Outcome of tree case not certain | Update

Kitsap County Prosecutor's Office will not pursue criminal charges, but a local code infraction could still be possible for the limbing of a Poulsbo Front Street tree.

PORT ORCHARD — Lawyers with the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office have opted not to bring charges against the man who trimmed branches off of a downtown Poulsbo tree.

“It’s more of a civil issue,” said Lael Carlson of the prosecutor’s office.

“It’s not going anywhere in terms of the prosecutor’s office pursuing charges.”

Carlson noted that the way the law is written, it would be difficult to argue in favor of a charge.

“It was referred to us as ‘malicious mischief,’ ” she said. “We’d have to prove that it was done with some kind of evil intent. Based on the (police) report, it seemed that he didn’t know how to prune the tree property or was negligent.”

Carlson said the city could pursue local action, such as a citation for a civil infraction. Such an infraction would have to be proved through Poulsbo’s Municipal Code.

While the prosecutor’s office will not bring criminal charges for the incident, it could handle any infraction that comes as a result.

“On occasion, we handle infractions for the city,” said Justin Zaug of the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office. “We would represent the city at the infraction hearing. If this results in anything it will be an infraction.”

Zaug could not comment on whether the tree incident will go as far as an infraction, as that consideration is new.

On Dec. 2, Poulsbo police officers were called to a downtown corner at Front and Hostmark streets for reports of a private contractor cutting limbs off of a city-owned tree.

The police report states that the tree was cut so much that it may die. A city contracted arborist, however, will make the final determination as to the damage to the tree.

The city forwarded the incident onto the county prosecutor, but with lack of any action at that level, it may pursue local remedies.

Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said that local action may be an option, but won’t comment further until she has met with city staff to explore the issue.

There may or may not be an issue to discuss, however, according to downtown building owner Marion Sluys.

“While the article does not mention me by name, it is my building addressed, and I am the person who had the tree trimmed,” Sluys wrote in a Dec. 22 letter to the editor, regarding the Dec. 19 article in the Herald, “Contractor goes out on city limb.”

Sluys argues that Poulsbo’s city code requires him to trim the tree neighboring his building. He points to Poulsbo Municipal Code 12.04.060, which states that building owners are responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks and planting strips near their buildings.

Poulsbo Municipal Code 12.04.060 states:

“The owner of property adjacent to a street shall maintain the sidewalk system and planting strip as follows:

“A. Sidewalks and Curbs. The owner shall maintain existing hard surface sidewalks by keeping them free of litter, debris, ice and snow, tree and shrub overgrowth, and by repairing defects in the surface with materials approved by the public works director.

“B. Planting Strip. The owner shall maintain any portion of the city right-of-way between the edge of the street and/or right-of-way and the property line. Maintenance includes keeping free of litter and debris, watering and trimming vegetation, repairing rockeries or retaining walls, and other work necessary to protect the public.”

In his letter, Sluys said the tree is two times as tall as the nearby building and its limbs hang over and rub the roof and gutters. He said leaves from the tree are a slippery hazard once they fall on the sidewalk.

“The tree at issue is not a good fit for the location,” Sluys wrote. “The city does not care for its tree. I do.”

Planning Director Barry Berezowsky said neighboring property owners are responsible for maintaining the public planting strips, but it isn’t the only relevant city code. While property owners may be responsible for the upkeep of planting strips, they still need to get city approval for certain kinds of maintenance, he said, according to another section of the city’s code, 16.24.090(B).

“(This code) adds to (12.04.060) by prohibiting any person from removing, trimming, cutting, pruning or topping a public tree without receiving permission from the city, and performing the work under the supervision of the city arborist,” Berezowsky said.

“While the adjacent property owner can be held responsible for maintaining the sidewalk and planting strip adjacent to their private property, they still need city permission and the city arborist’s supervision when pruning, cutting, trimming or cutting a city-owned street tree,” he said.

“Also, all such work shall be conducted by a ‘licensed, bonded and insured contractor’ unless the City arborist recommends the abutting property owner or his/her designee is competent to do the work.”