Finn Hill Safety Program – vote for your favorite project by December 4


The Neighborhood Safety Program (NSP) gives Kirkland residents opportunities to identify needed improvements in each neighborhood to increase pedestrian and bicycle safety.  We presented information about NSP at our neighborhood online meeting on 9/23 and asked for community feedback on needed safety improvements.  That along with feedback from the extensive Safer Routes to School initiative has provided us with 3 priority projects.  

Want to know what those 3 projects are?
  
We are exploring adding a rapid flashing beacon to one of the crosswalks below.  If you are unsure of what a rapid flashing beacon is, watch this short demonstration video.

  • 84th Ave NE and NE 141st St
  • 84th Ave NE and NE 129th Pl
  • 84th Ave NE and NE 128th St

What do you think? Take the survey by December 4

You can help select the Finn Hill project that is presented to the city for improvements by completing this short survey.  If you have any questions or comments, you can submit them to amanda@finnhillalliance.org

Holiday Greenery – FHNA fundraiser December 5 – 6

Kathy Fries, chatelaine of the Champagne Creek Gardens, is offering cuttings from her evergreen trees and shrubs that you can use to spruce up your home (literally) for the holidays. They’ll be available for pickup at the cul de sac of Champagne Point Place from 10am to 3pm Saturday, December 5, and Sunday, December 6, as shown in the following map.

Stop by and serve yourself, but please make a donation to FHNA for each bouquet of greens that you pick up. We recommend $5/bouquet – but we’ll happily take more. If you donate to FHNA for Giving Tuesday, no extra contribution is expected: we thank you for your generosity! And we thank Kathy Fries for offering these bouquets for the benefit of FHNA.

So, channel your inner Martha Stewart, brighten your house for the holidays, and help out FHNA all at once. Questions? Click here.

A Field Guide to Kirkland’s Tree Code Amendments

By Scott Morris, FHNA president

As many of you know, the Kirkland City Council is now reviewing proposed changes to the City’s tree code (Kirkland Zoning Code Chapter 95). The Council expects to adopt code amendments sometime in the Spring.

It’s not too late to get involved

Tree codes are complicated, but this overview is designed to help you understand the issues with minimal brain damage. This “field guide”:

  • provides a quick status report on the Council’s review of the code revisions 
  • summarizes the recommendations that the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance has submitted about the tree code, and 
  • outlines the key issues that the Council is wrestling with. 

At the end of the overview, you’ll find a link to videos of the Council’s discussions so far, a calendar of upcoming Council discussions, and links to Council members and key City staff so that you can submit written comments.

Fair warning! This overview takes about 12 minutes to read. That’s a lifetime in today’s distracted world. But if you grab a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) and plow ahead, you’ll finish up with a good understanding of what’s going on.

Status Report

The Kirkland Planning Commission recommended code revisions to the City Council at the end of last year. Council members began discussing the most significant issues with City staff in study sessions and Council meetings in January. These discussions are scheduled to continue in Council meetings over the next two months. 

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. (See below for City Council email addresses.) 

Note: After the Council completes work on the citywide tree ordinance, it will consider amendments to the Holmes Point Overlay tree ordinance, which applies solely to the Finn Hill neighborhood west of Juanita Drive. Changes to the citywide code don’t directly affect the HPO.

Kirkland’s tree canopy goal

The City’s comprehensive plan includes a tree canopy goal of 40% coverage. You can learn more about the rationale for this goal in the City’s urban forest management report.  The 40% goal has been in place for many years and is consistent with the tree canopy objectives of many other cities. When the City annexed Finn Hill, Juanita and Kingsgate in 2011, Kirkland’s canopy rose to 40.7%. By 2019, however, the canopy had dropped to roughly 38% — a decline in the size of our tree canopy of nearly 7%. 

FHNA’s position

We need a tree code and an urban forest management policy that will help Kirkland get back to 40% tree canopy coverage. FHNA submitted a letter to the Council in January outlining our views on the City’s tree code.  In our letter, we said that the code amendments being proposed will be a step backwards in regard to protecting Kirkland’s tree canopy, unless the Council adopts three revisions:

  • Expand the number of Landmark trees (defined below) eligible for the City’s highest retention standards 
  • Bolster tree planting requirements following development activity
  • Impose reasonable limits on homeowners’ ability to cut down Landmark trees

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

The key issues

A good way to understand the issues in the Kirkland tree ordinance is to break them into two groups – one dealing with tree removals and new tree plantings when property is being developed and the other dealing with tree removals and mitigation by homeowners who aren’t redeveloping their property.

The following summary starts with the development scenarios. It describes the current code provisions and then highlights proposed changes.

