The city on Monday announced it settled a lawsuit with a second group of West Seattle homeowners who allegedly cut publicly owned trees to improve the views from their properties.
The nine homeowners late January agreed to pay the city $360,000; with the previous lawsuit that the city settled in April, that makes a total of $800,000 to be used for restoration efforts along the site and other public greenbelts.
“This settlement, and the one before it, demonstrate the city’s commitment to the protection of the public’s green spaces," city attorney Pete Holmes said. "In addition to recovering money for the city to restore such spaces, the settlements serve as a deterrent to future cutting and provide notice that the city will seek damages where others harm our natural resources."
The city accused the homeowners of hiring workers to cut 153 trees along a public greenbelt, located at the 3200 block of 35th Avenue Southwest, in late 2015 or early 2016. The felled trees were along a slope considered a critical area and vulnerable in the event of an earthquake.
The two settlements together amount to a fine of $5,229 per tree—just about 25 percent more per tree than a similar 2003 case in Mount Baker.
The second lawsuit is significantly less per tree ($4,138) than the first group settled in April ($6,667). City officials said one goal was to ensure the fines would be enough to deter would-be tree-cutters in the future—homeowners who want to improve their views and property values, as Seattle home prices continue to rise.
“Saplings now adorn a hillside where the trees once stood, though it will be decades before our West Seattle greenbelt is truly restored,” council member Lisa Herbold said. “I expect these clear consequences will make someone think twice before considering arboricide in the future."