Neighbors say trail work took away their screen of trees
Some residents along the rebuilt section of the Burke-Gilman Trail aren't happy about losing greenery taken out during the project, but the county says neighbors can't just plant what they like on public property.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Rob Miller can barely contain his disgust when he looks at the three saplings that replaced trees that once separated his Lake Forest Park home from a state highway and a busy regional trail.
"They planted trees that for my grandkids will be rather nice, but in the meantime, I've got everybody in a bus and a car and a truck staring down into my windows. The noise has gone up exponentially in our home," he said.
So Miller did the same thing he did 10 years earlier to dampen the noise from Bothell Way Northeast: He planted a row of fast-growing Leyland cypresses on land he doesn't own.
This time King County quickly discovered the spindly trees beside the Burke-Gilman Trail and sent a letter ordering him and his wife to pull them out.
The county needs to protect the nearly $5 million investment it made in a two-mile trail segment and isn't about to let neighbors plant whatever they want on it, Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Brown said.
The trail reopened in March after nine months of construction widened the pavement from 10 to 12 feet, installed gravel shoulders, improved drainage and signs, and removed sight-obscuring vegetation from road crossings.
"The users enjoy it immensely. We've gotten great feedback from the community — runners, bicyclists, folks who use it for commuting — just overwhelmingly positive response," Brown said.
But during construction, 322 trees were cut down and replaced by small trees, angering many homeowners.
Miller is upset every time he looks at the gap in the cypresses that used to dampen the noise from Bothell Way and hide a retaining wall, which he likens to "something out of the Soviet bloc."
He and a number of his Beach Drive Northeast neighbors have for years planted trees and bushes and weeded out blackberries on the embankment that lies below the trail and across the street from their waterfront homes.
"This has never been maintained," said Tod Turner, who said vegetation is needed to soften the unbearably loud sound of revving engines and compression brakes on Bothell Way, just beyond the trail.
Allison Reagan, who lost cypresses, junipers and a coast redwood, said the plants were outside the construction zone. "There was no reason to take all that out except a scorched-earth policy. I chalk it up to arrogance," she said.
The houses' driveways and small front yards leave little room to plant trees for privacy.
Some residents think trees were removed primarily to give trail users better views of Lake Washington.
Creating views wasn't the primary reason trees were cut down, Brown said. Some were in the way of the wider trail; others blocked cars' views of bikers or were in advanced stages of decay.
"If there's a view corridor, we see that as a benefit," Brown said. "It's a side benefit of providing safe sight distances. There are wonderful views of the lake from this King County-owned right of way, and we would like our users to enjoy those."
The environmental review for the project said the county's Facilities Management Division considers "closely planted, tall-growing evergreen trees for screening in a view corridor inappropriate." The trees and shrubs planted by the county were predominantly native plants.
Steve Bennett, Lake Forest Park's planning and building director, said it was "sort of flabbergasting" that King County kept increasing the number of trees it intended to cut. The number grew largely because the construction corridor kept getting wider. In the end, the city and its arborist agreed the tree-cutting was appropriate, Bennett said.
John Mauro, the Cascade Bicycle Club's policy and planning director, said the trail reconstruction resulted in a safer trail and a better park experience.
"You have a project that serves a huge number of people in our region, that's a taxpayer-funded regional crown jewel of a park and trail," Mauro said. "We're not ever going to be able to please everybody. ...
"I think the county found a middle ground, where they respected the rights of people who live in that area and respected the rights of county taxpayers who are benefiting from this."
King County has told Miller to pull up his baby cypresses by Monday or it will remove them and possibly ask him to pay the cost.
"We would encourage people to plant on their own property," parks chief Brown said. "It's not appropriate to plant on public property without permission."
"Don't they have something better to do?" Miller asked. At $5 a plant, he figures it wouldn't cost much to replace whatever the county pulls up.
Lake Forest Park officials have not yet signed off on the trail project as complete. Bennett, the planning director, said he hopes the city also can help Miller and the county resolve their standoff.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published April 20, 2012, was corrected April 21, 2012. In a previous version of this story, the last name of the policy and planning director of the Cascade Bicycle Club was incorrect. His name is John Mauro, not Moff. Also, a quote by Kevin Brown was incorrectly attributed to Steve Bennett.