Chapter 16.60
LAND CLEARING

Sections:

16.60.010    Title.

16.60.020    Authority.

16.60.030    Purpose.

16.60.040    Definitions.

16.60.050    Regulated activity.

16.60.060    Performance standards.

16.60.070    Exempt activity.

16.60.080    Requirements and procedures.

16.60.090    Enforcement – Violation – Penalty.

16.60.100    Severability.

16.60.010 Title.

This chapter shall be known as the land clearing chapter of the Bellingham Municipal Code. [Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.020 Authority.

Article 11 of the Washington State Constitution. [Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.030 Purpose.

The purposes of this chapter are to:

A. Require site planning prior to land clearing in order to reduce harmful effects on the community and environment.

B. Minimize the destruction of existing vegetation and maintain its existence for as long as possible.

C. Encourage the incorporation of existing vegetation into final site plans.

D. Maintain wildlife and fisheries habitat, reduce erosion, air and water quality degradation and minimize visual blight.

E. Reduce the time lag between land clearing and the start of actual construction.

F. Require appropriate methods, materials and timing for land clearing with a minimum of disruption.

G. Provide for the enforcement of the requirements of this chapter in order to successfully carry out its purposes. [Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.040 Definitions.

For purposes of this chapter the following definitions shall apply:

“Blazing” means minor nonvehicular cutting or removal of vegetation, including trees, shrubs or groundcover, sufficient for line-of-site surveying and foot access trails to the extent that the site is not otherwise significantly disturbed.

“Clearing” means any cutting or removal of vegetation in any manner exceeding the extent of blazing as defined above.

“Critical root zone” means the area occupied by the root system of a tree and considered a zone of high sensitivity to disturbance such that damage from excavation, soil compaction or other means will likely lead to declining health and/or stability of the tree. The critical root zone is measured as seven times the root flare diameter.

“Developed land” means (A) any individual lot or parcel, which may not be further subdivided, that is presently occupied by one or more buildings over 120 square feet in floor area in usable condition; (B) any street or utility right-of-way that has been constructed to at least minimum city standards; (C) park lands that are currently managed and maintained for public use which include landscaped areas, trails or recreational facilities.

“Director” means director of planning and community development department.

“Erosion controls” means any combination of methods, materials or devices used on a project site to prevent unwanted movement of dirt, mud and sediment down slope, off site, into drainage courses or in undesirable directions.

“Ground cover” means any plant matter less than three feet in height occurring above the soil layer.

“Management plan” means a lot or parcel management strategy for nonstructural development activities such as forestry, agriculture, hobby farm activities, gardening or landscaping. Management plans shall include a written description of activities as well as a site plan showing relevant features and their locations as necessary.

“Partially developed land” means any individual lot or parcel, which may be further subdivided, that is presently occupied by one or more buildings over 120 square feet in usable condition.

“PCDD” means planning and community development department.

“SEPA” means State Environmental Policy Act.

“Shrub” means any plant over three feet but less than 20 feet in height.

“Significant tree” means a tree of any species that is six inches in diameter or greater measured at breast height.

“Site plan” means a clear, concise drawing of a lot or parcel showing the location of existing and proposed buildings, driveways, parking, utilities, drainage, easements, landscaping, topography, environmentally sensitive areas and other relevant site features.

“Tree” means a plant over 20 feet in height.

“Undeveloped land” means (A) any lot or parcel not presently occupied by one or more buildings over 120 square feet in usable condition; (B) any street or utility right-of-way which is not currently opened and constructed to minimum city standards.

“Vegetation” means plant matter, including trees, shrubs and ground cover. [Ord. 2017-03-009 § 5; Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.050 Regulated activity.

Any clearing or removal of vegetation, including groundcover, shrubs and trees, on any lot or parcel within the city shall be in compliance with the provisions of this chapter. [Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.060 Performance standards.

The following shall apply to all clearing activities within the city. Clearing activities that are exempt from BMC 16.60.080 must still comply with the performance standards listed below.

A. Clearing, cutting or removal of vegetation shall not occur on any lot or parcel without the consent of the property owner.

B. Clearing, cutting or removal of vegetation shall not result in any damage to abutting lots or parcels, public property or water resources, including but not limited to, trunk, bark, limb or leaf damage, damage to roads, trails or utilities, water or soil contamination, alteration of drainage courses, transport and disposition of dirt, mud or sediment or the creation of a fire hazard or other unsafe condition.

C. All public rights-of-way including easements for roads, trails and utilities shall be kept clear of silt, dirt, mud and debris and immediately cleaned and/or restored to their original condition prior to impact. [Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.070 Exempt activity.

The following activities are exempt from the provisions of BMC 16.60.080:

A. Clearing of less than 500 square feet in area on any lot or parcel, but not to exceed 500 square feet on contiguous property under the same ownership; provided, that the area being cleared does not occur within any critical area, its associated buffer or within the Lake Whatcom watershed as specified in Chapter 16.80 BMC and does not require other permits or SEPA review.

B. Cutting, clearing or removal of vegetation within any fully developed (see “Developed land” in BMC 16.60.040) lot, parcel, street or utility right-of-way or park land which would not require other permits or SEPA review.

