little or no parking along SE commercial corridors) and suburbia’s Arbor Homes founded by Remmers father Wally.
Remmers points to the hundred of jobs Everett Custom Homes provides. “Good paying jobs,” he says.
Meanwhile, odes pile up in front of the massive carcasses of doomed trees throughout town.