City moving ahead on tree ordinance

LANGLEY — When it comes to trees, the city is inching out on a limb.

An intrepid committee is moving deliberately to come up with a tree ordinance — a set of rules governing the handling and protection of trees in the city.

“We’re not the first,” said Jim Sundberg, chairman of the city’s Planning Advisory Board and a member of the board’s six-member tree committee. “A lot of communities have them.”

The committee, chaired by Langley resident Fred Geisler, has been meeting regularly since mid-September to study the tree policies of other communities and to come up with proposed regulations for public and private property that would suit the character of the city.

The committee is made up of horticulture specialists and interested citizens, Sundberg said.

It gave a progress report to the Langley City Council at its regular meeting this week.

“It’s all very much at the concept level,” City Councilman Robert Gilman, who is mayor pro-tem in Mayor Paul Samuelson’s absence, said Wednesday.

“This has been in the works for a number of years, and we would like to have something in place,” Gilman said. “It’s a question of degree.”

Sundberg said a tree ordinance would address such issues as the protection of “heritage trees,” many more than 100 years old; the handling of trees on construction sites; the disposition of trees on bluffs and slopes in regard to erosion; the removal or pruning of hazardous trees; and the variety of trees to plant, and those not to plant.

“We’re trying to come up with recommended tree species, and those to avoid,” Sundberg said. “People often make mistakes that haunt them 10 years later.”

An ordinance also would address the controversial issue of trees versus views.

“All tree ordinances have strong restrictions against topping,” Sundberg said. “That’s a form of mutilation.”

“We hope to be able to find some sort of middle course,” he continued. “We won’t be getting into tree-by-tree analysis. We’re not trying to manage people’s back yards.”

Gilman said the city council directed the committee to continue its work and report back.

“Common sense is important,” Gilman said. “We see this as something that can move in steps, and we hope it can be accomplished relatively soon.”

Efforts to come up with a tree ordinance for the city have been made through the years, but never completed. The latest push is in response to a couple of incidents involving the perceived mishandling of old trees, Gilman said.

The most notable involved the recent construction of the Langley fire station along Camano Avenue.

“We came close to losing one of our heritage trees,” Sundberg said. “The mayor handed us an inch-thick file of what had already been done and told us to get to work.”

An ancient Douglas fir and two or three large cedars where threatened during the installation of a sprinkler system this past summer, Sundberg said.

When a protest was filed, an arborist was retained to inspect the damage. The roots were cleaned, the area back-filled and the trees irrigated - all at the expense of the contractor, who had neglected to obtain the necessary permits.

“The contractor was quite cooperative,” Sundberg said, even to the point of putting up a bond to guarantee the long-term health of the trees.

“They appear to have survived well,” he added. “The outcome was very positive in the end. It just took everybody pitching in.”

Sundberg said developing the ordinance will likely be a “back-and-forth process,” and he encouraged everyone interested to provide input.

“That’s probably the only way we’ll get this adopted,” he added. “We want people to be enthusiastic about it.”

The tree committee meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at city hall.

Gilman said trees have a variety of functions in a community.

“But at the same time they’re living systems, they get diseases and they die,” he said. “I don’t think any of us contemplate saying, ‘Oh, it’s a tree, don’t touch it.’”

As in other aspects of life, change is inevitable when it comes to trees, he added.

“A hundred years ago, Langley was almost completely stripped of trees,” Gilman said. “They were all logged off. It’s very different now.”

“But it’s a constantly changing landscape,” he continued. “For those who say they don’t want things to change, they’ll have to negotiate with nature on that one.”

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