Tree and Hillside Protection – Holmes Point

Tree and Hillside Protection – Holmes Point

The unique topography of Holmes Point bluff, along the northern Lake Washington shoreline, makes it particularly susceptible to erosion and landslides. In fact, approximately 60% of the Holmes Point Planning Area is classified by

King County as landslide prone. After a series of landslides in the zone–including at least 11 landslides in a recent two year period–the community recognized the need to educate homeowners and developers on the risks of disturbing trees and native ground cover.

After four years of close cooperation between DCNA, the King County Council, and local residents, the Council passed the Northshore Significant Tree Ordinance in 1998, and the zoning Holmes Point SDO in 1999.

Holmes Point Zoning

The Holmes Point SDO (Significant District Overlay), short for the Holmes Point Site Disturbance P-Suffix Development Condition NS-P23, was adopted by King County in 1999 after scientific study, hard work by members of Denny Creek Neighborhood Alliance (DCNA), and the vision and leadership of King County Councilmembers Maggi Fimia and Jane Hague. The law applies to all parcels in the Holmes Point and upper Denny areas.

The ordinance aims to reduce the severity and destructiveness of erosion and number of landslides, by retaining large trees and part of the natural vegetation when land is developed, including the more level land at the head waters of Denny Creek. This helps retain water and protects against destructive storm runoff. It also helps maintain the character of Holmes Point, with its wildlife habitats and Class II salmonid bearing stream.

The ordinance allows approximately 2/5ths of an R-4 zoned lot to be cleared completely and covered with impervious surfaces; with a like amount which can be landscaped, with all trees removed except for significant (the largest) trees. The remaining 25 percent of the lot must be left undisturbed. Even so, significant trees can be removed for safety reasons and trimmed for view.

The Holmes Point Planning Area consists of the land south of St. Edwards Park and west of Juanita Drive. South of NE 120th Street, the eastern boundary runs along 80th Avenue NE, and then due south of it to the Lake Washington shoreline.

The SDO limits how much you may disturb trees and native ground cover on your property. The formulas are different depending on lot size, but in general:

  • You must get a permit before cutting, pruning, trimming or removing any significant tree.
  • A significant tree is an existing healthy tree that is not a hazard, and when measured 4 1/2 feet above grade has a minimum diameter of 8 inches for evergreens and 12 inches for deciduous trees.
  • You may not top (i.e., remove the tops of) primary stems or prune 20% or more of the vegetative mass of a significant tree.
  • You may not cut major roots of a significant tree unless done for transplantation by a certified arborist.
  • You must keep at least 25% of your parcel covered by undisturbed native ground vegetation.
  • You may cover only a certain percentage of your lot with impervious surface.
  • Depending on your plans, King County may require you to submit the assessment of, or mitigation plans designed by, a certified arborist before issuing a permit.

Permit application runs through King County Department of Development and Environmental Services. While the law allows for exceptions, some people continue to violate it either deliberately or through ignorance. But it is important that neighbors call attention to violations. It does make a difference, not only to your property but also to your neighbors.

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