Tree Rules

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The following information is general in nature. It is recommended that you contact us prior to proceeding with any tree removal to discuss permit requirements. Also see our tree removal FAQ.

Trees are valued in Bellevue

Trees contribute to Bellevue’s visual character and its ecosystem. Trees oxygenate the air, provide food and habitat for small animals and microorganisms, and reduce the impacts of storm water runoff. They enhance the visual appearance of the community, promote better transition between land uses, and help protect property values. Although trees can be removed and replaced with new plantings, it takes years or decades for young trees to reach maturity and match the benefits of existing trees.

When is tree retention required?

The city recognizes that existing trees and new development compete for space. Since both are crucial to the Bellevue’s vitality, the Land Use Code (LUC) seeks to balance the needs of the two. The LUC sets requirements for tree retention and replacement that the new development must satisfy. Tree are required to be retained for subdivisions, short subdivisions, planned unit developments, construction of new buildings and homes, alterations and additions to existing structures, and general alteration of land, changes to lot coverage and parking areas.

What trees must be preserved?

The Land Use Code usually requires that a percentage of the existing diameter inches of significant trees in a specified area on a property be retained. A significant tree is at least eight inches in diameter, measured four feet above the existing grade.

  • Perimeter Landscape Area

If the Land Use Code requires your development to provide a perimeter landscape area, you must preserve all significant trees within the perimeter of the property and landscape area that will not constitute a safety hazard.

  • Site Interior

Outside of the stated sight perimeter, a specified percentage of tree diameter inches are required to be retained. This means that each significant tree in the site interior is measured, and the diameters are added together for a total. The combined diameters of the trees to be retained must equal at least the required retention percentage.

  • Total Site

Subdivisions, short subdivisions, and planned unit developments are required to retain trees at a percentage across the entire project site.

Are all significant trees given equal weight?

No. In applying the site interior rule described above, the diameters of Alder and Cottonwood trees may be discounted by 50%.

Preservation priority is given to significant trees which:

  • Are over 60’ in height;
  • Form a continuous canopy;
  • Contribute to the character of the environment and do not constitute a safety hazard;
  • Provide winter wind protection or summer shade;
  • Are in a group that creates a distinctive skyline feature; and
  • Are in areas of steep slopes or adjacent to watercourses or wetlands.

What trees are included in the retention calculation?

Tree retention is based on all of the trees at least eight inches in diameter that are present on a site, in the perimeter, interior, or site wide. Trees that are hazardous may be allowed to be removed during property development but the total retention required to be met by code is based on all significant trees present.

What can trigger a permit for tree removal?

Prior to removal of any trees you should contact the Land Use desk to ensure compliance with applicable codes. The following will trigger a permit for tree removal.

  1. Removal of more than five significant trees, or removal that causes over 1,000 square feet of clearing
  2. Tree removal proposed in critical areas, buffers, and setbacks
  3. Tree removal on a commercial or multifamily zoned property
  4. Tree removal on a property in a R-1 zone in the Bridle Trails Subarea
  5. Tree removal associated with a development that adds 20% additional impervious surface on a lot
  6. Trimming of more than 25 percent of the live crown of any tree that is required to be retained or is protected.

image of tree canopy elevation area

What restrictions may prevent me from removing any trees I want from my property?

Vegetation removal is prohibited or requires City approval within the areas below. In some cases, if trees are diseased or dying and are deemed hazardous by a certified arborist, they can be removed if a permit is obtained from the Land Use desk in Development Services. In such cases, the city will require replanting or other mitigation in place of the removed trees. Always check with a land use planner for needed permits and approvals prior to trimming, pruning, or removing trees within the areas listed below.

  • Plat/PUD Restrictions

Does your subdivision or Planned Unit Development (PUD) have restrictions which prohibit tree removal? For example, does the plat or PUD document contain Native Growth Protection Areas (NGPAs), Retained Vegetation Areas (RVAs), or a Tree Retention Plan?

  • Critical Areas

Does your property contain a critical area (steep slope, stream corridor, wetland, shoreline, etc.) or is a critical area within 200 feet of your property?

  • Required Landscaping

Is the tree on a commercial or multifamily zoned property?

  • Private Agreements

Is your property subject to private contracts, covenants, or homeowner associations that might affect your ability to remove trees? Please note that the city does not enforce such private restrictions.

May I remove trees located within the city right of way?

Removal of trees within the city right of way may require a right of way use permit and you should contact the Right of Way Division of the Transportation Department for more information.

Where can I get more information?

Why are there specific tree preservation requirements in the R-1 zone in Bridle Trails?

Trees contribute to Bellevue’s visual character and its ecosystem. As expressed by Bridle Trails residents, and recognized by policies in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, trees play a key role in the identifying character of this unique neighborhood. Residents expressed concern that the amount of tree cutting on existing and vacant single-family lots was having a negative effect on neighborhood character and quality.

What are the tree retention requirements?

  • Perimeter Area

All significant trees within the first 20 feet adjacent to all property lines must be preserved. Areas devoted to access, utilities, trails, and similar needs are generally exempt from this requirement, but trees removed in these areas may need to be replaced.

  • Site Interior

In the remainder of the site, at least 25 percent of the total diameter inches of all significant trees must be preserved. This means that each significant tree in the site interior is measured, and the diameters are added together for a total. The combined diameters of the trees to be preserved must equal at least 25 percent of that total.

Will I be required to get a permit to remove trees on my property?

A clearing & grading permit will be required for the removal of any significant tree in the R-1 zoning district in Bridle Trails.

image of existing tree legend

image of existing tree summary

What if I only want to remove one or two trees? Will I still need to apply for a permit and inventory all my trees?

Although a clearing & grading permit will be required for the removal of any significant tree in the R-1 zone of Bridle Trails, you are allowed to remove up to two significant trees on a lot within a three-year period without meeting the perimeter and interior tree retention requirements. When only 8 trees remain, or 8 or fewer trees exist on the property, you are required to replace any of the last 8 significant trees with an equal number of trees somewhere on the lot.

What if my project is in the Critical Areas Overlay District?

Tree removal and clearing & grading of any type are not permitted in critical areas, buffers, and setbacks, without a permit.

Is there flexibility in these requirements?

In some situations there will be conflicts with locating or remodeling a house or gaining access to a lot and meeting proposed perimeter and interior tree retention requirements. For example, the minimum single side-yard requirement for structures in the R-1 zone is five feet, which is significantly less than the 20- foot perimeter tree retention requirement. The Alternative Tree Retention Option (ATRO) will allow flexibility to develop a site as permitted under the dimensional requirements of the R-1 land use district while still meeting the intent of tree retention provisions. Under this alternative option the applicant must demonstrate that an equal number of significant trees are retained elsewhere, or that site development retains other natural vegetation and provides supplemental planting to promote the natural vegetated character of the site.

Where can I get additional information?