Planning & Zoning
Tree Preservation and Protection
People love living in Lacey for its “northwest look and feel.” As our community and the South Sound region continue to grow, maintaining that character is increasingly challenging. In the past, when quarter-acre lots were the norm, builders were able to work around and save trees as homes were built. Now, with state growth management laws encouraging smaller residential lots and higher densities to avoid sprawl, urban tree protection can be difficult.
Following a number of public hearings and workshops to address this issue, the City recently adopted a strengthened Urban Forest Management Plan that enacts new strategies for protecting our urban forest resources. The plan recognizes the many environmental, economic and quality-of-life benefits trees bring to the urban environment, with new regulations including:
Tree Evaluation. Prior to approval of any new residential or commercial development, the City Arborist will be required to evaluate tree resources on a project site and identify trees that will be protected in designated tree tracts and open space areas, as well as trees on individual lots that can be safely retained.
Establishment of Tree Tracts. All new residential and commercial developments will be required to set aside at least 5 percent of the project site as a protected tree tract. The tract must be located to incorporate as many existing healthy trees as possible.
Tree Re-planting. Individual lots that have been cleared to build a home must be re-planted with new trees after the residence has been constructed. While the plan encourages tree protection during construction, many new lots are too small to safely maintain existing trees when homes are being built. Such lots must now be re-planted at a ratio of 4 trees per each 5,000 square feet of total lot area. Planted species must meet characteristics that will promote survivability and safety over the long term.
Tree Removal. Homeowners will be permitted to remove diseased and hazardous trees following a site visit by the City’s Arborist, who will provide maintenance and removal recommendations at no charge to the homeowner. In addition - and only after obtaining an Exemption Certificate from the planning department - a lot owner can remove up to 5 trees during a three-year period provided the required minimum ratio of 4 trees per each 5,000 square feet of total lot area are left on the site or are re-planted.
The goals and policies outlined in the City of Lacey Urban Forest Management Plan , as well other forest practices requirements within the City of Lacey, have been adopted and codified by the City of Lacey Tree and Vegetation Protection and Preservation Ordinance (Lacey Municipal Code Title 14.32). The ordinance is designed to:
- Preserve and enhance the City's physical and aesthetic character by preventing indiscriminate removal and destruction of trees and ground cover without preventing the reasonable development of land;
- Promote building and site planning practices that are consistent with the City's natural topographical, soils and vegetative features; and
- Ensure prompt restoration, replanting and effective erosion control of property after land clearing.
Trees and other types of vegetation perform a number of critical functions within the community. Trees and vegetation:
- Minimize surface water and ground water runoff;
- Prevent erosion and reduce the risk of slides;
- Assist in noise abatement and protection from wind;
- Reduce siltation and water pollution; and
- Provide wildlife habitat.
Permit Requirements. No tree removal is permitted on any residential or commercial property located within the City of Lacey until a Landclearing Permit or Landclearing Permit Exemption is received from the Lacey Community Development Department.
Contractors. If a contractor is hired to remove the trees(s), the City requires that they have a City of Lacey Business License. The City also recommends, for your protection, that the contractor be licensed and bonded. Any contractor who is removing a tree within the City must also sign and submit an agreement that they have read and understand the City of Lacey’s Tree Protection Ordinance.
Obtaining a Landclearing Permit Exemption. The following situations typically qualify for issuance of a Landclearing Permit Exemption:
- Removal of hazard trees and ground cover in emergency situation involving immediate danger to life or property or substantial fire hazards as determined by the City's Tree Protection Professional;
- Removal of 5 or fewer trees in any 36 consecutive months, or ground cover for the purposes of solar access, general property and utility maintenance, landscaping or gardening.
- Removal of trees and ground cover within a maximum of 10 feet of the perimeter of a single-family or duplex dwelling structure construction line, and any area proposed to be cleared for related driveway and utility purposes. The Director of Community Development may require minor modifications;
- Removal of obstructions required for vision clearance at intersections; and
- Projects requiring approval of the City of Lacey Site Plan Review Committee (tree and understory vegetation removal will be reviewed as part of this process), or a project requiring review by the Lacey Hearings Examiner or the Lacey City Council.
