Holmes Point residents: Tell the Planning Commission what you think about preserving trees and downzoning parts of the neighborhood

Holmes Point residents: Tell the Planning Commission what you think about preserving trees and downzoning parts of the neighborhood

Dear Holmes Point neighbors: Following up on yesterday’s message about the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday night, we’re posting a copy of FHNA’s letter to the Commission regarding the Holmes Point Overlay ordinance (HPO). Click here to read it.

To help you get up to speed, we’re providing a quick summary of the ordinance in the following paragraphs. And we have an important message about downzoning (i.e. reducing housing densities) in parts of Holmes Point. FHNA urges you to read on and then tell the Planning Commission what you think. You can do so by writing to the Commissioners or by speaking at the Commission meeting tomorrow night. (Even if you don’t want to speak, we encourage you to attend. It will show the Commissioners that the Holmes Point residents care about their tree canopy.) You can email the Commission at planningcommissioners@kirklandwa.gov.

The Commission meeting starts tomorrow at 7pm. It will be held in the Council chamber of City Hall at 123 Fifth Avenue.

A few words about the HPO

The HPO is a pretty technical ordinance, but it can be easily understood as a set of four regulations. The first limits the amount of impervious surface (home footprint, driveway, patio, etc) allowed on a lot. The second requires that 25% of the lot be set aside for native trees and vegetation as the PNA (the Protected Natural Area). The third requires that significant trees (trees whose trunks measure more than 6” in diameter at breast height) be retained on the unbuilt portion of the lot. And the fourth major requirement is that certain densities of trees be planted or maintained in the PNA and the remainder of the lot. The City of Kirkland website has a good overview of the ordinance, if you want to dig a little deeper.

The HPO was designed to preserve trees during home construction and to ensure that new trees are planted to compensate for some of the tree loss that occurs when new homes are built. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the HPO is strong enough to protect trees as well as many residents in Holmes Point would like, so FHNA has worked with Kirkland’s Planning Department to amend the ordinance. As our letter to the Planning Commission notes, we’ve agreed on several revisions, but on a number of issues FHNA and the Planning Department staff are not yet aligned. These items are addressed in detail in the letter.

Downzoning RSA 6 areas of Holmes Point

One point deserves particular mention. It’s become increasingly apparent to those of us who have worked on HPO revisions that regulations to preserve the Holmes Point tree canopy can accomplish only so much if the sizes of lots for new homes are small. And what we’re seeing is that while it is difficult to protect the tree canopy in Holmes Point on lots that are zoned RSA 4 (four dwelling units per acre), it is extremely challenging to do so on RSA 6 parcels (six dwelling units per acre).

Much of Holmes Point is zoned RSA 4 (mostly the areas on hillsides and ravines) and some is zoned RSA 6 (mostly along the shore of Lake Washington and south of O.O. Denny Park; small pockets are even zoned RSA 8. (See map.) As part of the neighborhood planning process, the City identified the RSA 8 pockets for potential downzones to RSA 6 or RSA 4. Recently, we have suggested to the Planning Department and the Planning Commission that the City should also consider downzoning the RSA 6 areas in Holmes Point to RSA 4. The Commission’s initial reaction was not to take on this issue at the present time. However, we believe that it would be willing to recommend that the staff study the question if the community sends a strong message that downzoning is desired.

We’ll send more information about the downzoning issue in the next week but it comes down to the following: smaller lots will accommodate more homes per acre, which will mean fewer trees in the neighborhood and more traffic. On the other hand, downzoning a lot that can be subdivided or shortplatted may mean that the value of the lot to a developer will be reduced. That’s a point to bear in mind if you own land in Holmes Point that can be shortplatted or subdivided. Put simply, it’s a question of pocket book vs. trees.

 It’s up to you!

Speaking personally as a Holmes Point resident (living in one of the RSA 8 pockets), my vote is strongly for trees. I like the wooded character of Holmes Point and I know that preserving mature trees protects our slopes against landslide and minimizes surface water runoff that scours our streams and pollutes our lake. But the FHNA board is reluctant to take a strong position on this issue without hearing from Holmes Point residents, particularly those living in the RSA 6 areas that might be downzoned. How do you feel? Please let us know and please tell the Planning Commission now what you think. And if you want more information before deciding, it’s OK to say that to the Commission. At the very least, it will inform the Commission that the question of downzoning warrants study right now.

FHNA urges Holmes Point residents to send their views to the Commission not only about the HPO tree regulation itself but also about a proposal to downzone RSA 6 areas. Your comments will make a difference so please speak out now.

Scott Morris
President, Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance

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