Tree Code Amendments

STATUS - This project is currently on hold until further notice.

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Tree protection ordinances are one of the ways cities balance urban growth with preserving a healthy, sustainable and livable community.

The scope of this code amendment project is to

  • Support the goals established in Kirkland’s Comprehensive Plan (community visioning exercise shown at right)
  • Meet objectives in the Urban Forestry Strategic Management Plan(PDF, 3MB)
  • Address issues and challenges that have arisen since the last tree code revision in 2010
  • Update the code so that it is effective and practical to use
Meeting Information

View meeting packet information for Planning Commission (PC), Houghton Community Council (HCC), and /or the City Council by clicking on the appropriate tab below

PC

HCC

 

City Council

Where are we in the process and how do I access the draft code?

The project started in June 2018 with Planning Commission (PC) study sessions. The PC reviewed background information, looked at progressively complex code issues and studied data/staff analysis to consider potential changes to the code. The Houghton Community Council and City Council received briefings throughout the project as it progressed.

From late 2018 to mid-2019, staff held outreach events, met with stakeholders, conducted analyses of emerging code concepts and developed preliminary code language. A joint public hearing with the Planning Commission and Houghton Community Council was held on November 5, 2019 to obtain public feedback on the draft code.

The Planning Commission delivered their recommendations to the City Council for amendments to the tree code(PDF, 586KB) at a January 21, 2020 study session. Key points of the Planning Commission's recommendations include: 

  • A new Landmark tree designation
  • Increased tree removal allowances in relationship to property size
  • A new condition rating system for trees on development sites
  • Requirements for tree retention decisions early in the short plat/subdivision design process
  • Specific rules on which trees to retain on development sites and how

In early 2020, the City Council began to consider changes to the draft code, when the project was put on hold until further notice due to the COVID pandemic response. In the interim, the City Council adopted new rules for the enforcement of current tree codes in Kirkland Municipal Code 1.12.100, which went into effect in May 2020. 

The City Council resumed the tree code amendment project at the May 18, 2021 City Council meeting. The project is expected to continue through the fall. 

What are some of the main issues?

Each short article below presents an issue involved with updating the tree code. These articles appeared in This Week in Kirkland, the City's weekly online newsletter as part of the public outreach related to the tree code amendment project. 

Is the current tree code effective? The draft code?

BOTH CURRENT & PROPOSED CODE: This comparison chart(DOCX, 71KB) indicates that the proposed code results in more tree removal/less tree retention than the current code. These results and the effectiveness of the current code are based on the studies described below.

CURRENT CODE: The 2018 Urban Tree Canopy Assessment(PDF, 3MB) compares current tree canopy cover to previous canopy data. Examining trends in canopy gain or loss indicates how and where to strategically adjust our policies/codes and focus our tree planting and public education efforts. The 2018 assessment shows:

  • There was a decrease in Kirkland’s tree canopy cover from 2010-2017, falling from an average 40% city-wide canopy cover to 38%, a loss of over 270 acres in tree canopy cover.
  • The highest percentage of canopy loss occurred in single family residential areas, which is Kirkland's largest land use area.   
  • When looking at the pre-annexed city boundary, canopy cover increased from 32% in 2002, to 36% in 2010, then down to 35% in 2018, showing that within the same boundary area, Kirkland’s canopy cover did not drop dramatically between the last 2 measurement cycles. 

CURRENT CODE: The 2018 Field Study evaluates the effectiveness of the tree code. It is the first study since the code was adopted in 2006. Staff examined trees on 159 single family lots resulting from 54 short plats developed between 2008 and 2013. Based on these examples, retention of larger trees on typical single family development sites was quite low, but none of the retained trees were removed after the 5 Year Maintenance Agreements had expired. Trees that were required to be planted as a result of development also remained on the properties.

PROPOSED CODE: The 2019 Draft Code Development Review evaluates proposed code concepts resulting from a six-month collaboration of members from the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance and Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. Using 22 approved single family building permits, staff evaluated "real-world" tree retention under the concepts suggested by the stakeholder group. The exercise indicates that compared to the current tree code standards, the new concepts resulted in:

  • No substantive increase in the retention of trees greater than 30 inches diameter trunk  
  • A significant loss of trees under 30 inches trunk diameter
  • A significant reduction of tree credits (allowing greater tree removal/less tree planting) when "capping" the credits-per-acre as suggested by the stakeholder group   

How can I get involved?

The public hearing has been closed for written and oral testimony and the Planning Commission has made their recommendations on the draft code to the City Council. You can view all public comments on the tree code amendment project received up to December 12, 2019. Please visit this web page for updates, attend public meetings, or contact staff for more information. Thank you for being engaged in your community!

  • In-person comments may be given under Items from the Audience portion of the City Council meetings
  • Contact the City Council through the Our Kirkland customer service portal