C. Normal and routine maintenance of existing landscaping, such as lawn mowing, rototilling, composting, gardening and pruning of vegetation on any lot or parcel not requiring other permits or SEPA review.

D. Minimal blazing for line-of-sight surveying and foot access.

E. Noncommercial firewood cutting, which does not require other permits, for personal use by the property owner.

F. Removal of hazardous, diseased or storm damaged trees which are threatening the health, safety or welfare of the public.

G. The removal of plants designated as noxious or invasive weeds by governmental agencies. [Ord. 2010-08-051; Ord. 10425, 1993; Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.080 Requirements and procedures.

A. The following requirements shall apply to all nonexempt lands subject to the provisions of this chapter:

1. No clearing or removal of vegetation shall be permitted on any undeveloped or partially developed lot, parcel, street or utility without a valid building, street or utility construction permit or an approved management plan for the nonstructural activities listed in subsection (A)(2) of this section.

2. Approved management plans for forestry, agricultural, livestock or landscape uses shall include a site plan, a description of proposed uses, drainage and erosion control measures, fencing where necessary and methods of property management which shall prevent damage to adjacent land and natural resources as required.

3. No clearing shall be permitted within preliminary plats except for within street or utility rights-of-way. All debris storage and handing shall occur within the right-of-way so as to not damage the adjacent land.

4. The boundaries of all areas to be cleared shall be marked by flagging, stakes, paint spots, a continuous ribbon or other readily visible means around the perimeter. Property lines and corners shall be clearly identified if clearing will take place in close proximity.

5. Prior to clearing, a drainage and erosion and sedimentation control plan shall be approved by the PCDD for lots and parcels, or by the public works department for street and utility rights-of-way and constructed accordingly.

6. Clearing for the construction of buildings shall be kept to the minimum necessary, as determined by the PCDD and the public works department, to provide adequate access to the building footprint, until final landscaping can be installed and the ground surface stabilized to prevent erosion.

7. Forest practice permits shall be opposed by the city until the final approval of a site plan and issuance of related development permits. The only exception to this provision shall be for timber management plans that provide for selective cutting only on a continuous basis (less than 30 percent).

B. Prior to undertaking any nonexempt clearing activity regulated by this chapter, a person who proposes such activity shall submit to the PCDD and the public works department a site plan and other information as required by the PCDD. The PCDD and the public works department shall review the material submitted and determine that:

1. The appropriate building, street or utility permits have been issued or that an acceptable management plan has been prepared, a copy of which shall be provided to the PCDD and the public works department.

2. An appropriate erosion and sedimentation control plan is provided and will be implemented prior to clearing.

3. The boundaries of the area(s) to be cleared have been marked as provided in subsection (A)(4) of this section.

4. A tree retention plan is provided that identifies the species and size of all significant trees on site. Said plan shall identify all trees that will be removed and preserved, and include the method by which the critical root zone of retained trees will be protected during construction, such as fencing. Significant trees that must be removed shall be replaced at a ratio to be determined by the PCDD.

If the proposal conforms to the requirements of this chapter, the PCDD and the public works department shall provide written authorization to the property owner to proceed. No regulated nonexempt clearing activity shall be performed prior to issuance of this authorization.

C. Process. The process for review and approval of clearing shall be the same as the associated building, street or utility construction permit. Applications for a clearing management plan approval shall follow the procedures in Chapter 21.10 BMC. [Ord. 2017-03-009 § 6; Ord. 2004-09-065; Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.090 Enforcement – Violation – Penalty.

The city, its agents, officers and employees shall have authority to enter upon privately owned land for the purpose of performing their duties under this chapter and may take or cause to be made such examinations, surveys, or sampling as the city deems necessary.

The director shall have authority to enforce this chapter and clearing activities regulated thereunder. All costs, fees, and expenses in connection with such enforcement actions may be recovered as damages against the violator.

Law enforcement officials or other enforcement officials having police powers shall have concurrent authority to enforce this chapter and clearing activities regulated thereunder.

Any person who commits, takes part in, or assists in any violation of any provision of this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined not more than $1,000 for each offense. Each violation of this act shall be a separate offense, and in the case of a continuing violation each day’s continuance shall be deemed to be a separate and distinct offense.

Should a regulated activity occur and it is later discovered that the activity is occurring in violation of this chapter, the director shall have the authority to issue a stop work order and all activity shall cease until such time as the applicant or violator can meet the requirements of this chapter.

In the event of a violation, the director shall have the authority to order restoration measures for the damaged or destroyed area by the person or agent responsible for the violation. If the responsible person or agent does not complete such measures within a reasonable time specified by the director following the order, the city of Bellingham may restore the affected area to its prior condition. The person or agent responsible for the original violation shall be liable to the city of Bellingham for the cost of such actions. [Ord. 2013-02-006 § 7; Ord. 10308, 1992].

16.60.100 Severability.

Should any section, clause, designation or provision of this chapter be declared by the courts to be invalid, the same shall not affect the validity of the chapter as a whole or any part thereof, other than the part so declared to be invalid. [Ord. 10308, 1992].