Tree regulations for properties being developed

Current ordinance

Tree removal and retention – Any permit application to develop property must include a plan showing which trees will be retained, removed, and planted. Healthy “significant” trees (trees with trunks at least 6” diameter at breast height) must be retained “to the maximum extent possible” if they are located in setbacks (front, back and side yards); healthy significant trees located elsewhere on a parcel must be retained when “feasible”. In order to save high retention value trees, City staff can require minor adjustments to building locations as well as adjustments to the location of drives, paths, and utilities.

New tree planting – If, following development, the property will have fewer than 30 tree credits per acre (8 credits on a ¼ acre lot), the developer must plant new trees to meet the 30 credits/acre requirement. 

Tree credits are based on the trunk diameters of trees. For example, a 30” inch tree is worth 11 credits, a 16” tree is worth 4 credits, etc. Newly planted 4’ tall native trees and 2” diameter deciduous trees earn one credit each.

Problems –

Retention: Today, very few trees that aren’t in setbacks are saved, particularly on smaller lots, primarily due to building size, access requirements, and utility installations. Large trees are most vulnerable because their root structures may extend over a significant portion of a lot. 

Tree plans can be changed during what’s called “phased” review, allowing a builder to defer final retention decisions on some trees until site grading begins or individual homesites are designed. Trees may be removed – in accordance with regulations – during construction for many reasons, but neighbors often think they are being cut down illegally.

It’s not just neighbors who are frustrated. Homebuilders are unhappy with the current rules because they don’t know, when they purchase a property, which trees they’ll ultimately be required by the City to retain. This can lead to multiple permit review cycles, adding risk and delay to the construction process, as well as increasing the price to the final cost of the home.

Planting: Some trees that developers plant aren’t particularly valuable to the community – e.g. arborvitae. Also, 30 credits/acre isn’t enough to meet the City’s overall 40% tree canopy cover objective.

Proposed ordinance amendments

Tree Retention –

Landmark trees: The Planning Commission has recommended that mature, very large trees — dubbed Landmark trees — must be retained unless doing so would prevent a builder from constructing a home of a minimum width or depth (e.g. 40’ width at front) or running utilities to a home using best building practices.

The Planning Commission and homebuilders have recommended that Landmark trees be defined as trees in good to excellent condition with trunk diameters of 30” or more (about 11% of Kirkland’s trees). FHNA wants the definition of a Landmark tree to be expanded to cover trees with trunks of 26” diameter or greater. We estimate that this definition would extend the highest degree of tree protection to about 18% of Kirkland’s trees.. So far, Council members seem to support setting the definition at 26” – but some Council members are concerned about how this definition will affect the ability of homeowners to remove large trees on their property (see below).

Note: Establishing higher retention standards for Landmark trees may increase the number of these exceptional trees that are retained during property development, but many will still be lost, particularly on smaller lots that can’t accommodate both the root systems of large trees and a new house, with its patio and driveway.

Groves: The current code provides extra protection for groves of trees, which are defined as three or more significant trees with overlapping crowns. The Planning Commission’s proposed amendments would narrow this definition to require that each tree but in good to excellent condition and have a trunk diameter of 12” or more. The Council appears willing to accept the revised definition.

Tier 2 trees: These are significant trees that are smaller than Landmark trees and aren’t in groves. The Planning Commission proposed that healthy Tier 2 trees should be retained if they are located in setbacks and doing so won’t interfere with certain guidelines for home construction. These guidelines aren’t as strict as those that apply to the retention of Landmark trees and groves. (E.g. a building’s width can’t be reduced below 50’ in order to save a Tier 2 tree, but the City can reduce it to 40’ in order to save a Landmark tree.) The Council hasn’t discussed these recommendations yet.

Integrated Design Plans (IDPs): City staff have also recommended that homebuilders submit IDPs, which will require that final tree retention plans be made available for public comment when development permit applications are filed. Revisions to these tree plans during the construction process would be subject to public comment and even appeals to hearing examiners. FHNA lobbied successfully for an IDP requirement in the Holmes Point Overlay area a couple of years ago, and we support requiring IDPs citywide. The Council seems to endorse this idea as well.

