LETTER: When Did Democracy Become “1 Person (Planning Director) Decides”?

Dear Editor:

Today there was a “Planning Director Interpretation” issued on whether certain uses are to be allowed in certain Totem Lake TL zones.  If there are any citizens who have interest or concern on what these changes bring, here’s the link.




Truly, my comments today are not about the pluses or minuses of that decision, but of a process that I believe to be full of problems.  I wish to have citizenry consider whether the “Planning Director Interpretation” process is democratic, fair to all, or what Kirkland Citizenry really want for Kirkland.  I’ll say upfront that I am strongly opposed to this process.  I respect Eric Shields and his work, but I deplore a system that has one person making decisions particularly since anyone who wants to challenge the decision must do so in a limited number of days and only after paying a large sum of money to have their voice heard.  It also seems that commenters are limited to only those whose property would be directly impacted so this leaves out the “voice” of the community overall.


My question is triggered because I’m on the listserv for things like Zoning Code Interpretations.  While I’ve taken the step to be on this Listserv, many who live in our community don’t even know there is such a thing.  They might wrongly assume that if some zoning were to be changed they would “of course” be notified.


While I hesitate using the “Potala Village” issue for one more example, it is one I know extremely well.  Back in 1995 the largest parcel belonged to Luella O’Connor and it had a split zoning for years.  That was due to the straight line that had been drawn parallel to Lake St and Lake Washington Blvd.  A commercial building, or commercial properties, were to be in these areas.  I have in my records request where Luella O’Connor wrote to the planning director asking if she could have the single family portion of her property converted to Commercial.  The Planning Director response was that the change would be made.  At the same time, a property adjacent to the Lake/10th Ave commercial property was also changed to commercial.  Neighborhood meetings were held and it appears that the wrong neighborhoods were noticed of these changes.  It wasn’t until about 18 years later that citizens became aware of what happened. 


The frustration mounts when you review two years of work by a committee (Growth Management Land Use Subcommittee).  They deliberated for two years and discussed the small corner property 10th & Lake and a few others like it.  The felt that these small commercial properties were perfect for small neighborhood businesses they likened to traditional “corner markets.”  They were insistent that the development be consistent in size and scale with the surrounding properties and look integral to the neighborhood.  You see this in much of San Francisco where a corner store is housed in a building that blends seamlessly into the buildings adjacent to it… No bigger… and no smaller.  These corner stores are grocery stores, bike stores, corner “watering holes,” pastry shops, etc.  These corner stores look like they belong as the style of the building matches. These corner stores have San Francisco residents biking for a loaf of bread or walking to the corner café.


We’ve tried to get the “corner store” concept back into the Comprehensive Plan through a proposed Plan Amendment.  Neighbors surrounding the BN, BN(1) and MSC2 zones requested this during the current process and were denied by staff.


My point is just this.  Whether the decisions made by a Planning Director, no matter who it is, cannot possibly look at all potential positive or negative outcomes.  For zoning changes you need the insights and full consideration of the citizens.  We should not have a system where only those who have the financial where-with-all can join the discussion.  Even those with big bank rolls would pale if their pocketbooks had to stand up to developers.


Let’s get democratic here.  If there is an idea for zoning change (even if you presume that it is an oversight), then please “vette” it with your citizenry.  Someone might just come forward with the “why” behind the prior zoning.


For now, those who are interested in Totem Lake Zoning should take a look and evaluate the change proposed in time to act if necessary.


Eric and Staff, thank you for making sure to put the Interpretation on the ListServ.  I do want to applaud staff for moving in the direction of greater transparency and fewer “oops” moments.  I just question whether we’ve come far enough.

Karen Levenson