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Tree Code Updates

Tree Code Amendments
Kirkland Zoning Code Chapter 95
File No. CAM18-00408

Project Location: 

Project Description: 
Establishing a tree protection ordinance is one of the ways cities balance urban growth, maintain a livable community and preserve community character. The purpose of the 2018 tree code revision is to support the goals established in Kirkland’s Comprehensive Plan and the Urban Forestry Strategic Management Plan, to address issues and challenges that have arisen since the last tree code revision (2010) and to update the code so that it is effective and practical to use.

Project Status
Since June 2018, the Planning Commission has held several study sessions to review background information related to the City’s tree code, looking at progressively complex code issues and considering potential changes to the code. The Houghton Community Council and City Council received briefings on tree code issues throughout the project.

At the November 8, 2018 Planning Commission meeting, staff was directed to consider input from a newly formed collaboration between the development community and citizens from the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance. Staff met with the stakeholder group through September 2019, returning to the Planning Commission and Houghton Community Council with progress reports on the stakeholder's general tree code concepts.The Planning Commission directed staff to proceed with draft code changes at their May 23, 2019 meeting and incorporate feedback from the greater community at a joint Planning Commission-Houghton Community Council public hearing on November 5, 2019.

In December 2019, staff delivered the Planning Commission's recommendations for amendments to the tree code to the City Council at a January 21, 2020 study session. The City Council is considering further changes to the draft code.

A brief list of amendments under consideration include:

  • A new Landmark tree designation with a higher level of protection than other trees
  • Increased tree removal allowances in relationship to property size
  • Limiting trees that are required to be retained on development sites by their condition using a new rating system
  • Making tree retention decisions early in the short plat/subdivision design process
  • Specific rules on how trees can be retained on development sites

This Week in Kirkland Tree Articles

Since early 2019, urban forestry-related articles appeared in This Week in Kirkland posts. Each short article provides background information to help understand the issues involved with updating the tree code.

Canopy cover (December 19 2018)
Tree species diversity (January 10 2019)
Urban forest succession, or uneven-aged trees (January 23 2019)
The urban forest management "toolbox" (March 20 2019)
Emerging issues and adjustments to the tree code (March 28 2019)
Preserving mature trees (April 11 2019)

Field Study Findings

With Innovation Intern funding, the Planning and Building Department hired a 2018 summer intern to evaluate the effectiveness of the citywide tree code. This was the first study on tree code effectiveness since the code was adopted in 2006. The intern examined trees on 159 single family lots resulting from 54 short plats developed between 2008 and 2013. Project findings were presented at the August 9th, 2018 Planning Commission meeting. Based on these examples, retention of larger trees on typical single family development sites was quite low and no trees were removed after 5 Year Maintenance Agreements had expired.

Canopy Cover Analysis

The 2018 Urban Tree Canopy Assessment (PDF 2.6 MB) maps current canopy data, shows canopy cover differences between areas such as land use zoning and neighborhoods and over time. For example:

  • There was a slight decrease in Kirkland’s tree canopy cover from 2010-2017, falling from 40% city-wide average canopy cover to 38%. That’s fairly low considering the unprecedented development that occurred in Kirkland during the same period.
  • The highest percentage of canopy loss occurred in the Single Family residential land use area.   
  • When looking at the pre-annexed city boundary, canopy cover increased from 32% in 2002 to 36% in 2010, then 35% in 2018, an indication that within the same boundary area, Kirkland’s canopy cover did not drop dramatically between the last 2 measurement cycles. 

Analysis of Recent Development Projects
In May 2019, staff gathered 22 recently approved single family building permits to evaluate retention under the current code compared to concepts suggested by the stakeholder group. The exercise indicates that compared to the current Chapter 95 standards, the stakeholder-proposed approach:

  • Resulted in a significant loss of trees under 30 inches diameter trunk and significant loss of associated tree credits when using a credits-per-acre quota.
  • Did not show a substantive increase in the retention of trees greater than 30 inches diameter trunk.   

Community Outreach Events

August 31, 2018 Juanita Farmer's Market
September 8, 2018 Crossing Kirkland event along the Cross Kirkland Corridor, opportunities for Q & A
October 6, 2018 City Hall for All, presentation and opportunities for Q & A
October 10, 2018 KAN meeting presentation and opportunities for Q & A
Note: Watch for community outreach event announcement in August 2019

Public Notice
If you would like to be kept informed via email of upcoming public meetings and meeting packet information, sign up for the Citywide Tree Code Amendments ListServlinks to external site.

Previous Public Meetings
June 28, 2018 Planning Commission meeting
July 12, 2018 Planning Commission meeting
August 9, 2018 Planning Commission meeting
August 27, 2018 Houghton Community Council meeting
September 13, 2018 Planning Commission meeting
September 27, 2018 Planning Commission meeting
November 8, 2018 Planning Commission meeting
November 20, 2018 City Council meeting
November 26, 2018 Joint Planning Commission and Houghton Community Council meeting
February 14, 2019 Planning Commission meeting
February 25, 2019 Houghton Community Council meeting
April 25, 2019 Joint Planning Commission and Houghton Community Council meeting
May 23, 2019 Planning Commission meeting
May 30, 2019 Houghton Community Council meeting
July 11, 2019 Planning Commission meeting
July 22, 2019 Houghton Community Council meeting

Upcoming Meetings
Due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, future City Council meetings for continued study of the tree code amendments have not been scheduled. Please check the online City Council Agenda Calendar for meeting updates.

How to 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. All public comments on the tree code amendment project received up to December 12, 2019 can be viewed at this link. Please visit this web page for updates, attend public meetings, or contact staff for more information. Thank you for being engaged in your community!
-Subscribe to receive email announcements
-In-person comments may be given under Items from the Audience portion of the City Council meetings
-Submit written comments to Deb Powers, Urban Forester, at dpowers@kirklandwa.govlinks to external site
-Contact the City Council through the OurKirkland customer service portal 

Benefits of Urban Trees (United Nations)links to external site in a short (one-minute) video
Trees and Air Quality (United Nations)links to external site 3-minute YouTube on how air quality standards relate to trees
Cascading Benefits (Nature Conservancy)links to external site looks at how urban forests, stormwater and human health are connected
Tree Protection on Construction and Development Sites (Oregon State University)links to external site a PNW best management guidebook
Outside Our Doorslinks to external site The Nature Conservancy's Puget Sound context for livability

Planning & Building Department
123 5th Avenue, Kirkland WA 98033

General Inquiries:
Contact us via the: 
Our Kirkland Customer Service Portal
T. 425.587.3600 | F. 425.587.3232