Popular Eastlake garden in trouble with the city, may have to be trimmed

UPDATE: This post has been changed since it was first published. Links to a story by KOMO News was added.

One of the best known and most popular gardens in Eastlake is in trouble with the City of Seattle and part of it may have to be trimmed.

Mary Hansen has spent the last three years planting and growing her garden on the northwest corner of E. Lynn and Minor E. What was a nondescript corner of grass and a couple of shrubs is now a profusion of trees, vegetables and colorful flowers. People in the neighborhood may not know Mary but they do know her garden. The Seattle Times featured it and Mary’s house in an article in April.

But sometime in the last few weeks, someone complained to the city’s Department of Planning and Development that the height of the garden in the planting strips on Hansen’s property violated city zoning codes and created a line-of-sight issue for cars turning at the corner. It’s the second time the garden has drawn the scrutiny of city zoning inspectors because of its height.

In a letter dated July 16, a city zoning inspector informed Hansen that, under city zoning codes, any vegetation within 30 feet of the corner can be no taller than 24 inches high. Vegetation can’t overhang the sidewalk unless it is at least eight feet up, the inspector said, then added:

“Even following these guidelines you are creating a very real and dangerous corner with your vegetation. Many people would not consider this neighborly.

“Please prune to develop the best line of sight from the corner as possible above and beyond the city requirements.”

The letter notes that the inspector is “required to send you a $150 citation without warning for all future complaints.” A second complaint would bring a $500 fine, he says.

In a report aired Friday (see below), KING 5 news quoted Planning and Development Customer Service Manager Bryan Stevens as saying the city isn’t opposed to gardens but has to enforce zoning codes.

“It’s beautiful landscaping, but it really is an issue of public safety at the intersection,” Stevens told KING 5.

Hansen posted the city’s letter at the corner and asked passersby to sign a letter of support “if you agree this garden creates community rather than danger (as the city contends).” She says she has collected several full sheets of names. Wednesday night, she brought the issue to the attention of the Eastlake Community Council.

“The garden isn’t the problem,” Hansen says, “the traffic is.” She notes that traffic speeds down the hill on E. Lynn, creating a dangerous situation at the corner. Many of those signing her letter of support have written in agreement.

Don Bliss, a resident who lives diagonally across the intersection from Hansen, agrees. “A stop sign here wouldn’t hurt,” he says.

Bliss likes what Hansen has done with the garden. ”I’ve watched this corner get better and better,” he says.

Hansen would like to see something done about the traffic speeding downhill on E. Lynn.

“My plan is to have something come from this,” she says of the zoning issue. “I hope we can all benefit from this.”

She’d like to see a four-way stop at Lynn and Minor. She plans to contact the Seattle Department of Transportation to see what can be done.

Hansen was planning on working on the the roses on the Lynn Street side of her lot this weekend, moving some bushes and reducing the height of others. She will be meeting with the zoning inspector who sent her the warning letter on Wednesday to find out what exactly she has to do to be in compliance. She’s hoping she won’t have to take out any of the plants on the Minor E. side of her lot.


  • KOMO 4 News had a report on Saturday that includes video.
  • KING 5 news reported on the controversy on Friday:

19 thoughts on “Popular Eastlake garden in trouble with the city, may have to be trimmed

  1. joshuadf

    Check out the solution at Thomas St and Minor Ave N for the Casacade P-Patch–someone (the city?) built a large sidewalk bulb out so that traffic has to slow down to turn, and has better line-of-sight.

  2. seattle

    the parking strips are owned by the City. Residents are obliged to maintain them. She’s really got no leg to stand on. I just think it sucks some asshat turned her in. There’s a lot worse corners for visibility in this city that are created by the City’s refusal to enforce the most basic of parking regs.

    Just leave the woman alone and let her cultivate some beauty in the world. sheesh!

  3. John Smith

    “Hansen… will be meeting with the zoning inspector who sent her the warning letter on Wednesday to find out what exactly she has to do to be in compliance.”

    She shouldn’t waste the time of the zoning inspector (paid by taxpayers). The letter (dated July 16) sent by the zoning inspector makes it clear what she needs to do to comply with the zoning code. The additional comments by the zoning inspector in the letter seem inappropriate, but that doesn’t change her responsibility to comply with the zoning code.

  4. Steve

    I would walk into the next City Council meeting with about 300 formal complaints (in writing) of bushes/plants taller than 24″ in the City right of way. Just drive around and jot down EVERY violation within a 5 mile radius.

    Then sue the city for harassment and not uniformly enforcing the code.

    Frankly I’m pissed the City is wasting my tax dollars on something so stupid.

    ONE complaint.

    How about the rights of the other 100 or 1000 people who like it there??? What about their rights?

    Perhaps the zealots at the City should find something better to do like deal with the drug and gang problems, the budgets, and the condition of the roads and parks for starters…

  5. Steve

    Thinking on this further,

    She should buy several gallons of Round Up and turn it into nothing but parched dirt.

    It will “enhance” the neighborhood per the intent of the City code, and be fully compliant.

    Hopefully the asshat who complained will slip and fall in the mud and break a hip.

    Bewildering how small the minds of some people are. It’s also frustrating that ONE complainer has the power to wreck what so many people enjoy and the City staff are DUMB enough to allow it.


  6. John Smith


    The problem/hazard is violating the 24″ height limit within 30 feet of an intersection.

