BELLEVUE, WA – A growing movement is calling on the Bellevue City Council to take action this year to ensure better protections for Bellevue’s tree canopy as the “city within a park” enters a major era of development, including plans for large-scale expansion to the east of the Amazon.
The community group “Trees 4 Livability” formed last December and launched a public campaign earlier this year, presenting a report to city council, testifying at meetings and launching a signature collection effort in favor of a quick action to enforce city requirements for tree preservation.
Proponents note that Bellevue is the only town in the area that allows up to five significant trees to be removed without a permit, and existing codes include no designation for iconic trees, some of which are 150 years old. The organization’s founder, Khaiersta English, moved to the Enatai neighborhood of Bellevue a few years ago and told Patch it didn’t take long to notice things were changing rapidly.
“Part of the reason I chose Enatai over other neighborhoods is that there are still plenty of mature trees,” English said. “I’ve seen so many changes in our neighborhood, immediately around me, since we moved here. Honestly, I wanted to do something about it sooner, I just couldn’t find the time.”
Existing enforcement mechanisms, English said, do little to deter violations, relying mostly on charging permit fees when owners or developers break the rules.
The new effort focuses only on strengthening tree protections in single-family residential neighborhoods, rather than commercial areas. However, English points to Amazon’s plan to expand its Bellevue workforce to 25,000 employees over the next three years, which will require more housing to be built to make room for new neighbors.
“We are aware that the housing stock is behind schedule, so I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression that we are trying to impede development,” English said. “We actually really appreciate developers who come to improve neighborhoods. We just hope things can be done in a more thoughtful and intentional way to preserve our canopy.”
Some of the recommendations include updating the tree code in time to go into effect in the new year, putting in place special protections for iconic trees, requiring new trees to be planted when important trees are removed, the development of protection and buffer zones and the establishment of a public tip line. to facilitate the reporting of illegal cutting and removal. Organizers point to neighboring cities with similar requirements in place, including Redmond, Issaquah, Mercer Island and Seattle.
Another facet is adding “meaningful disincentives,” including tougher penalties for violations, as well as better incentives to follow the tree code.
Trees 4 Livability’s recommendations have attracted a range of support from environmental groups, including 350 Eastside, 300 Trees and Cascadia Climate Action. The group’s petition has already garnered a few hundred signatures, and organizers hope to break 1,000 by the time Bellevue council members retire in June.
Volunteers will also take to the streets for Earth Day weekend, and neighbors are invited to come show their support at the Lake Hills Library on Sunday, April 24, from 1-3 p.m. Other ways residents can get involved include handing out flyers. and contact board members.
Learn more about the Trees 4 Livability project on the organization’s official website.