Point/Counterpoint | Time to Move Forward on Parkplace by Douglas Howe

Editor's note:

In December, 2008 the Kirkland City Council followed the recommendation of the Planning Commission and approved Touchstone’s Private Amendment Request for an eight story mixed-use redevelopment of Kirkland Parkplace. In the months leading up to that decision, Kirkland Views ran a series of Point/Counterpoint opinion pieces.

On September 21, the City Council will consider readopting the ordinances it approved in December 2008. We present two opposing Point/Counterpoint opinion pieces for your consideration: "A Chance to Reconsider Parkplace" by Ken Davidson of Davidson, Czeisler & Kilpatric, P.S. and in rebuttal, "Time to Move Forward on Parkplace" by Douglas Howe, President of Touchstone Corporation.

By Douglas Howe

Touchstone would like to take this opportunity to address a few statements that have been made recently by Kirkland Citizens for Responsible Development in opposition to our redevelopment of the Parkplace property. We believe this blog offers the ideal forum for Touchstone to help “clear the air” on several inaccurate claims that have potentially misled local stakeholders on the future of this project.

To that end, in response to our opposition’s initial paragraph in its blog entry, it should be noted that the Growth Management Hearings Board never ruled unlawful the Parkplace Environmental Impact Statement. The Board simply asked the City to conduct additional studies to determine where density and growth might be located in downtown Kirkland. Those studies have been completed as part of a Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), which explored 5 other downtown locations. The SEIS recently concluded that the Kirkland ParkPlace site meets the City’s goals for future development in downtown Kirkland.

In a recent public hearing, Kirkland’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the SEIS, as well as reaffirm the Comprehensive Plan Amendment and zoning change that it originally approved in November 2008, before the City Council approved them, too, in a 7-to-0 vote, that December. Again, the Growth Management Hearings Board never challenged nor invalidated these ordinances. It only asked that a larger area of downtown be considered for future growth. That process is now complete.

Secondly, our opposition has intimated that Touchstone’s design plan has somehow received preferential treatment by the City for not providing sufficient step-backs on upper floors in the interest of maintaining a “desirable human scale” at the project’s street-level.  This claim is entirely baseless and false.

In fact, Touchstone’s redevelopment plan for Kirkland Parkplace has provided a far greater level of step-backs and set-backs than what is required by the City’s zoning code. Those who have participated in the many public meetings held over the past several years know that Touchstone has put considerable time and resources into making sure Parkplace is designed and built to provide the best-possible experience to residents, visitors and downtown workers. The more-than 25 Design Review Board meetings over the past 18 months alone have ensured that the redevelopment will maintain a critical human scale that everyone in Kirkland can be proud of.

Thirdly, recently, like it has done on numerous occasions over the past several years, our opposition has published old, out-dated images to try to negatively portray the planned design for Kirkland Parkplace’s redevelopment. These images were selectively taken from very early-stage design meetings with the City, and they inaccurately depicted what will ultimately get built at the Parkplace site. (Please note: images presented on this page are representative images that are still in process - prior to final design being completed and to materials and color palette being selected and approved by the Design Review Board.)

Throughout the public-review process, Touchstone has aggressively solicited input from area residents on everything from building-design aesthetics and project massing to public-art concepting and open-space landscapes.  We have listened intently and incorporated many of these ideas into our current Parkplace design plan, which can be viewed at the Gallery page at the project’s Web site, located at www.envisionkirklandparkplace.com. These are the most up-to-date renderings that clearly reflect a positive and collaborative design process that has been instrumental in shaping the vision of this critical piece of commercial property.

Our opposition uses terms like “word pictures” and “ghosts, floating into the sky” in respect to how Touchstone depicted office buildings in many early-stage project designs. The truth is that these schematics were entirely appropriate for designs created at that point in the public-review process. At that time, in fact, detailed building designs had not yet even been created --- nor should they have been. These rough sketches are very typical for a project that was still in the midst of a Comprehensive Plan Amendment and zoning change-request process being considered by the City.

Soon, Touchstone will complete its work with Kirkland’s Design Review Board as part of a final-design process started in early 2009. The company will continue to provide to the City additional detailed design for all of the project’s buildings and undeveloped open space. And on Sept. 21, the City Council will consider readopting the ordinances it approved unanimously in December 2008, based on the findings of the now-complete SEIS.

If these ordinances are reaffirmed, Touchstone’s Parkplace redevelopment will add acres of dynamic open space and plaza amenities for local residents to enjoy; contribute a 300,000-square-foot retail center that revitalizes the downtown core with a new, expanded QFC grocery store, shops, restaurants, entertainment, and more; and nurture meaningfully the City’s economic health and urban sense of place. These are the planned outcomes that have attracted widespread support for our plan by some of the region’s most-respected advocates for smart growth, including Futurewise, the Quality Growth Alliance, and the Cascade Land Conservancy, to name just a few.

In closing, we would like to say that the public-review process has been collaborative and comprehensive, providing opportunities for every local stakeholder to express their opinions on the project’s future. All told, there have been more than 50 public meetings over three-and-a-half years conducted by Kirkland’s Design Review Board, Planning Commission and City Council – not to mention several project open houses and some 30 meetings with neighbors, interested citizens, the Parks Board and other City boards and committees.

By no means has this been a rushed process, as our opposition might like to imply with its recent advertisements, mailings and letters to the editor.  Conversely, the process has been healthy, thorough and entirely transparent. These meetings have been instrumental in Touchstone’s ability to gain input from the City and its residents on what they would like to be developed at the site, and to shape our design plan accordingly.  For that, we’re both appreciative and humbled.

What’s more, we will continue to work in concert with all Kirkland stakeholders as we move forward with the redevelopment of Parkplace.  We will continue to solicit your input as the project becomes a reality. Now’s not the time for further stalling based on misinformation and misleading imagery. Let’s move forward, together, in creating a new Parkplace that serves the commercial and lifestyle needs of Kirkland --- for decades to come.