Suck it, view-mongers. Yesterday, city officials announced that they are finally suing a group of West Seattle homeowners who illegally cut down around 150 big leaf maples and Scouler willow trees that once stood on either side of 35th Avenue Southwest.
Through two lawsuits filed in King County Superior Court, the city is seeking $1.6 million in damages for timber trespass, damage to land, trespass, negligence, environmentally critical areas violations, and parks code violations. The first suit alleges Kostas A. and Linda C. Kyrimis cut trees to improve their views. The other alleges Stanley J. and Mary E. Harrelson and Martin E. and Karrie Riemer hired Forrest F. Bishop and John Russo to cut city-owned trees across from their homes.
The massive fine "speaks to the seriousness of the claims," Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, whose district includes West Seattle, said in a statement. "The damages and penalties must be significant enough to deter this kind of activity in the future, so that those with financial means don’t see unauthorized tree cutting as a cost-effective way to increase their views and property values."
The costs of the illegal cutting goes beyond property values, too. The acre of trees was part of the West Duwamish Greenbelt and helped stabilize the hillside, which the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections recognizes as an environmentally critical area because it is prone to landslides.
In late March, a group of four homeowners armed with a lawyer admitted to cutting the trees without permits. However, according to one of the lawsuits, another 26 homeowners could be guilty, too.
City Attorney Pete Holmes, whose office initially launched the investigation into the clear-cutting wrote the following in a statement:
“No one has yet come forward to give the City the full story of what happened despite SPD’s best efforts and extensive investigation. However, we are satisfied that we now know enough to proceed with civil lawsuits. We expect to learn that additional people, beyond those named in the lawsuits, were involved with the cutting as the suits progress. ...
“On its damages theories, the City generally alleges that the defendants and/or their agents cut down trees on City property without permission when they should have known better. The extensive tree cutting damaged the trees and the underlying land. On its code violation theories, because the cutting took place on City property and some occurred in City right of way, the cutters or their employers were required to obtain a number of permits before they cut any trees. No permits were issued to authorize the cutting and penalties and fines are therefore appropriate."
Holmes has previously said that the homeowners could face jail time.