Residents contend the tree is genuinely exceptional, but the developer has rejected their alternative plan for the property and says it’s a question of what rapidly growing Seattle needs more — “density or trees?”
It’s never just a tree when you see it every day for years. When you can spot it from blocks away as you head home at night, or when it stands outside your bedroom window throughout your childhood and is still there when you come home from college.
A constant. A landmark. A friend.
So you may understand why the neighbors on North 82nd Street in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood are fighting so hard to save a not-ironically named Exceptional Western Red Cedar Tree that is more than 100 years old.
The property on which it stands was sold last December, and the prolific developer Andy Duffus has filed plans to build two 3,000-square-foot homes where a small farmhouse has stood since 1904. It’s called “short-platting” — turning one lot into two smaller ones.
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Neighbors presented more than 75 letters and a petition signed by everyone on the block, asking the city to save the tree. They made a website and held a “tree party” to raise money for a lawyer, who not only appealed the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspection’s approval of the building plans but also found an architect who came up with a design that would have given Duffus the square footage he wanted while saving the tree. (They even offered Duffus the design, for free. He declined.)
At one point, Duffus said neighbors could buy the lot from him for $500,000, or pay him $175,000 to cover what he would lose if he built a smaller house. They didn’t have the money.
They’re now on their second appeal of the city’s approval, arguing that city codes should consider exceptional trees in short-plat decisions. Both parties are scheduled to meet with a hearing examiner on Oct. 3.
I met neighbor Kim Brotherton on the sidewalk in front of the lot where the tree stands, making sure to honor the “No Trespassing” sign nailed on the front gate, and wondering if it was really necessary to nail another into the trunk of the tree.
It was as if we were peering into a cage at a shelter, or a cell on death row. Brotherton, one of the neighbors leading the fight to save the tree, told me how she used to go over and stand under it, and that when it was slated for removal,…