LETTER | Potala Village Developer Twists "the Intent" to Avoid Environmental Impact Findings



Dear Editor:

The City of Kirkland has stated that they are not in negotiations with the developer yet numerous emails and letters are being exchanged.  While the Environmental Impact Study was done and provided conclusions as to Potala Village, there are numerous areas where the developer is trying to get the city to not enforce the letter of the law, but rather accept a twisted view of what might "meet the intent of the EIS."

We can find no place in the EIS that states that the economic benefit of the developer is reason to disregard the direction of the EIS.

Yet, here's one very absurd example of the developer not favoring the findings of the EIS Consultant.  Instead, he worsens the conflict with EIS and then somehow states that this meets the intent.  REALLY BIZARRE!   EVEN MORE BIZARRE is the claim that the city has APPROVED THIS!!!

You may recall EIS commented about the fact that Potala Village submerged it's ground floor level to squeeze in an extra floor of building height.  This provided a very unusual step down to the ground floor level.  I recall one or more planning commissioners mentioning how this was a developer "gaming" the system.  The EIS consultant agreed that this step down created a negative Building Street Relationship.  Their comment was "Match the first flor elevation to the elevation of the street frontage along Lake St South as shown in Alternative DevelopmentScenarios 2 and 3."  They were aware that this would no longer allow for 4 stories as they had all the zoning regulations at their disposal.

Now, however, long after the developer could publicly appeal the EIS, the developer instead turns to the city staff, outside of public view.  In a November 4, 2013 letter to the city, the developer comments that

"in order to comply to both the height limit, the requirement for a 13' tall ground floor height, and this measure, an entire level of residential would need to be removed which renders the project financially unfeasible.  The proposed design meets the intent of improving the building /street relationship through the implementation of the following

- A roughly 5 foot drop in elevation from the street frontage along Lake Street South to the entry level finish floor.

So I pose these questions to the citizens, city staff, city manager, city attorney, and city council;

If submerging a building was seen as objectionable, how does the developer "correct" the problem by submerging the building even further (now by 5 feet rather than 3 feet)?  How does this now meet the intent of having the entrance of the building occur at street level?

2)  Why is this request for alternate not reviewed by EIS now being considered behind closed doors with the city and the developer?

3)  As the overall impact of the maximum height and ground level requirements were fully considered by the EIS consultant, why is this issue being reopened?  Is it the city's duty to make a project feasible?  What if a developer were to overpay for the property or  promise investors unrealistic rates of return?  Is it the city's duty to help cover the unusual and extreme cost of a project?

4)  Mostly, why does the developer's Nov 4th 2013 letter state that the city staff have approved this plan when the city is stating that only things in place in 2011 will be allowed?

By the way, if these types of proposals and responses by the city are not considered "negotiating with the developer," can someone provide us a description of what IS ?

Karen Levenson