Send your tree code comments to the City Council now

Dear Finn Hill neighbors and friends,

Amendments to Kirkland’s tree ordinance are heading into the final stages of City review.

The Kirkland Planning Commission forwarded its recommended code revisions to the City Council, which is scheduled to discuss them with City staff at a study session on Tuesday, January 21, at 5:30pm in City Hall. The study session is open to the public; you can also view it live online or on a TV rebroadcast.

Although the oral testimony record is closed, there’s still time to submit comments to the Council by email. FHNA encourages Finn Hill residents to present their views to the Council without delay. If you wrote to the Commission in December, we suggest that you send a copy of your email to Council members as well. (Most Council members have received these emails, but it doesn’t hurt to restate your message!) You can direct your email to the general Council email account and to each member individually by clicking here. Please also copy relevant City staff members: ktriplett@kirklandwa.gov; aweinstein@kirklandwa.gov, jmcmahan@kirklandwa.gov, and dpowers@kirklandwa.gov.

The City has set a tree canopy goal of 40% coverage, and the Kirkland canopy rose to 40.7% when it annexed Finn Hill, Juanita and Kingsgate in 2011. Today, however, the canopy has dropped to roughly 38%. We need a tree code and an urban forest management policy that will help Kirkland get back to 40%.

FHNA has submitted a letter to the Council outlining its views and recommendations on the City’s tree code.  In substance our letter repeats the recommendations we gave to the Planning Commission last month. However, we have added the conclusion that the code amendments currently proposed would be a step backwards in regard to protecting Kirkland’s tree canopy, unless the Council adopts three revisions that FHNA has advocated for several months:

    • Expand the number of landmark trees encompassed by the Tier 1 tree definition (e.g. reduce threshold trunk diameter from 30” to 26”)
    • Bolster tree planting requirements (e.g. raise supplemental planting requirement to 50 tree credits/acre from current 30 credits standard)
    • Require homeowners to obtain permits for the removal of landmark trees (e.g. adequate tree canopy over the property will remain after Landmark tree removal and at least one windfirm Landmark tree will be retained)

The letter also calls for stricter enforcement and a commitment by the City to create a tree planting program that will ensure that Kirkland recovers its 40% canopy.

Summary of FHNA’s recommendations:

Tree retention during development: In its comments to the Planning Commission over the past year, FHNA has advocated for stronger protections of “Landmark trees”, which FHNA proposes be defined as healthy trees with trunk diameters of 26” or greater. These are trees that are 40 years or older and, once removed, would take decades to replace. FHNA estimates that they constitute less than 20% of Kirkland’s trees. Currently, the amendments presented by the staff to the Commission limit the Landmark tree definition to trees with trunks of 30” or larger (only 11% of Kirkland’s trees).

FHNA supports a proposal by the staff that all trees with trunk diameters of 6” or more be retained in side yards and setbacks during development. Builders have objected that the staff’s recommended code language leaves too much discretion to City planners to require changes in building design.  FHNA notes that the staff recommendation accommodates some of the builders concerns by limiting tree retention measures to trees that are in good to excellent condition (i.e. trees in fair condition aren’t protected) and guaranteeing builders minimum builder pad sizes and housing densities. While FHNA would have preferred a tree retention regime that focused on preserving a minimum percentage of existing canopy cover during development (e.g. 25-30%), the staff alternative appears to strike an acceptable balance between retention and predictability.

Tree planting after development: Tree retention measures cannot protect all trees during development, so it’s vital to replace canopy lost during construction. New tree planting requirements should be geared to meet the City’s 40% tree canopy objective over the long term. FHNA believes that the current tree planting standard – set at 30 “tree credits” per acre – falls well short of achieving the 40% canopy goal. FHNA has recommended that the standard be raised to 50 credits per acre. So far, neither staff nor the Planning Commission has supported increasing the planting standard.

Integrated development plans: Before any construction begins, builders should submit complete plans regarding tree removals, tree retention, and supplemental tree planting on parcels being development. These integrated development plans are now required in the Holmes Point Overlay area. FHNA advocates that they be required citywide, and also advocates that they be posted online so that citizens will be able to review and comment on them easily.

Tree management by homeowners: Currently, the code allows homeowners outside of the Holmes Point area to remove up to two healthy trees per year without needing a permit (in addition to the removal of nuisance or hazard trees). Proposed code amendments would give homeowners on lots larger than 10,000 sq ft a right to remove more trees annually; FHNA does not oppose this relaxation of tree removal requirements subject to three conditions: 

    1. No more than 4 healthy trees should be removed each year without a permit, regardless of lot size;
    2. Homeowners should give notice to the City when they remove trees (so that the City can track what is happening with the tree canopy); and
    3. Landmark trees should not be removed without a permit (in order to ensure that homeowners who want to sell to developers don’t have an incentive to remove protected trees before the sale). FHNA has suggested that permits be granted for the removal if a Landmark tree is a nuisance or a hazard or if its removal will leave 40% canopy cover over the property or a tree credit density of 100 credits/acres (whichever is less) AND at least one windfirm Landmark tree remains on the property.

Once again we encourage you to send comments to the Council as soon as possible. You can endorse FHNA’s comments, or critique them, or add additional perspectives. It’s your right to express your views and we hope you exercise it.