LETTER | Is ANOTHER newly proposed development the next Potala?



Dear Editor:





Why does planning staff, in Kirkland, have conversations with developers and then accommodate them by disregarding the Comprehensive Plan and/or modifying city policies?  Why does Kirkland ignore the rules on our books in order to allow developers to move forward?  Why doesn't the city reach out to citizens and bring them into the conversation when modifications are requested?  Instead citizens only find out about city capitulation after it has happened. No wonder we have continuous public uproar, and with Potala, the legal action.


Why, if we supposedly want to provide for a range of housing in Kirkland, are all the current projects for tiny micro spaces and extreme reduction in city required parking... (e.g. Potala, TOD and now Pantley)???


Doesn't the Growth Management Act require a Comprehensive Planning process wherein citizen participation is actively solicited and the result is something that ensures "coordinated" and "planned" growth across the city?  So why does Kirkland act on spontaneous eruptions of “developer need” and allow piecemeal modifications that are incompatible?


The Pantley development proposal is a far cry from anything that is currently allowed by code in the City of Kirkland.  Eric Shields, at a recent Planning Commission meeting, stated that there are fundamentally two issues with current code.  One being that the city's definition of dwelling unit does not allow for communal like development wherein up to 8 individual bedrooms share a kitchen facility and the definition of "family" as allowed in a dwelling unit greatly surpasses the city's current restriction allowing no more than 5 unrelated occupants.


The other modification that seems determined to move forward is the blessing for greatly reduced parking requirement - only requiring one space per every two units.  Where???  At the recent Planning Commission meeting the request was for downtown Kirkland!!!  Hello??? With reduced parking???  Mr Pantley claims that they screen tenants and somehow end up with folks that don't have cars.  So if that is true, what happens if the resident changes jobs and can no longer get there by bus?  Perhaps fall in love and marry someone who has a car?  Or even have guests come by?  Where are those cars parked??  What if Mr Pantley sells the apartment/condo project to someone else who doesn't screen residents meticulously?  We all have seen how overflow parking ends up in our neighborhoods, in front of our house.  We don't need more of this.  The downtown merchants will also suffer when residents/guests use precious downtown parking stalls.


Those of us who actually live in multifamily have experienced that one car per bedroom is never enough parking.  Somehow, those on our commissions and council who live in single family homes think they know better. They’ve stated that half a space per unit is more than adequate.  They’ve obviously not been HOA president wherein parking issues are a monthly event and annually the attorney gets brought in to arbitrate differences.  And this is where one parking space per bedroom is provided and where transit is only a block away!!!


My biggest concern is around PROCESS.  This is especially true when established process is circumvented.  Things are done in conflict with the city Comprehensive Plan and policies, and in a way that covertly speeds things through. Where is the transparency? This is causing us so much city time and money when we have to sort through our legal defense of such actions.


When the City Council heard Mr Pantley's proposal, they heard that there were code inconsistencies with parking but did not hear about the fact that we have no zone use charts to allow this communal type of housing!!!  The second set of code problems was not brought to their attention.


The Council members made comments that they were intrigued by the idea, would like to study this type of housing as part of the work plan, were in favor of looking at the Redmond example and would consider a carefully placed "pilot project." On tape, at 00:49:26 during the 4/3/12 Council Study session, Eric Shields suggested that he might be able to bring this forward in the current set of code amendments.  Then on 4/26/12 @ 3:41:00 Mr Shields tells Planning Commission that "The INSTRUCTION from the [City] Council was 'to put it in these code amendments.'" The emphasis on immediately moving this forward, without farther study, and without being limited to a carefully chosen pilot site was not my understanding of Council direction.  Perhaps a review of the meeting tape would be helpful.


Why do changes like those proposed by Mr Pantley get considered without going through the process of Private Amendment Request?  All other developments asking for modifications seem to wait for this PAR review.  Why are Pantley or Potala something different?  Is this fair to other developers?


Why is the public as a whole brought in to consider making a major change in the definition of residential units (to include small, communal units)?


Why are residents not included in the deliberation of dramatic reduction in required parking (size and number of stalls)?


Why does the Notice of the Planning Commission meeting not list this as an item?  It is not until you sift through dozens of pages that you come across a discussion of SRO (Single Resident Occupancy)?? ... And likely you've never heard a thing about this before.


VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: The code amendment, if it goes through is not for a "pilot" or "test" project as the City Council indicated.  It adds a new zoning category and would allow for this in numerous areas.  It would not be "a test case."


Come on City of Kirkland... Be fair to us as citizens.  Respect the Comprehensive Plan that we worked hard on for years.  If changes are needed they should be considered only after broad outreach to the citizens and good dialog and thorough study.  Sadly, as I began participating more in city planning, I've felt that the Kirkland way is "catch me if you can."  Even if you do catch me, you may not have caught me within the 60 day timeframe required for an appeal, or you may not have been involved earlier and aren't therefore a recognized "party of record."  This is really a disrespectful and inappropriate way to treat the citizens who pay their taxes and employ you.  Something needs to change.


Karen Levenson