The decision—handed down Nov. 10 by Judge Theresa Doyle—came as a major blow for a group of neighbors who sued the district more than two years ago to oppose its plans to raze about 70 out of 130 evergreens. The group, Save the Trees, was able to get an injunction to stop the district from cutting down the trees. The district has since decreased the number of trees to be cut to 27, but Save the Trees argued in court Nov. 5 that the action would have a much larger environmental impact.
In their lawsuit against Seattle Public Schools and the City of Seattle, Save the Trees said it wants SPS to do an environmental impact statement instead of just an environmental checklist which showed that the classroom addition would have no adverse impact on the grove of trees. It also challenged the city's master use permit for the project.
During oral arguments, Keth Scully, lawyer for Save the Trees, claimed that the grove of trees in question—consisting of Douglas firs, Pacific madrones, and Western red cedars—was the only one of its kind north of the ship canal and therefore should be considered as a rare plant habitat. Scully said that the district's plans would destroy the trees—some of them many decades old— that were in close proximity to the ones being cut, leading to at least 40 trees being lost.
But school district attorneys argued that the current project would reduce the environmental impact by 80 percent. They said that there was nothing exceptional about the grove and that SPS would plant 10 trees for every tree that was cut down.
Save the Trees also asked the district to situate the new building on the north end of the property, but the district said that would be difficult because it was not a "suitable learning environment" (noise from traffic, unsafe, etc). "It has to do with aesthetics—how pretty it is," Scully contended. "When I asked Ingraham's principal whether he could run a high school on the north end, he told me "I could run a high school in a circus tent."
Some more trees after the jump
But the judge ruled that Save the Trees had failed to prove that the district had violated environmental laws. She also upheld the city's decision to give SPS a master use permit for the proposed project. Seattle school district attorney Ron English said that the district has "no plans to cut the trees until the school board approved a contract to start construction Jan. 5."
I have a call in to Save the Trees spokesperson Steve Zemke to ask him if the group is going to appeal.