Lacey City Council reviews proposal that would allow HOAs to remove trees

Urban forestry commission proposed


Dubbed as a “city of trees,” Lacey’s City Council reviewed a proposal to provide Home Owners Associations (HOA) with more flexibility to remove otherwise healthy trees within their property.

On Thurs., Sept. 9, Lacey Associate Planner Jessica Brandt introduced an amendment to the city’s strict tree protection regulation indicated in the Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) for HOAs.

Based on the policies in the current management plan, HOAs are required to submit a Clearing Permit Application to request for tree removal. The request is then reviewed by the city’s contract forester to determine whether it is healthy or not. If the forester identifies the tree as healthy, the permit is denied.

With the new amendments, Brandt explained that it will give HOAs more flexibility as it provides a set of criteria for removing healthy trees, instead of outrightly denying the application. She shared that one of the primary considerations for removal is if the tree has become a nuisance.

Lacey’s Community and Economic Development Director Rick Walk explained that a tree can be considered a nuisance if it drops branches or limbs which can cause damage to cars or nearby properties. “Large trees needed that maintenance…that’s what we’re putting in the criteria in the application, what is the issue with the tree and why it has to be removed,” Walk said.

City Manager Scott Spence explained that the amendments do not automatically allow HOAs to remove a tree. Spence stated that “the intent was...to provide at least an avenue. I don’t think...trees being requested to be removed will [automatically] be removed, there has to be some criteria or condition. He noted that these criteria, “should not [be] overly burdensome to the HOA.” 

Several council members also expressed their concerns regarding the amendment. Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt and Councilmember Ed Kunkel said that apart from the city, an external agency or personnel should help in deciding whether a tree could be removed or not. “It seems that you need to work in conjunction with a forester that actually understands those principles,” Pratt said.

Urban forestry commission proposed

Councilmember Michael Steadman also agreed that the city needs additional input before it can arrive at a decision. With this, the councilmember expressed the need to establish an Urban Forestry Commission. “We’ve been working and talking about this for 16 years and… it sounds like nowhere,” Steadman said. He stressed that a forestry commission would have been helpful in providing an opinion and recommendation regarding the proposed amendment.

Aside from staffing concerns, Steadman said that removing trees would have been counter-productive given that each year, Lacey is losing one percent of its tree canopy. “That’s not maintaining, that’s reducing our tree canopy,” he stated.

In response, Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder shared that while he is concerned about the environmental impact that it would have, he is also “concerned about fairness in these circumstances.” The mayor added that it would have been unfair to provide different guidelines for HOAs and single residential properties. “We’re treating two property owners differently,” Ryder said.

Councilmember Lenny Greenstein disagreed, “We have to give the HOA some flexibility here...there are a lot of reasons that aren’t just the health of the tree.” As a former HOA president, Greenstein believed that “we have to allow the HOA to take care and maintain their property.”

Walk suggested that property owners must provide some sort of financial guarantee to allow the city to replace the trees. Ryder also suggested HOAs replace at least seven trees for each tree that would be removed.

To move forward, Walk plans to create a sub-commission together with the Planning and the Board of Parks Commission to work on the new version of the amendment.


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  • JJmama

    This is a measure the Lacey Council should be very concerned about. This whole issue to allow privileged HOA's to sidestep the City's tree protections, was initiated by an individual who simply desired to remove more trees, in the midst of their HOA. That the City of Lacey is even entertaining this is disturbing....during a time of mounting climate crisis, the distinct knowledge that trees are of utmost value in mitigating CO2 and stormwater, decrease fossil fuel use from the shade and cool they provide, are proven to provide greater happiness and calm to neighborhoods along with higher property values for residents, ETC.

    Without a regulatory body to provide oversight, rules like this are changed, abuse occurs, and then we're all left sitting with the losses.

    Lacey is a nationally recognized TREE CITY!!

    I can only hope the Council maintains its ethics and purpose, follows the letter and the intent of the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan it has signed onto....and protects their trees.

    Saturday, September 11, 2021 Report this

  • Alangl

    The criteria for removing trees in Lacey should not be made easier. It is already too easy. The example given in this article citing a healthy tree dropping its branches on automobiles is ridiculous. Healthy trees don’t drop branches. Healthy large trees cannot be replaced! Saplings can be replanted and perhaps in 15 or 20 years grow to the same size but that means giving up all those years of tree canopy benefits (including, but not limited to, property values). The City should maintain its firm policy of not allowing removal of healthy trees.