New Tree planting – The Commission accepted a staff recommendation that new tree planting requirements continue to be pegged at achieving 30 credits/acre at the end of the development project. FHNA believes that the standard must be lifted to 50 credits/acre, which is more likely to restore tree canopy coverage to 40% in the long run. Builders don’t disagree with a 50 credits/acre standard. FHNA recommends that a meaningful portion of new plantings should consist of native species, notably conifers, to preserve local character.  City staff, FHNA and builders all agree that certain species – such as arbor vitae — should not qualify for planting credits. The Council hasn’t discussed this issue yet

Tree removal by homeowners (not as part of property development)

Current ordinance

A homeowner may remove two healthy significant trees per year without a permit, up to the last two healthy significant trees on the property. Additionally, trees can be removed if shown to be hazardous. Trees in the public right-of-way may be removed only with a permit. Taking off more than 25% of a tree’s crown is treated as a removal.

Problems – 

Several homeowners want a higher tree removal allowance for larger properties, on the theory that they have more trees than smaller parcels. Some owners have also sought permission to remove more than the prescribed annual quota as part of a landscaping plan that contemplates replanting. 

Proposed ordinance amendments

The proposed tree code revision allows homeowners to cut down Tier 2 trees each year without a permit as follows:

  • Lots up to 10,000 square feet: 2 trees
  • Lots 10,000 – 20,000 square feet: 3 trees
  • Lots 20,000 square feet or more: 4 trees

The rules for homeowner removal of Landmark trees are more complicated. The Planning Commission has suggested that homeowners be allowed to remove just one Landmark tree every 2 years, with a requirement for some degree of new tree planting; also the property couldn’t be developed for new construction for 2 years after a Landmark tree is removed. The idea here is that efforts to require developers to protect Landmark trees will be undermined if the developers can convince homeowners to chop down those trees before selling their properties for new construction. 

A majority of the Council members seem to support the Planning Commission recommendations and would extend the development moratorium to 4 years following a Landmark tree removal. But some members are struggling with these measures, particularly if Landmark trees are defined as having trunk diameters starting at 26”, rather than 30”.

FHNA believes that Landmark tree warrant special treatment. Landmark trees provide exceptional environmental benefits and define community character. For these reasons, some cities simply ban removals of such trees.  FHNA previously proposed that Landmark trees be removed only with a permit. However, to balance homeowner’s interests with community goals, FHNA is now suggesting that homeowners be allowed to remove up to 2 Landmark trees every 4 years, with requirements for new tree planting to mitigate the loss of the Landmark trees. 

Other issues

The following issues don’t fall neatly into proposed tree ordinance amendments but are items that FHNA would like the City address as part on an effective urban tree canopy program:

Right-of-way and public trees

The City should make a greater effort to retain right-of-way trees. It appears that City standards for curbs and sidewalks are often applied without regard to tree retention. FHNA and the builders agree the City should also invest more robustly in replanting on City-owned property like parks, promoting community education and outreach programs, and enhancing staff resources collect data and expand tree programs.

Enforcement

Inspections — Better enforcement of the Kirkland tree code will also improve tree retention. The City recently allocated funds for an additional inspector, but FHNA believes more properly trained staff are required to ensure that rules are observed. In particular, FHNA recommends that developers be required to schedule an inspection before property clearing and grading begins.

Protective fencing – The tree code currently requires fencing around protected trees so that the soil over their root systems won’t be compacted by heavy equipment. New code language attempts to specify that fences should be immoveable. Builders assert, however, that fences must be moved during construction for a variety of legitimate reasons. FHNA suggests fence movement be permitted only the extent justified in the developer’s tree, which should specify mitigation measures (e.g., load dispersion) to minimize tree damage.

Penalties

Penalties for tree ordinance violations aren’t set out in the ordinance itself; instead they’re listed in the City’s Municipal Code. The staff favors strengthening penalties for tree infractions and FHNA supports doing so as soon as possible.

Transparency

The IDP process can be a useful tool for neighbors to comment on a tree retention if they can easily access the plan and associated materials. The City should put these documents on its website so that residents don’t have to go the City Hall to view them.

Completion bonds

Several development projects in Kirkland have stalled after trees have been cleared, leaving bare sites that are subject to slides. FHNA believes that subdivisions or projects on steep slopes should not be permitted unless a replanting bond is posted – so that, if work is suspended for a significant period, the City can install erosion barriers and landscaping.

Want to learn more?

The City Council has discussed the tree ordinance at its meetings of January 21, February 4, and February 18. You can find the staff briefing memos for those meetings and watch videos the Council’s discussions here. Click on the “agenda” link to find staff memos. Click on the “video” link to open the viewer. (The viewer page has an agenda as well. Click on the agenda next to the viewer to bring up the tree code discussion in the video viewer.)

Speak up!

The Council plans to work through more tree code ordinance issues at its meetings on March 17, April 7, and April 21 (subject to change). 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 that right. 

You can direct your email to the general Council email account and to each Council 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

We’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Send us a copy of your comments at board@finnhillalliance.org.

