Seattle homeowners accused of felling 150 trees on public land for a better view

Seattle homeowners accused of felling 150 trees on public land for a better view

The destruction of an acre and a half of trees along a public greenbelt has drawn condemnation and sparked civil lawsuits

Settling into homes with gold-plated views is the goal for many who come to West Seattle. And so headlines blared when residents learned that some neighbors, seeking a better view than they already had, had hacked down more nearly an acre and a half of trees along a public greenbelt.

The unpermitted choppings on the city-owned West Duwamish Greenbelt which is prone to landslides and relies on trees to stabilize the soil destroyed more than 150 big-leaf maple trees and Scouler willows. As fall begins, a riot of rotting log carcasses and gnarly moss-draped limbs are still strewn about the site. There are deep pockmarks, too, and gashes left by the wholesale clear-cut.

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The discovery in March by a team of city investigators sparked outrage. One anonymous commenter, reported The Stranger, suggested the city chop the [culprit] to pieces and see how it feels.

Now, Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes has filed civil suits against several couples who police say were involved in the tree-cutting caper, seeking an unprecedented $1.6m in damages and fines.

The two suits filed in King County superior court on 20 September, the culmination of a seven-month long (and still ongoing) police investigation, lists six defendants by name, and also includes 26 Jane and John Does as witnesses.

The first suit alleges that Kostas and Linda Kyrimis cut down 72 trees to improve their views, while the second alleges that Stanley and Mary Harrelson and Marty and Karrie Reimer hired freelance tree-cutters to fell 55 maples. The city believer other homeowners are responsible for cutting down the rest of the trees.

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Holmes told the Guardian last week: It looked like a tornado hit it. It was like they just said, Lets just whack it all down.

He is almost certain the damage occurred in January, but that it didnt come to the citys attention until a nervous neighbor contacted the parks department. He later identified that person as Stanley Harrelson, saying: I think he wanted to clear his conscience or limit his liability or both. No one has come forward yet with the full story of what happened and why.

A photograph of the damage. Photograph: City of Seattle

All of the defendants, four of whom have admitted to cutting the trees without permits, have lawyered up. Neither the Kyrimis family, nor the Harrelson family, could be reached for comment.

The Harrelsons attorney, Clayton Shaw, did not return phone calls. In a statement issued to the Seattle Times after the suits were filed, he said: The Harrelsons have acknowledged their role in this mistake, but the City has been unresponsive to our attempts to reach a settlement. Shaw claims his client hired contractors to prune the trees, not cut down them entirely.

Countered Holmes: They just want to mitigate the amount [of the fine] down, and we are not going to do that. I still have not decided yet as to whether I will file criminal charges, and from a financial standpoint, they would be in the realm of felony charges.

I have asked that the city consider criminal charges, said Lisa Herbold, a city councilwoman who represents West Seattle. At the very least, I hope we dont negotiate it down, that we stick with the $1.6m.

A woman who moved nearly a year ago next door to the Harrelsons, and who asked to not be identified, stood in her driveway on a recent afternoon. I left for a vacation in mid-January for a week, she said, and when I got back the trees were gone. I moved here because of the greenbelt, and now look at it.

Gazing down the quiet tree-lined street, the disgruntled neighbor cracked, Im happy to report Im not involved, but you are not going to get anyone to talk. Everyones lips are sealed.

Defendant Marty Reimer, a 30-year-long resident of West Seattle and a popular morning-show radio host in the city, is among those tight-lipped property owners. But he took time last week to come down the front steps of his $800,000 rambler-style home and talk briefly.

We have gotten sucked up into this whirlpool, and I wish I could say more, he said. But weve been told by our attorney not to say anything.

It has been a shock to us that this happened. There is so much Id like to say, but I cant. Everyone around here is scared.

Illegal tree removals is nothing new to Seattle, but usually it involves only a handful of trees. One has to go all the way to 2002 to find a case of this magnitude, when Jerome Ferris, a federal judge was slapped with a $500,000 fine after his gardener cut down more than 120 cherry and maples trees in the a Mount Baker neighborhood park near Lake Washington.

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