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Landscapers Beware: There's Regulations In Them Thar Hills

Monica Spain

Ty Kocher walks me up the hilly backyard behind his home in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. The lush, sloping lot is the reason he bought the fixer-upper -–  it had a terrace for a vegetable garden and nooks and crannies for the kids to discover. But first he had to deal with decades of debris.

“Years ago, about six years ago, I was digging out a bunch of broken bottles and bricks and some old metal toys from the ‘50s and so we just planted into the hill and recently I put rain barrels in the spot, thinking I was doing all the right things.”

What Kocher didn’t realize is a segment of his lot is designated an Environmentally Critical Areas or E-C-As by the city, and he was slapped with a violation and fine. Often ECAs are steep slopes like Kocher’s yard, but sometimes they are wetlands or areas near a creek.

“The onus is on the homeowner to know whether or not they have a critical area on their property.”

Susan Chang at Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development says gardeners should type their address into the city’s GIS map (link to GIS map: before starting a project.

Disturbing the ground or the vegetation in a steep slope area can cause safety issues.  So for example, if you put load on the slope, whether you’re adding soil or you’re putting block walls at the top of the slope, you can potentially cause land sliding by those actions.

You might wonder how the city found out about Kocher.  Typically, a neighbor's complaint tips off the city to potential problems.