LETTER | Thumbs Up / Down on Unlimited Density and Intensive Development

Dear Editor:

The decisions that will be made by the City Council this Tuesday night are commercial designation specific zoning decisions not project specific.  One of the sites, however, is where a developer wants to build an ULTRA high density apartment plus commercial use project that has been called Potala Village or Kirkland Aqua.

Many readers will be surprised by the notice of City Council meeting Agenda item that I'm sharing here.  It will likely be the FIRST that they've heard that the city council members will vote this Tuesday on whether to instruct the Planning Commission to consider density cap or reject the cap that the public wants used to control the intensity of development in BN zones (where also identified as low intensity Residential market - Commercial).

Also pretty scary is the notion that city council will be voting whether the low intensity designation of "Residential Market -Commercial" should be replaced with a much higher intensity designation of "Neighborhood Center - Commercial."  This is in spite of years of study on behalf of the Kirkland Growth Management Land Use subcommittee and nearly 5 years of study wherein they specifically documented the thoughtful process with numerous meeting notes and presentations wherein they questioned whether two sites with traffic ingress and egress issues and surrounded by low-to-medium single family homes and condos should even remain as commercial (perhaps any commercial was excessive at these sites).

After public comment and planning commission and city council review, the example of a "corner market" was routinely discussed as a low intensity use that would provide walkable goods and services to local neighbors but would remain low intensity so as not to increase traffic ingress and egress problems.  Why, without similar full blown study, would the council make such a decision?

Now in 2012, the Planning Commission has confirmed that they believe that the site is correctly identified as lowest intensity commercial "Residential Market" and that Comp Plan changes are not indicated at this time.  Why would the City Council even contemplate making such a major change to the Comprehensive Plan at a time that is off schedule for doing so, and wherein the item that they would change has been looked at and reconfirmed during at least 4 Comprehensive Plan reviews to date.  The few minor changes during these reviews have reconfirmed the two Res Mkt sites and increasingly added low intensity wording to the plan.

If you are amazed and a little concerned about the number of cars that already get frustrated by the delay along Kirkland's waterfront boulevard, and if you've watched these angered motorists as they wrecklessly make illegal U-turns or pull into driveways to exit the gridlock, then you are encouraged to imagine the virtual journey into "Neighborhood Center" on the Boulevard as I'll describe next."

A "neighborhood center" allows for a regular grocery store or drugstore or other types of higher intensity commercial in addition to unlimited housing.  Size, scale and neighborhood compatibility are NOT low intensity like with the current designation.  So how in the world would we accommodate the traffic of a general grocery store?  Why would we want to allow development that would fit less well and be less compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods?  Who is coming up with these crazy ideas?  What NINCOMPOOP would ever support even greater over-densification and even more cars?

Now that you've experienced the craziness of possibly increasing the intensity of development at 10th Ave South and Lake Street S/ Lake Washington Blvd, please join me at the upcoming City Council meeting, Tues, 7:30pm 5/15.  It will be interesting to see if we have council members that support the hard work and hundreds of hours of Growth Management Land Use Subcommittee as well as the ongoing reviews by 15 years of past City Council members and planning commissions.

Alternatively, it will be insightful if there are council members who turn the GMA process upside down.  It is backwards to take a project and have it direct a change in the Comprehensive Plan.  The process is very clearly spelled out in State documents.  First one develops the Comp Plan, then the zoning language must be drafted to fully implement the approved plan, then a project may be reviewed as to whether it fits the pre-established decisions.

See you Tuesday,

Karen Levenson