To apply for a Landclearing Permit Exemption, properties owners must submit a Landclearing Permit Exemption Request, including a drawing of their property indicating all tree(s) to be removed, to the City of Lacey Community Development Department.
There is no charge to obtain a Landclearing Permit Exemption. If a property owner wishes to remove more than 5 trees within 3 years because they believe them to be diseased or hazardous, a Request for Review By Tree Protection Professional needs to be submitted. The Tree Protection Professional is a recognized expert in tree preservation and management with whom the City has contracted in the interest of achieving professional assistance and consistency in tree protection decisions.
Services for reviewing hazard trees, or suspected hazard trees, for an individual's private residence are offered free of charge to Lacey residents. Trees deemed dead or dangerous by the Tree Protection Professional are exempt from the 5-tree limit.
The City of Lacey offers free tree consultation services to homeowner associations for evaluation of street trees and tree tracts to help associations properly maintain these resources. To schedule a visit and evaluation with the City Forester please contact the Lacey Community Development Department, (360) 491-5642, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, or visit us at Lacey City Hall, 420 College Street, SE.
Obtaining a Landclearing Permit. An Application for a Landclearing Permit should be submitted at the same time as a valid land use application or building permit. The Director of Community Development will determine which of the following documents and information should accompany the application:
- Twelve prints of the plot plan showing trees which are to be removed;
- A proposed time schedule for land clearing, land restoration, implementation of erosion control and any excavation;
- A statement indicating the method to be followed in erosion control and restoration of land during and immediately following land clearing;
- Proposed general landscape plan or written or graphic description of proposed action;
- Location of proposed barriers, open space and other areas of the site where stands of trees are to be saved; and
- On timbered property greater in size than one acre or commercial property with more than 15 trees, or other sites the City deems necessary because of other special circumstances, the City’s Tree Protection Professional will review the site and provide a report consistent with the requirements. Applicants will be responsible for payment of the services of the Tree Protection Professional.
The Director of Community Development will refer the application to the Landclearing Committee, which will make a decision within ten working days from the date of receiving the application. Landclearing permits expire one year from the date of issuance, but may be extended by the City for six months with good cause.
Note: Before submitting a Landclearing Permit application, it is recommended that the applicant schedule a pre-submission conference with City staff. This meeting allows you to meet with representatives from the Planning Department, Building Department, Public Works Department, Fire Department and the City Manager’s Office.
Applicable Landclearing Standards. The following standards apply to all landclearing projects within the City of Lacey:
- The project must contain reasonable provisions for the preservation of natural land and water features, vegetation and drainage and other natural features on the site.
- An applicant is restricted to harvesting a maximum of 40 percent of the volume of trees on a property.
- The clearing will not create or contribute to flooding, erosion or landslides.
- No ground cover or trees can be removed from within the designated buffer area of creeks, streams, lakes and other shoreline or wetland areas; no mechanical equipment can operate in such areas.
- Depending on the scope of the work and proximity to shorelines, wetlands, or other sensitive areas, an environmental review may be required.
- The clearing should preserve and enhance the City’s aesthetic character. Vegetative screens or buffer strips must be maintained or reestablished in a timely manner with approved plantings along public rights-of-way and adjoining property boundaries.
- Clearing operations must be conducted so as to expose the smallest practical area of soil to erosion for the least possible time.
- Except for the use of roads and constructed pathways, land clearing machinery must be kept outside the drop line of any trees designated for retention.
Other considerations and options:
- Solar Access - The Land Clearing Committee will give consideration to valid solar access needs; and
- Revegetation Option - On a site with documented special circumstances, an alternative allowing removal of vegetation normally saved may be approved with a comprehensive revegetation plan developed by the City’s Tree Protection Professional.
Financial Security. The Landclearing Committee may require financial security at 150% of the estimated cost of improvements to assure that the work will be completed in accordance with the permit. Upon completion of the improvements, all but 20% of the financial security will be released. The City requires that a 20% maintenance bond be placed with the City for a year to ensure that financial resources are available for replacement of any damaged or dying vegetation on site.
Violations. Violation of the City of Lacey Tree and Vegetation Protection and Preservation Ordinance or failure to comply with any of its requirements shall constitute a misdemeanor.
Questions? Please call us at the City of Lacey Department of Community Development, (360) 491-5642, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, or visit us at Lacey City Hall, 420 College Street SE.