City cuts 70 feet off tree, Kirkland residents upset

Left, Tom Bach stands in front of the cottonwood before city arborists pruned the tree to 20 feet, which is pictured to the right.  - Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter
Left, Tom Bach stands in front of the cottonwood before city arborists pruned the tree to 20 feet, which is pictured to the right.
— image credit: Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter

A large cottonwood in the middle of the Kirkland Highlands neighborhood was hacked by 70 feet on Tuesday. Now standing 20-feet-tall, one Kirkland resident is extremely frustrated the tree, estimated to be 60-80 years old, had to be pruned down in the first place.

“I just hate to see the tree taken down,” said Tom Bach, a former Kirkland firefighter of 20 years whose home abuts the city-owned tree. “Nobody in the neighborhood wants this tree taken down…”

Except one family, Bach said.

Bach believes his neighbors want to use the right-of-way alley that sits behind their backyards to build a house extension or garage. Only problem is the tree blocks the pathway between the alley and his neighbor’s backyard.

According to city of Kirkland spokeswoman Marie Jensen, the Bach’s neighbor was issued a building permit for a house remodel, which shows a proposed garage. She said if the owner decides to pursue building the garage, a separate permit would need to be acquired. The city has not yet received any permit application for the garage.

But that’s not why the tree is being pruned to be a “habitat” tree.

Jensen said the tree was deemed to be a nuisance and it meets the criteria to be hazardous, citing falling limbs as a risk.

“While it’s understandable to wonder why the city would prune a tree to the extent this one is being pruned, it is our determination that the tree met the criteria for a hazard and nuisance and our action was designed to eliminate those aspects,” Jensen said.

Some of the criteria include its proximity to the number of people or properties nearby, whether the hazardous condition can or cannot be mitigated or whether the tree has caused damage to anyone or anything on someone’s property, among other factors, according to Kirkland Municipal Code.

But Bach said he’s lived at his Kirkland home under the cottonwood for more than 20 years and he sleeps just fine at night.

“You’ll get a branch coming down every now and then during big wind storms,” Bach said, “but that’s my bedroom right there and I’ve not had an issue.”

Bach said he’s been the one to prune the tree, rake the leaves and keep it overall clean and healthy in his 20-plus years of living under it. In the summer, the tree blocks the 3 p.m. sun glare and provides relaxing shade for his dog. A 20-foot-tall stump is an eyesore, he said.

“I’ve talked to all my neighbors, even the neighbors across the street are saying ‘that’s tragic, to have a tree like that just lopped down,’” he said.

However, the issue goes deeper than a severely pruned tree. Bach said the alley, or city-owned right-of-way, that leads to the tree has been an ongoing issue for a number of years.

Some neighbors want the alley way open. It was “gobbled up” by homeowner property on one side, essentially making it so the right-of-way stops at the cottonwood.

“I just feel like the city is making decisions because they are tired of dealing with the bickering of the tree in the alley,” he said. “I understand that they want it as their main thoroughfare to get into their houses, we don’t have garages up here, but I don’t want somebody running up and down here, building in the back. It’d be very disruptive and I worry about my pets.”

The alley is made up of grass and some gravel. It is very narrow and abuts people’s backyards.

Ultimately, Bach fears the tree, or 20-feet-tall stump, will be completely removed and that it will lose the chance to regrow, but more importantly it will impact the water and moisture on Bach’s property as well as others.

“I’ve been told that the tree takes up anywhere from 300-700 gallons a day, the root system,” he said. “And my basement’s down below grade and I’ve had water problems in the past.”

After speaking with arborists, he learned there’s a water system underground that made the tree grow so big.

“There’s underground springs that come through here and that’s why a lot of us have water issues,” Bach said.

Jensen did not have a definitive answer when asked if the city could potentially remove the tree completely after the home owners got the appropriate permits to build a garage.

“Review of a building permit application is conducted by several departments,” Jensen said. “Each application has its own unique aspects. It is not possible to speculate the outcome on any property owner’s building permit application. If the owner at 11419 NE 90th St. pursues construction of the garage, the answer to your question would come to light at the time of review.”

The Kirkland Reporter reached out to Bach’s neighbors, the property owners of 11419 NE 90th St., but did not receive a reply.

For more information on the city’s policy on tree removal, visit


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