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.

Kirkland Tree Ordinance Amendments – Summary of Issues

By Scott Morris

Following is a summary of the Kirkland’s current citywide tree ordinance (Kirkland Zoning Code Chapter 95) and the amendments now being considered by City officials. Also summarized below are recommendations that FHNA and the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties have submitted to Kirkland’s planning officials.

Note: this summary doesn’t describe the current Holmes Point Overlay ordinance (Kirkland Zoning Code Chapter 70) or proposed revisions to that ordinance (to be considered after the citywide tree ordinance is amended). Certain tree retention standards in the HPO are and likely will remain more stringent than those in the citywide tree ordinance.

Tree removal and replanting during development

Current ordinance

Tree removal and retention – Any permit application to develop property must include a plan showing which trees will be retained, removed, and planted. Healthy “significant” trees (trees with trunks at least 6” diameter at breast height) should be retained “to the maximum extent possible,” if they are located in setbacks (front, back and side yards) ; healthy significant trees located elsewhere on a parcel must be retained when “feasible”. City staff can require minor adjustments to building locations as well as adjustments to the location of drives, paths, and utilities in order to save high retention value trees.

New tree planting – If, following development, the property will have fewer than 30 tree credits per acre (8 credits on a ¼ acre lot), the developer must plant new trees to meet the 30 credits/acre requirement. Tree credits are based on the trunk diameters of trees. For example, a 30” inch tree is worth 11 credits, a 16” tree is worth 4 credits, etc. New 4’ tall native trees and 2” diameter deciduous trees earn one credit each.

Problems

Retention: Today, very few trees that aren’t in setbacks are saved, particularly on smaller lots, primarily due to  building size, access requirements, and utility installations. Large trees are most vulnerable because their root structures may extend over a significant portion of a lot. And tree plans can be changed during what’s called “phased” review, allowing a builder to defer final retention decisions on some trees until site grading begins or individual homesites  are designed. Trees may be removed – in accordance with regulations – during construction for many reasons, but neighbors often think they are being cut down illegally.

And homebuilders are unhappy because they don’t know, when they purchase a property, which trees they’ll be required by the City to retain. This can lead to multiple review cycles by City staff, adding risk and delay to the construction process, as well as increasing the price to the final cost of the home.

Planting: Some trees that developers plant aren’t particularly valuable to the community – e.g. arborvitae. Also, 30 credits/acre isn’t enough to meet the City’s overall 40% tree canopy cover objective.

Proposed ordinance amendments

Tree Retention –

Landmark/Tier 1 trees: FHNA and the builders agree that exceptional trees — Landmark or Tier 1 trees (30” trunk diameters or more) — must be retained unless doing so would prevent a builder from constructing a home of a minimum width or depth (e.g. 40’ width at front) or running utilities to a home using best building practices. City staff supports this proposal. The City estimates that about 11% of trees on private land in Kirkland qualify as Landmark or Tier 1 trees.

Tier 2 trees: City staff have proposed that healthy significant trees smaller than Landmark trees – Tier 2 trees — and located in setbacks should be retained subject to more slightly relaxed guidelines for home construction (e.g. a building’s width can’t be reduced below 50’ in order to save a Tier 2 tree).

Integrated Design Plans (IDPs): City staff have also recommended that homebuilders submit IDPs, which will require that final tree retention plans be made available for public comment when development permit applications are filed. Revisions to these tree plans during the construction process would be subject to  public comment and even appeals to hearing examiners.

New Tree planting – City staff continue to recommend planting as needed to achieve 30 credits/acre at the end of the development project.

FHNA comments on proposed amendments

Landmark/Tier 1 Trees – We strongly support more protection for Landmark trees, even though we recognize that most of these trees will not be saved given both current zoning (smaller lots) and the physics of constructing homes on wooded lots (homes occupy space where trees previously stood). We would like the definition of a Landmark tree to be expanded to cover trees with trunks of 27” diameter or greater. We estimate that this broader definition would extend the highest degree of tree protection to 16% of Kirkland’s trees. The builders prefer a Landmark Tree definition that covers only trees with trunk diameters of 30” or more.

Tier 2 trees – FHNA and the builders initially proposed that Tier 2 tree retention standards apply to any Tier 2 trees in a development up to 50 tree credits/acre. City staff prefers retaining all Tier 2 trees if they are in setbacks, subject to several limitations (e.g., developers would be entitled to the greater of a 50’ square building pad or a pad that is 90% of the distance between side yards). The builders are concerned that such a standard is open to interpretation and leads to unpredictability. This is probably the most difficult open issue on the list of ordinance amendments. FHNA has supported the staff’s recommendation with the caveat that staff and the builders should make one more effort to refine the Tier 2 retention standards so that the planning process is more efficient and objective.

