Tree Canopy Code Amendments

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Bellevue’s tree canopy is a critical environmental asset and central to the vision of a “City in a Park”. Bellevue’s Environmental Stewardship Plan (ESP) Action N.1.1. calls for a comprehensive review and update of provisions in the Land Use Code (LUC) and Bellevue City Code (BCC) for tree preservation, retention, replacement and protection during construction. The City’s current code provisions related to trees have been updated periodically, but never in a comprehensive fashion.

How are trees regulated today?

In most cases, only “significant trees” are subject to permitting or retention requirements. These are currently defined as healthy evergreen or deciduous trees, eight inches in diameter or greater, measured four feet above existing grade. In June 2022, the City Council adopted an interim ordinance establishing a permit requirement to remove “landmark trees”, which are significant trees 24 inches or greater in diameter.

When development is being proposed, LUC 20.20.900 establishes the share of existing significant trees which must be retained with the development. There are different retention requirements for the Bridle Trails R-1 Land Use District, single family development elsewhere in the city and other types of development.

Tree removal outside of a development proposal is regulated through the Clearing and Grading Code, Chapter 23.76 BCC, while tree removal as part of a development proposal is regulated through the Land Use Code’s tree retention and replacement section, 20.20.900 LUC. In either case, stricter critical areas provisions apply to trees located in critical areas.

Outside of a development proposal, a permit is required to remove trees in the following cases:

  • When removing more than 5 significant trees in any 3-year period;
  • When removing any landmark tree;
  • When removing any significant tree in the Bridle Trails R-1 Land Use District; or
  • When removing more than 25% of the live crown of any significant tree

Under current code, significant and landmark trees can still be removed with a permit, unless they were designated to be retained as part of a previous development proposal.

Tree replacement is only required in limited cases, including when removing trees from critical areas or areas with specific landscaping standards and as part of an approved alternative tree retention plan.

What is changing?

City staff will complete a comprehensive review of tree code provisions and develop proposed amendments in the following areas:

  • Tree Preservation: Review the definition of significant trees, implement permanent definition for landmark trees. Require a permit to remove any significant tree and assess whether/what limits should be placed on the number of significant trees that may be removed with a permit.
  • Tree Retention: Clarify tree retention requirements and improve systems for tracking retained trees. Implement a minimum canopy approach for retention to encourage more consistent canopy coverage, discourage tree removal before development, and support long-term canopy health.
  • Tree Replacement: Expand tree replacement requirements, including provisions to encourage “the right tree in the right place”.
  • Tree Protection: Codify critical measures to protect retained trees from construction and pruning damage and assess current enforcement mechanisms.

What will not change?

These amendments will not change provisions of the Critical Areas Ordinance, which already provides strong protections for significant trees located in critical areas, including replacement requirements.

The Trees, Weeds and Vegetation chapter of the Transportation Code, which regulates trees impacting sidewalks, streets and public rights-of-way, will be updated through a separate project.

Bellevue’s tree canopy is a critical environmental asset and central to the vision of a “City in a Park”. Bellevue’s Environmental Stewardship Plan (ESP) Action N.1.1. calls for a comprehensive review and update of provisions in the Land Use Code (LUC) and Bellevue City Code (BCC) for tree preservation, retention, replacement and protection during construction. The City’s current code provisions related to trees have been updated periodically, but never in a comprehensive fashion.

How are trees regulated today?

In most cases, only “significant trees” are subject to permitting or retention requirements. These are currently defined as healthy evergreen or deciduous trees, eight inches in diameter or greater, measured four feet above existing grade. In June 2022, the City Council adopted an interim ordinance establishing a permit requirement to remove “landmark trees”, which are significant trees 24 inches or greater in diameter.

When development is being proposed, LUC 20.20.900 establishes the share of existing significant trees which must be retained with the development. There are different retention requirements for the Bridle Trails R-1 Land Use District, single family development elsewhere in the city and other types of development.

Tree removal outside of a development proposal is regulated through the Clearing and Grading Code, Chapter 23.76 BCC, while tree removal as part of a development proposal is regulated through the Land Use Code’s tree retention and replacement section, 20.20.900 LUC. In either case, stricter critical areas provisions apply to trees located in critical areas.

Outside of a development proposal, a permit is required to remove trees in the following cases:

  • When removing more than 5 significant trees in any 3-year period;
  • When removing any landmark tree;
  • When removing any significant tree in the Bridle Trails R-1 Land Use District; or
  • When removing more than 25% of the live crown of any significant tree

Under current code, significant and landmark trees can still be removed with a permit, unless they were designated to be retained as part of a previous development proposal.

Tree replacement is only required in limited cases, including when removing trees from critical areas or areas with specific landscaping standards and as part of an approved alternative tree retention plan.

What is changing?

City staff will complete a comprehensive review of tree code provisions and develop proposed amendments in the following areas:

  • Tree Preservation: Review the definition of significant trees, implement permanent definition for landmark trees. Require a permit to remove any significant tree and assess whether/what limits should be placed on the number of significant trees that may be removed with a permit.
  • Tree Retention: Clarify tree retention requirements and improve systems for tracking retained trees. Implement a minimum canopy approach for retention to encourage more consistent canopy coverage, discourage tree removal before development, and support long-term canopy health.
  • Tree Replacement: Expand tree replacement requirements, including provisions to encourage “the right tree in the right place”.
  • Tree Protection: Codify critical measures to protect retained trees from construction and pruning damage and assess current enforcement mechanisms.

What will not change?

These amendments will not change provisions of the Critical Areas Ordinance, which already provides strong protections for significant trees located in critical areas, including replacement requirements.

The Trees, Weeds and Vegetation chapter of the Transportation Code, which regulates trees impacting sidewalks, streets and public rights-of-way, will be updated through a separate project.

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Page last updated: 02 May 2024, 04:06 PM