    Saturday, September 11, 2021 Report this

  • Marianne

    There was a tree survey back in March 2021 that went out to all Lacey residents from the city of Lacey, included in a Virtual Open House on Climate Change. Residents overwhelmingly voiced tree protections. Overwhelmingly! We are the constituents, and we already spoke. Why are we being ignored? We can not replace our established trees by replanting, and that is and will be extremely difficult to enforce. Lacey already has a problem with enforcement, partially due to time and budget. Then, there's the issue of watering and caring for a newly planted tree. With upwards and over 100 degree heat during our summers in Washington, and extreme drought, we are already seeing our trees struggle. Young trees are having a tough time with these hot conditions, and need more water. Water is a finite resource, and Lacey proves that fact with water restrictions. Our large trees protect our drinking water in the entire community. Taking down trees on the basis of being a “nuisance” opens Pandora’s box. I can call out a lot of nuisances in the city that aren’t trees. My experience tells me the truth is this: leaves fall and are messy, my car gets pitch and needles on it, I’m tired of raking debris from trees, my roof has to be cleaned, etc., etc. The odds of a branch falling on your car or house is very, very rare, but can be avoided with proper care and pruning. We lose too many resources by removing a healthy tree--including the much needed shade in the summer. Home maintenance costs money. Painting your house, or replacing a leaky roof for example. Proper pruning, with the help of an arborist, is home maintenance, and can help eliminate any "nuisance" a healthy tree may impose. Large trees increase our property values in Lacey. There is so much to say regarding the benefits of protecting our trees, but let me close by saying this--as Lacey residents, we need to speak up and demand the tree protections stay in place with no changes to the rules. We're done beating this to death.

    Saturday, September 11, 2021 Report this

  • TCResident

    This will not allow clear-cutting, so I'm surprised at the panic. If an individual resident can apply for and then remove individual tress, HOA managed trees should also be subject to the same codes. We have extreme weather, in case you haven't noticed, that can cause trees to become dangerous in a matter of seconds. HOA's become legally responsible if they knew a tree was a hazard and took no action. Most would not be able to defend themselves in a lawsuit without a major increase in monthly fees or a large one-time assessment. Trees are not just a benefit without liabilities. Power should be given back to HOA's to determine what's best for the community and it's members. If you believe in local control, you should support this change in the code. And nothing can stop you from planting more trees on your property to offset the perceived loss of tree cover. Opportunities also exist to plant trees throughout the cities and the county. I'm in favor of this change.

    Sunday, September 12, 2021 Report this

  • 2theroots

    This story is missing some critical detail. Because an HOA was denied permission to cut down a healthy tree they complained over a year ago to city council which directed staff to "review the tree ordinances" This resulted in a proposed change that would have allowed HOA's to cut down whatever trees they wanted which was brought to the planning commission. The PC had 3 meets addressing this and heard from over 16 citizens stating they wanted trees protected. These citizens pointed out that the cities own survey showed 70% of citizens want current or stronger tree protections enforced. Only 3% want the free right to cut as they see fit. In addition the city report shows that in the last 15 years 15% of Lacey's tree cover has been cut down. So clearly we need stronger not weaker tree protections.

    The planning commission voted to reject the new proposal and say the HOA's had to follow the current policy. The current policy was put in place because when HOA's are developed they have to work out with the city planning department exactly what trees can be cut for building and where trees should be. So why after such careful planning would we turn around once it is built and let them cut down whatever they want? But because one council person: CM Greenstein, who himself lives in HOA complained about this and demanded they have a path to cut down healthy trees the Mayor directed the staff to create a proposal with some path to cut down healthy trees. This is what will be presented on the 16th. CM Greenstein seeks special privilege's for HOA's that Single Family Homes don't have which are also not supposed to cut down healthy trees.

    It is outrageous that one squeaky wheel, one HOA, well actually one person is trying to get a policy change that is not favored by the vast majority of citizen's in Lacey. It is outrageous that the hours and hours of work of the citizen based planning commission, the staff and the citizens who testified are all being ignored for this one person's demands. Let us not be confused - right now a dying or dead tree or a fall hazard can be cut down. So this is about cutting down healthy trees or one that someone simply does not like. In this time of climate change - all of our trees are drawing down greenhouse gases and we need them. It is as stated on here already absurd to talk about allowing someone to cut down a trees that needs pruning instead.

    Council should reject this absurd plan.

    Sunday, September 12, 2021 Report this