    The information is in the article.

  7. Not the last word

    I wish the city would send their code enforcers out for some exercise. Any decent walk around the neighborhoods would have them writing letters all day long. I have yet to EVER take a walk with a friend where one of us (usually me at 6′ tall) has to take a dive to avoid the encroaching brush from someone’s yard.

  8. ellen

    I like the fact that people can do what they want to do to their own property. Having a beautiful garden is a plus.
    When using city property there are rules we need to comply with; lesson learned.

    The garden is beautiful, buy you have to admit the garden is very dense and does impair viewing of cars/motorcycles coming from the west.

    Solution: Trim the plants or plant lower growing plants and move on.

  9. profstack

    I pedaled by this place today and was really surprised that any sort of complaint was made. A parked car near the yield sign would create more of a visual block. The flowers on the north parking strip are not a visual hindrance at all.

    Could it be that the complainer has some type of agenda with Mary Hansen?

    Perhaps changing it to a 4-way stop would be the BEST solution. It would give more people time to stop and smell the roses, literally!

  10. striatic

    i love this corner and the sight-lines aren’t really that bad. it is a cool place to walk by in the neighbourhood and makes Lynn street that much more interesting between Eastlake Ave and the street end park.

    hope Mary wins this thing, not for her benefit but or the community in general.

    i’m going down to sing her sheets tomorrow. so ridiculous.

  11. yaler

    This is pretty straight forward.
    1. There are zoning rules designed for the safety of drivers, bikers and pedestrians.
    2. Someone complained that there might be a violation.
    3. The city did their job and investigated.

    The visibility issue is real and there have been lawsuits in Western Washington when accidents happen and corner visibility is a possible cause. Usually the city and taxpayers lose when these lawsuits occur regardless of the final outcome.

    So she should just comply with the city and lower her vegetation on city land.

  12. bobbyA

    Cars taller than 24″ high routinely park within 30 feet on an intersection and block sight lines. No violations thee??? No tickets or tows either???

  13. Cindy

    I was Mary’s neighbor down on Fairview at her former house… she puts so much work into her yard, and maintains everything beautifully. In this new house, she took what was destined to be a little postage stamp piece of grass and made an amazing garden the entire community can enjoy. I really hope the spirit isn’t lost in the letter here.

  14. Paul

    The fact is, this is in violation of city code. If there was ever an automobile accident at this location, Mary would probably use every excuse in the book to indicate that the garden was not the reason behind the accident. Knowing that she is so self evasive about her garden and that public safety is of little importance to her, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near her or her monstrosity of a garden. She lives in a city. We all must comply with the rules. God forbid how she could live with hersulf if a death was caused by this ridiculous obstruction. This lady needs to tone it down, rather than gripe and act like a crybaby.

  15. Nancy Merrill

    With all her skill and eye, seems to me that Mary H could create one heck of a year-round, code-complaint garden and encourage other corner lot people to do the same. As a walker and a tree planter, I totally appreciate good sight lines at corners – and elsewhere – and understand the 2-foot height restriction for 30 feet. It takes some doing to either grow small plants up to 2 feet or keep larger ones pruned. I have a yardstick planted as a reminder (hers would need to be 2 feet of a yard stick . . .). Limbed-up trees (to at least the required 8 feet) and tended overhanging greenery is also mush appreciated by us walk-abouts. Also, planting strip trees require a permit -free- from the City Arborist’s Office (SDOT) and help that in-the-wires and other problems don’t develop over time. These guidelines were revisited recently.
    Nancy M
    It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Tree Planting Project

    PS It would be great if people would voluntarily not park vehicles near corners . . .

  16. Kate Dulemba

    Regardless of who’s right or wrong or somewhere in between- I’m astonished at some of the comments on here.

    It’s very easy to hide behind a computer screen and hit “send”. Anonymously.

    I wonder if people would have the courage to say some of the things written on here, directly to Mary?

    If any of you are ever in a similar situation I hope you’re shown the same level (or lack) of courtesy and honesty you’ve shown your fellow neighbor.

  17. Mark Aurelius

    Kate, firstly, welcome to internet comment boards; for further examples see the comments on Seattle Times articles.

    Second, this is what I would say to Mary:

    Your garden is beautiful, no one is going to debate that. Also, I understand that you think it is unfair. However, we live in a city that is governed by laws. When you chose to plant on the city’s property you have to follow their rules, plain and simple. Everyone has to follow the same laws, you are not a special case.

    Also, this law exists for a good reason, public safety. I think all cars and bikes should have their legally allowed viewing area so that the intersection (that I drive through regularly) will continue to be safe. Also, I wouldn’t want anyone to get in an accident there and then have the right to sue you for an illegal obstruction.

    For your benefit and mine please comply with the law.

  18. Casper

    I can’t believe how many people here are defending the city. Yep, stroll around any Seattle neighborhood and you’ll find lots of similar situations. Get a life, people.

  19. yaler

    So if someone complains that I have my stereo too loud, and it is, should I argue that there are plenty of people around Seattle playing their music too loud? So then, I should not have to abide by the law?

    No, there are zoning rules in place for a reason. If you know of other corners that have plantings that are obtructing the ability to see cars, cyclist, and/or pedestrians, you might want to call and report these so we keep people safe, as well as help the city avoid any costly lawsuits.

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