File photo.

File photo.

Master Builders Association opposes new Kirkland tree ordinance

The construction industry group claims the tree ordinance will hinder housing projects.

On May 18, Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS) joined eight builder-developers and property owners in filing an appeal before the Growth Management Hearings Board regarding Kirkland’s recently adopted tree protection ordinance.

On March 15, the Kirkland City Council approved the ordinance governing tree removal and replacement by a vote of 5-2. Public comments opposing the vote noted the final ordinance had abandoned a multi-year collaborative effort between city stakeholders, Kirkland residents, the Houghton Community Council, MBAKS and individual developers.

According to MBAKS, these stakeholders had proposed a balanced approach for trees and growth goals, which they believe the city abandoned in favor of an entirely staff-drafted ordinance.

The adopted ordinance defines “landmark trees” that must be preserved by private property owners and creates a nearly total ban on their removal from private property. Under the new definitions, MBAKS spokespeople say these “landmark trees” and “groves” are common throughout the city and are found on countless private properties.

The appeal argues this action failed to meet important planning goals of the Growth Management Act, including those calling for encouraging development in urban areas, affordable housing, and timely, fair and predictable permit processing.

Furthermore, MBAKS claims the ordinance was adopted without consideration of private property rights, largely placing the burden on private property owners for achieving the city’s goal of a city-wide 40 percent tree canopy.

“Kirkland is doing many things right under the GMA and is one of the better jurisdictions in which MBAKS members develop land and build homes,” said Interim MBAKS Executive Director Jerry Hall. “However, we are concerned that more onerous tree retention and replanting requirements in Kirkland’s tree code will significantly increase review times and construction costs, hampering new home construction at a time when more housing supply is desperately needed.”

MBAKS also maintains that the ordinance improperly treats single trees and small groves of trees as critical areas on par with wetlands or fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, even though they do not qualify as critical areas or for protection under GMA rules. Nor does MBAKS believe the ordinance relies on the “best available science” or consideration of the significant trade offs involved with this new set of limitations.

At the same time, MBAKS asserts that the city did not consider any “best available science” in requiring large buffer areas around tree protection and critical root zones, as required under the GMA for designated critical areas.

MBAKS says the group supports tree protection. However, they say it is sometimes necessary for homebuilders to remove trees to meet each property’s highest and best use. Trees are also often removed for safety reasons when they could result in dangerous conditions for residents. In addition, they say trees are often replaced at a higher rate than removal, with new trees established in locations better suited for healthy long-term growth within the developed environment, and with more diverse tree types than what was removed, ensuring a healthy tree canopy is maintained and enhanced over time.

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