Bellevue native ‘disappointed’ over lack of tree protections after major tree removal

“Every time I see that, it’s like a funeral,” said Jane Gershovich.

Bellevue native Jane Gershovich and her husband were out for a walk on April 16 when they noticed a large portion of trees had been removed from a redevelopment, located at 16102 Southeast 24th Street.

“Every time I see that, it’s like a funeral,” said Gershovich. “We don’t exist without them and so my husband and I were both super emotional and felt a big punch in the gut.”

Gershovich, who has lived in Bellevue for 36 years, said she was out putting door hangers on homes to get more individuals to sign the Trees4Livability petition.

The lot Gershovich saw is under redevelopment. On March 24, a permit was issued which allowed the contractors to demolish the existing home to rebuild a new single-family home, which includes clearing and grading.

“There’s so many emotions when you see a lot that had 87 trees on it, and so much a majority of it removed — especially for significant sized trees, which are over 100-year-old trees,” said Gershovich. “I’m disappointed as someone who grew up in Bellevue.”

The city of Bellevue currently has no protections in place for landmark trees, which are defined as trees that are 30-inches in diameter and measured 4-feet above ground. Bellevue defines significant trees as 8-inches in diameter and allows for the removal of 70% of significant trees on a single-family lot.

“Tree removal was reviewed as part of the city’s approval process and the proposed tree retention satisfies the minimum requirement for tree preservation,” said Amanda Rich, public information officer for the city’s Development Services. “A total of 26 trees, representing 37% of diameter inches on site, will be preserved.”

Rich acknowledged how the city of Bellevue lacks protections for landmark trees, although she brought up how a variety of rules protect trees in Bellevue, including permit requirements.

Gershovich holds different opinions on tree protection codes in the city.

“The lack of codes to protect trees that have been here longer than we have is embarrassing and upsetting,” Gershovich said. “It’s a complete joke — how do you not protect trees that are so significant to the ecosystem that they are a part of?”

According to a combined issuance dated March 24, a total of 63 significant trees sat on the lot: 37 significant trees on the property have been removed, while 26 significant trees have been retained.

The combined issuance shows that significant tree removal includes a 40-inch diameter fir tree, two 28-inch diameter fir trees, and two 24-inch diameter fir trees, among others.

The documents also show the largest significant trees retained are a 24-inch diameter fir tree, a 22-inch diameter fir tree, an 18-inch diameter fir tree, and a 16-inch diameter fir tree.

Bellevue Municipal Code 20.20.120 provides an outline for significant tree retention for new or expanding single-family structures, excluding those located in the R-1 Land Use District—in the Bridal Trails Subarea.

The code states that “the director shall consider the preservation of the following types of significant trees a priority:”

  • Healthy significant trees over 60 feet in height
  • Significant trees that form a continuous canopy
  • Significant trees that contribute to the character of the environment, and are not a safety hazard
  • Significant trees that provide winter wind protection or summer shade
  • Groups of significant trees that create a distinctive skyline feature
  • Significant trees in areas of steep slopes, or adjacent to watercourses or wetlands
  • Significant trees located within the first 20 feet adjacent to a property line

“Bellevue is proud to be a ‘City in a Park,’ with over 2,800 acres of parks and open space,” said Rich. “The city’s Environmental Stewardship team has prioritized Bellevue’s tree canopy in their work.”

Rich said Bellevue established a goal for 40% tree canopy in the Comprehensive Plan that was adopted in 2015. She also mentioned there are several actions in support of this goal, which includes updating the city’s tree preservation code, beginning this year.

“The city council recognizes that residents have presented an interest in updating Bellevue’s codes related to trees to prevent further tree loss and ensure sufficient retention and replacement,” said Rich.

Gershovich relayed that replacing significant trees with smaller trees is appreciated, but that the lack of mindfulness regarding tree protection is “detrimental.”