City officials said Wednesday they will pursue civil code enforcement against a Kirkland home builder and a Bellevue resident who, in separate incidents, destroyed or severely damaged 31 mature trees on city-owned property, including trees located in an environmentally sensitive area.
In both cases, the motive is believed to have been to enhance views, city officials said.
The city could collect more than $400,000 in damages from the developer and resident under a provision in city code that allows triple damages for the unauthorized removal and pruning of trees, according to representatives from the City Attorney's Office.
The Bellevue City Council amended the code in 1991 to allow for the triple damages as authorized under state law. The revision was made to deter illegal tree cutting.
The King County Prosecutor's Office may independently determine that the incidents warrant filing criminal charges of malicious mischief against the developer and resident. Such charges could carry jail time and additional fines.
Although the decision to file criminal charges rests with the King County Prosecutor's Office, city officials stated they hope that the responsible parties are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
"We're very upset this has occurred," Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger said. "People need to know the city simply will not tolerate this type of behavior, and will enforce the law to the fullest extent it can."
One case involves 23 Big Leaf Maple and Douglas Firs trees situated on a two-acre parcel of city property located in the Lakeridge Open Space near the 1800 block of 187th Avenue Northeast, an environmentally-sensitive area of Northeast Bellevue.
At least three trees were removed and the others severely pruned or topped by a nearby homeowner. Damage to the trees, estimated at $60,000 to $90,000, was noticed by city officials while investigating an unrelated complaint of illegal dumping in the area.
The homeowner, whose name is not being released pending completion of the police investigation, later told city investigators he hired a contractor to prune the trees to improve his views. He stated he believed the trees were on his property.
The second case involves eight large Big Leaf Maples estimated by the city to be worth more than $72,000. The trees were cut down in late summer on a city-owned buffer located at 17710 Southeast 60th Street in the Lakemont area of southeast Bellevue.
The trees were adjacent to property being developed for new homes by Kirkland-based Hamish Anderson Custom Homes, Inc. Removal of the trees created water and city views for the new home sites.
The city presently is seeking damages from Hamish Anderson. The case is expected to go before a hearing examiner early next year if it is not settled beforehand.
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