Planting strip beautification not so beautiful: Plans in works for replanting

Magnolian John Rayburn is worried that the ground may have been poisoned on a Seattle Department of Transportation planting strip near the corner of Thorndyke Avenue West and Thorndyke Place West.

The steeply sloping planting strip was cleared last summer with the help of an herbicide, he said. "And nothing has grown here since." That surprises Rayburn, who figured something should have sprouted on the land by now. "I thought, 'Hell, is it going to be like this forever?'"

SDOT spokesman Gregg Hirakawa said the slope isn't slide-prone. "But nevertheless, we didn't want it cleared," he said, adding, "They never got a permit for the clearing."

They, in this case, is Amor Youngs, who lives near the planting strip, and she said she used a company recommended by SDOT arborist Liz Ellis to clear the land.

Youngs added that the "ugly" planting strip was overgrown with Japanese knotweed and blackberry bushes, and that the ground was littered with trash. "What we have done, I have it cut, the bushes," she said. The city helped haul away the cut-down plants last summer, Youngs added.

But has the herbicide treatment made the land unplantable? "I don't believe that's the case," said Shane DeWald, an SDOT landscape architect.

One thing that might explain the lack of new growth is that recycled Tulley's burlap sacks were staked into the hillside, she said. "It's not intended to be a weed barrier so much as to keep the slope stabilized," DeWald said of the burlap covering. Youngs, on the other hand, said the burlap was meant to stop the growth of Japanese knotweed on the planting strip.

DeWald also said a 3-inch compost blanket was added to the strip as "a temporary stabilization method." Youngs said, however, that compost hasn't been added to the slope yet.

That will happen when new plantings go in, Youngs said. The work will be financed with a $10,000 Department of Neighborhoods matching grant, which was awarded last December, she said.

A Dec. 22 SDOT letter to Youngs congratulated her on getting the grant, but the letter also criticized Youngs for the first part of her project. "The work that you undertook to clear brush without a permit has implications for the stability of the slope," the letter states, "and damage has been done."

The SDOT also cautioned Youngs that "a qualified contractor will need to create a proposal that details the time and scope of next steps for restoring the hillside before SDOT can issue a Street Use permit."

That's not a problem, according to Youngs. "I'm working with a company that, again, has been recommended by the city," she said. Youngs added that she's also applied for a bond and a permit to do the work. "I'm just waiting for them to give me a permit."

The plan is to include weed-control measures and to plant city-approved, low-growing native species, she said. The work should be done by next October or November, Youngs said.

SDOT requires nearby property owners to maintain planting strips so they don't pose a safety hazard, said Hirakawa, who was somewhat sympathetic. "She thought she was doing an OK thing," Hirakawa said of Youngs, "which we don't necessarily dissuade people from doing. But we like being asked."

Youngs sounded a little surprised in a telephone interview that her project has created such a stir. "I just wanted the surroundings to look nice for the whole neighborhood," she said. "That's the intention here."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]