Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Talaris Violates Landmark Agreement Second Time And Cuts Down Trees Without Approval


On the morning of April 27, the Laurelhurst Blog received this information:
Talaris  is cutting down major  trees this morning on the north side of the property and I wondered if they have the right or permission to do it? Please forward this to the powers that be in case this can be stopped.  

From what I can tell,  it looks like they thinned at least 2 trees and I think at least one was totally cut down.  I'm not on site so this is from a little ways away.  It looks like they are preparing other trees to come down.  These are major trees we are talking about!  Just wanted to try to keep the damage minimal if possible. 

The Laurelhurst Blog Staff immediately contacted Erin, Landmarks Preservation Board Coordinator, who said: 

I was contacted recently by the property owner and provided with documentation regarding two significantly rotted trees.    I explained that Landmarks Board approval is required for their removal.

This is the second time Talaris has cut down trees without proper approval from the City Landmarks Board and after the trees were cut down, then requested a retroactive Certificate of Approval from the City.

The first violation happened on November 13, 2013.  Then in January, Talaris suddenly got a retroactive certificate in place after the trees were cut down: 

Here is the timeline and Blog post detailing the first violation: 
11/6/13 - Talaris designated Landmark
11/14/13 - Talaris cut down trees without approval in the buffer that provide privacy to adjacent neighbors.  Erin issued stop work order after three big cottonwood trees had already been cut down.
1/6/14 - Landmarks Board received application for retroactive Certificate of Approval
1/31/14 agenda item for Landmarks Meeting "Certificate of Approval"

And before that time on September 20th, after the Battelle / Talaris property was nominated, the Landmarks Preservation Board, "issued a report that informed the property owner that they were required to have approval from the Landmarks Board before making alterations or significant changes to specified features proposed for preservation. The areas of control for this property include the site and the exteriors of the building."

 Lois Maag, City Strategic Communications Advisor, told the Laurelhurst Blog Staff, regarding the recent violation:


Erin received an email from the property owner’s representative on Friday, April 22nd, indicating that they wanted to remove two trees this Spring.  The owner’s representative provided assessments prepared by a certified arborist as well as photographs that illustrate the level of decay relating to Project #6523889.

Erin read this email on Monday, April 25th and responded.   She explained to the owner that in the absence of a controls and incentives agreement for the property she did not have the authority to administratively review the proposal, and that they would need to seek approval from the Landmarks Preservation Board.  She urged them to prepare and submit the application and we would get it scheduled for the Board’s review as quickly as possible.

The property owner or their representative also contacted SDCI (City of Seattle Department of Constructions and Inspections - formerly DPD). SDCI’s arborist analyzed the trees and determined they were hazardous and therefore not subject to tree protection codes. The trees were non-exceptional and were a safety hazard. Permits from SDCI are not required.  
People are allowed to cut down up to 3 non-exceptional trees a year on their property. Not only was this tree non-exceptional, it was a safety hazard. Permits are not required to remove non-exceptional trees.   
Even though the trees were cut without approval by the Landmarks Board, the process still needs to be followed along with an explanation given to the Board as to why this happened.  
On the morning of Wednesday, April 27th some neighbors reported to you and to Erin that there was tree removal underway.   Erin immediately called the property owner’s representative who was unaware the trees were being cut. We cannot explain to you why the tree removal occurred when it did, the property owner will need to respond to that question. 
When we are notified of a compliance violation we always attempt to work with the property owner to try to find a resolution.  We start by assessing the situation, looking at potential alternatives to mitigate the issue, and review the Certificate of Approval process with the property owner.   
In this case, the need for a Certificate of Approval was made clear to the owner’s representative prior to the action taken to remove the trees.  The next step is for the owner to seek retroactive approval from the Landmarks Board. 
The property owner’s representative prepared a complete application by Thursday, April 28, and presented it to the Landmarks Board at their Board meeting on May 4 for retroactive approval, which was then approved.   
Of course, giving retroactive approval is not our, nor the Landmarks Board, preferred methodology. At last night’s Landmarks Board meeting, the Board voted to approve the retroactive Certificate of Approval.  
The Board stated that it understood the trees needed to be removed, but made it clear to the property manager that it was very displeased with the situation. The property manager accepted full responsibility for the mistake and stated that he will make sure to seek approval in advance.
Given this is a landmarked site, the owner is responsible for coordinating with the Department of Neighborhoods on any required approvals before proceeding with removal.   
Given that the Board has voted to give retroactive approval for the application, there is now no outstanding violation and there will be no further compliance action on our part regarding this matter.
The basic tree assessment performed by certified arborist on March 4 regarding the  red oak trees located on the northwest corner of the property says:
Decay and a large scar at the base of the trunk and lean to the north increases the failure potential of this tree.  Approximately half of the tree has failed.  The tree is located adjacent to a road, buildings and landscape all of which are used frequently.  The best mitigation option for this tree is tree removal.

Another report from a certified arborist wrote after his visit on the same day: 

This tree has advanced decay throughout its entire structure and is likely to fall in the weather events stated common to this region.  It will impact a target, and the consequences would be significant to severe. Immediate removal is recommended and certainly before the tree leafs out and we have any moderate winds.


Here are photos taken by a neighbor on April 27th while the tree work was happening:

The 2 large logs and stump were from a substantial tree.
These trees have been thinned very hard, quite a way up. 
This is where they were working when they stopped in the morning.
I don't know if the intent was to remove them or just thin them hard.

      Here are 2 large logs and a large stump. 
      This is on the main road right
      by the edge of the road on the right toward the ponds.
    A neighbor also commented about the specific property upkeep: 
    I hope they are keeping the water circulating in the ponds to prevent a mosquito infestation.  The 41st Street side of the property is so neglected but once you pass that first big bend in the road they are maintaining it somewhat,  not like they used to by any means but a lot better than 41st.

    Neighbors have also complained over the last two years that Talaris has stopped mowing the grass on NE 41st Street along the roadside where for decades, the large grassy area was popular for sports teams to use for practices until Talaris suddenly put up a fence around the entire property  in September of 2013.  

    One neighbor reported that the grass, just a few weeks ago, had grown to about 24 inches high and was  "looking awful."  Talaris finally mowed the grass about two weeks ago.

    The Laurelhurst Blog reported about the same overgrown grass problem in May of last year after receiving numerous  complaints about it.  At that time, neighbors became more and more worried about the tall dry grass, hot weather and impending 4th of July firecrackers and continued to voice concerns. 

    A Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) representative attended a Landmarks Board Meeting, at the time, and showed six  8 X 10 inch photos of "the tall grass and deteriorated conditions of the landscape at Talaris."

    A nearby neighbor also went to the fire station  to voice concerns about Talaris not cutting the grass and the possibility of a fire.

    Finally, Talaris finally cut the grass two days before the 4th of July holiday last year.


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