Integrated Development Plans – FHNA advocated successfully in 2017 for the adoption of IDPs in the Holmes Point Overlay area. We support requiring IDPs throughout the City as well. The builders have voiced reservations about IDPs, noting that tree plans are prepared before work begins on a site, and some trees marked for retention might need to be removed due to development issues that could not be foreseen. We have encouraged the builders and staff to discuss solutions that enable some IDP revisions during construction without undermining the integrity of an approved tree plan. However, we believe any proposal to remove a Tier 1 tree that was originally marked for retention should be subject to public comment and appeal.

Planting – City staff propose to retain the 30 tree credit/acre standard, saying that a higher tree density standard could result in over-plantings on small lots. FHNA and the builders support lifting the standard to 50 credits/acre because some newly planted trees will die or be removed by owners before they mature. FHNA recommends that a meaningful portion of new plantings should consist of native species, notably conifers, to preserve local character.  City staff, FHNA and builders all agree that certain species – such as arbor vitae — should not qualify for planting credits.

Tree removal by homeowners (not as part of property development)

Current ordinance

A homeowner may remove two healthy significant trees per year without a permit, up to the last two healthy significant trees on the property. Additionally, trees can be removed if shown to be hazardous. Trees in the public right-of-way may be removed only with a permit. Taking off more than 25% of a tree’s crown is treated as a removal.

Problems – Several homeowners want a higher tree removal allowance for larger properties, on the theory that they have more trees than smaller parcels. Some owners have also sought permission to remove more than the prescribed annual quota as part of a landscaping plan that contemplates replanting.

Proposed ordinance amendments

The proposed tree code revision allows for the removal of Tier 2 trees (healthy significant trees smaller than Landmark/Tier 1 trees) without a permit as follows:

Lot sizeAnnual Quota of Tier 2 tree
removals with notice
Up to 10,000 square feet2
10,000 – 20,000 square feet4
20,000 square feet or greater6

Owners of wooded lots larger than 35,000 square feet can also remove trees based on a forest management plan (designed to permit removal of overgrowth but preserve wooded areas perpetually). The proposed amendments would not allow the removal of  Landmark trees except with a permit. Code language concerning the removal of hazardous trees and right-of-way trees would not change.

FHNA comments

We don’t oppose adjusting the tree removal quota by lot size, but logic suggests that the minimum quota should also be adjusted, so that larger lots larger should retain at least four to six trees (absent a permit to remove more). We support protecting Landmark trees from non-permit removals; if such trees weren’t protected, homeowners on the verge of selling their properties would be encouraged to cut down those trees, frustrating efforts to require developers to retain them.

Other issues

The following issues don’t fall neatly into proposed tree ordinance amendments but are items that FHNA would like the City address as part on an effective urban tree canopy program:

Right-of-way and public trees

The City should make a greater effort to retain right-of-way trees. It appears that City standards for curbs and sidewalks are often applied without regard to tree retention. FHNA and the builders agree the City should also invest more robustly in replanting on City-owned property like parks, promoting community education and outreach programs, and enhancing staff resources collect data and expand tree programs.

Enforcement

Inspections — Better enforcement of the Kirkland tree code will also improve tree retention. The City recently allocated funds for an additional inspector, but FHNA believes more properly trained staff are required to ensure that rules are observed. In particular, FHNA recommends that developers be required to schedule an inspection before property clearing and grading begins.

Protective fencing – The tree code currently requires fencing around protected trees so that the soil over their root systems won’t be compacted by heavy equipment. New code language attempts to specify that fences should be immoveable. Builders assert, however, that fences must be moved during construction for a variety of legitimate reasons. FHNA suggests fence movement be permitted only the extent justified in the developer’s tree, which should specify mitigation measures (e.g., load dispersion) to minimize tree damage.

Penalties

Penalties for tree ordinance violations aren’t set out in the ordinance itself; instead they’re listed in the City’s Municipal Code. The staff favors strengthening penalties for tree infractions and FHNA supports doing so as soon as possible.

Transparency

The IDP process can be a useful tool for neighbors to comment on a tree retention if they can easily access the plan and associated materials. The City should put these documents on its website so that residents don’t have to go the City Hall to view them.

Completion bonds

Several development projects in Kirkland have stalled after trees have been cleared, leaving bare sites that are subject to slides. FHNA believes that subdivisions or projects on steep slopes should not be permitted unless a replanting bond is posted – so that, if work is suspended for a significant period, the City can install erosion barriers and landscaping.