Once Again, Development in Kirkland leads to building moratorium and lawsuit

Here is a news flash for you: A developer files a lawsuit against the City of Kirkland after City Council slaps on a building moratorium in answer to angry citizens fighting to protect their neighborhood and quality of life. Does any of this sound familiar? I recall similar scenarios circa 2010, 2008, 2005... When will we ever learn?

Lobsang Dargey, a developer of multi-family units, has filed a lawsuit against the City of Kirkland over his inability to build on a Kirkland property due to actions taken by the City Hall. The Potala Village, a controversial proposal featuring high density dwellings along Lake Washington Blvd., has come under attack from neighboring residents because the development would have vastly more units per acre than any of the neighboring properties. Mr. Dargey is only asking to build what is permitted under Kirkland's zoning for that property. The problem is that in the past, the high density zoning on this property was overlooked. Mr. Dargey's plans ask for no variances, and is complying with the requirements of the Planning Dept.

The developer originally planned the Eastside's first LEED Silver multi-family development to have a rooftop rain garden, ground floor retail and other amenities which would compliment one another in creating a mixed use community unique to our area. Mr. Dargey met many times to work with neighbors to address their concerns. The problem was not Mr. Dargey's designs or the "green" building he envisioned. The problem was that he wanted to build it in Kirkland, a city with remnants of old and new zoning codes, in part a result of the city's many annexations over the years.

Kirkland has a reputation among developers as a difficult place to work. This story illustrates yet another example of Kirkland's long history of conflict with regard to planning, growth management and development. What is it about developing in Kirkland which causes so much strife and conflict?

  • Might it be that our zoning and planning process in the past was not as comprehensive as it could have been?
  • Might it be that some neighborhood residents feel developers get too much support from City Hall?
  • Might it be that claims about Kirkland's "antidevelopment" reputation are well-founded?
  • Might it actually be NIMBYism which opposes every new development?
  • Or might it simply be that Kirkland residents are passionate about their city and they wish to maintain their quality of life?

It is a shame that the parties involved in this conflict were not able to avoid a lawsuit, but given each side's entrenched position, legal action was inevitable. The sad reality is that if this lawsuit does not get settled out of court, the only real winners will be the trial lawyers.

The disgruntled neighbors will lose having spent the better part of a year negotiating with the developer, investigating the history of Kirkland's messed up zoning regulations, and ultimately employing political and legal pressure to halt this project. Their argument is that the development is clearly out of character with its neighborhood thus creating an undue burden on their quality of life. There is a toll on those who expend time, energy and money to defend against that which should never have been possible in the first place.

The developer will lose even more time and money. Mr. Dargey will have to spend additional resources suing the city in an attempt to simply do what the zoning currently allows. For whatever reason, this particular plot of land is zoned differently than others in the area. The developer recognized this fact, and naturally is attempting to take advantage of it. To state it another way, Mr. Dargey was smart enough to find an opportunity that others did not. He did his homework, played according to the rules of the city and is now having to sue the city to allow him to exercise his property rights.

The City of Kirkland will once again lose more money and energy as our city council and city staff work to defend themselves from this lawsuit. If the city loses the case and has to pay damages, taxpayers will be left with the bill.

The citizens of Kirkland will lose once again as development moratoriums and lawsuits continue to be the norm in Kirkland, causing development money to flow elsewhere. Residents' taxes continue to ever rise to pay for the services which continue to be cut. When business activity decreases, so do their contributes to the city's coffers, thus increasing the tax burden on residents.

My hope is that mediation can find a compromise for all involved. I will not hold my breath waiting for that outcome.

My guess is that we will soon add the name Potala Village to the notorious list of moratoriums, lawsuits, appeals and mistakes in Kirkland's Development Hall of Fame. Move over Portsmith, Lake & Central, Bank of America and Kirkland Parkplace. Make room for Potala Village.

When will we ever learn?