By Reporter Steven Smalley
Over the transom comes a question from a Magnolia Voice reader regarding planting strips – that piece of land in front of homes parallel to sidewalks and streets.
Q: Who owns them?
A: The city.
Q: Can you plant food on them?
To begin, don’t refer to planting strips as parking strips. Parking enforcement will slam a ticket on the windshield if you leave your car in the area between the sidewalk and street. Additionally, you are responsible for the area in front of your home. Planting strips and sidewalks, both of which are part of the public rights-of-way, require public access, according to the City of Seattle. Snow, ice, roots protruding into the sidewalk, and other hazards are homeowners’ responsibility. Injuries caused by nuisances in front of homes get you sued, not the City.
Now let’s address the question at hand. As you can imagine, there are myriad local laws and regulations pertaining to vegetation allowed in planting strips. For example, watch out for the varieties of trees you install, as many are illegal. Trees with particularly aggressive root systems that historically tear up sidewalks are verboten. Also prohibited are fruiting trees such as cherry, apple, and pear that can pose a safety risk to pedestrians when fruit falls on the walkway. The Seattle Department of Transportation is the agency in charge of regulations concerning planting strips. A free Street Use permit is required to plant trees and to install raised planting boxes or pavers. Look for links below to point you to rules regarding arboreal plantings.
There is plenty of good news though, including permission to grow food in planting strips. Go for it. No permit is required to grow food as long as height and other restrictions are followed. Furthermore, SDOT does not regulate the type of fruit/vegetables that can be planted. Gardeners must allow room for vehicle clearance, pedestrian travel, utility clearance, and visibility. Generally, plantings are to be no more than 3 ft. high, and only 2 ft. high within 30 ft. of intersections. If you intend to construct a raised planting box, it’s recommended to be 6-18 in. in height and no more than 40 ft. in length. Of course these specifications only scratch the surface of city requirements. Check out the regulations here, here and here before you attempt to plant trees, grow food, or construct raised beds. Good luck and good eating to all you city gardeners.
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