Amendments to Finn Hill tree ordinance – Important Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, April 27

Amendments to Finn Hill tree ordinance – Important Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, April 27

The Kirkland Planning Commission will hold a study session on Thursday, April 27, to consider amendments to the Holmes Point Overlay ordinance – the special tree preservation ordinance that currently applies to Finn Hill properties located west of Juanita Drive. The Planning Commission meeting will start at 7pm in the City Council chamber of City Hall, 123 Fifth Avenue in downtown Kirkland.

If you live the Holmes Point area, you are urged to attend this meeting. The Holmes Point Overlay ordinance (HPO for short) has a significant impact on the future of your neighborhood and on your rights as a property owner. And if you live anywhere on Finn Hill and are concerned about our tree canopy, you should also attend and consider whether the HPO should be expanded to cover additional areas of Finn Hill. This is an important meeting: although no formal action will be taken by the Planning Commission on Thursday night, Commissioners are expected to provide policy guidance to City staff on how to revise the HPO. The Commissioners’ comments will therefore shape how the HPO may be amended in the near future.

You have the right to provide comments to the Planning Commission at the beginning of the meeting. To do so, you should sign up on the speakers’ sheet right before the meeting begins.

The Planning Department staff has written a memo about potential revisions to the HPO and the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance has submitted its own letter in response to the staff. On some issues we agree with the staff’s preliminary recommendations. On other points, we don’t.

We encourage you to read these materials in advance of the meeting. The HPO is a fairly technical ordinance, however, so we thought it would be helpful to provide a quick overview of its key terms, why amendments may be useful, and the principal points on which there’s agreement between City staff and FHNA – – and the points on which we have divergent views.

The HPO as currently written

Adopted by the King County Council in 1998, before Finn Hill was annexed by the City, the HPO was intended to minimize the risk of landslides and preserve neighborhood character by establishing rules for the preservation of trees, particularly when properties were being developed for more housing. (Click here to see the City’s HPO summary and here to access the ordinance itself.)

The ordinance includes 3 key provisions to protect tree canopy:

* It establishes limits on how much of a lot’s square footage can be covered by impervious surfaces (a house, a patio, a driveway, etc).

* It requires that at least 25% of a lot be designated as a Protected Natural Area ( PNA), which would have robust tree cover and be planted with native vegetation

* It prohibits the removal of “significant” trees – trees whose trunks measure more than 6” in diameter a breast height (dbh)

Issues with the HPO

As the pace of home building has increased in the Holmes Point neighborhood, residents have expressed alarm at loss of tree canopy coincident with new residential construction. Residents feel that the HPO is not as effective in preserving trees as it was intended to be. At the same time, many homeowners feel that their rights to make improvements to their properties or to cut tree selectively are unduly restricted by the HPO.

As part of the Finn Hill neighborhood plan process, the City is considering amendments to the HPO. As noted above, the Planning Commission is likely to provide policy guidance to staff tomorrow. The Staff will then prepare recommended revisions to the ordinance, to be reviewed by the community at an open house on the Finn Hill neighborhood plan this summer. The HPO modifications will then be reconsidered by the Commission in the fall. Finally, the Commission will forward its recommended HPO modifications to the Council for consideration (and possible adoption) in the fall or winter.

Proposed amendments to the HPO – views of City staff and FHNA

Based on comments it has received from the community as well as proposals from FHNA, the City’s Planning Department staff has recommended several HPO amendments that FHNA supports. In brief, these are:

* Require an Integrated Development Plan (IDP) before the start of construction activity on property in the HPO area. This means that developers must lay out where they will locate a PNA on property to be developed before grading and clearing begin. Requiring developers to do so should ensure that PNAs are more carefully sited and are better protected during the construction process.

* Aggregate PNAs in a subdivision. Currently, each subdivided parcel must have its own PNA. The result is many small PNAs – arguably, small PNAs on small lots provide minimal environmental and aesthetic benefits. An alternative is to create one relatively large PNA on a parcel before it is subdivided. An additional option is to provide for clustered/cottage housing, with – presumably – more land to be set aside as natural habitat.

* Adjust impervious surface calculations. As written, the HPO excludes common roads and driveways from the calculation for allowable impervious surface square footage. The staff recommends that these areas now be included in those calculations.

* Stiffen penalties for noncompliance. The fine for wrongfully cutting down trees is $1000 per tree. This penalty would be increased to equal the appraised value of the tree.

There are several other important issues on FHNA does not agree with City staff’s preliminary recommendations. These are:

* Establish enforceable tree canopy standards on a parcel-by-parcel basis. FHNA believes that fundamental weakness in the HPO (as applied) is that it doesn’t set measurable objectives for the tree canopy on properties being developed.

FHNA has recommended that a developer replant to achieve a 60% canopy in 20 years and that development not be allowed to proceed if it would reduce tree canopy below a minimum
threshold (e.g., 30%) or result in the removal of more than 50% of mature trees on a parcel. City staff recommends a 50% tree canopy goal for the neighborhood but hasn’t articulated how that goal would be applied to individual development applications. This is a key issue regarding the long-term effectiveness of the HPO in protecting tree canopy.

On a more technical note, City staff would continue to enforce HPO requirements using tree credits, a metric that is incorporated in Kirkland’s general tree ordinance. FHNA prefers that the HPO focus

* Protection of “significant” trees and “landmark” trees: The HPO currently prohibits the removal of significant trees. The City staff would amend the ordinance to allow property owners to remove up to 2 such trees outside of their property’s PNA each year, down to a minimum of 2 remaining trees. FHNA strongly opposes this relaxation of HPO protections. FHNA would allow cutting so long as the remaining tree canopy is at least 60% and would consider some degree of additional cutting down a minimum canopy threshold, provided that replanting is required. FHNA has also recommended special protections for mature landmark trees, which would be defined in terms of size, health and exceptional quality.

* Exemptions from PNA requirements: In order not to burden property owners who want to make minor home improvements or even rebuild an aging house, FHNA suggested that PNAs should not be required unless a property is undergoing a short plat, subdivision, or a significant improvement that would greatly expand impervious surface coverage. Staff has recommended that PNA requirements continue to be triggered when the cost of improvements would exceed 50% of the existing structure’s value.

* Replanting inspections and maintenance bonds: FHNA has recommended that compliance with tree planting requirements be monitored with periodic inspections and secured by maintenance bonds. City staff does not support the imposition of these measures.

* Expansion of geographic coverage of HPO: City staff has noted that some Finn Hill community members have expressed an interest in expanding the area covered by the HPO. Staff has not proposed to pursue any expansion at the present time, however. FHNA has suggested that the question be addressed directly with the community.

Please refer to the City staff memo and the FHNA response for more detail. We’d love to hear your comments and questions. And, most of all, we urge you to attend tomorrow’s meeting. If you cannot go to the meeting but wish to submit comments, you can write to the Planning Commission at planningcommissioners@kirklandwa.gov.

One Response to “Amendments to Finn Hill tree ordinance – Important Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, April 27”

  1. Pam Green says:

    Keep the rules/regulations separate for existing homeowners versus those for developers. I bought my home and property thinking that I owned it. I should be able to make ALL decisions about MY trees. This is the exact reason why hundreds of trees came down in Bothell before we were incorporated by Kirkland. We do not need more regulations regarding our own trees. STOP this insanity.