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Kirkland Conversations survey: Totem Lake - the 'sleeping giant'

A map of the Totem Lake neighborhood.  - Contributed
A map of the Totem Lake neighborhood.
— image credit: Contributed

Kirkland’s highest potential for improvement lies in the Totem Lake neighborhood. As the optimist would say, “There’s nowhere to go but up!” This is the second in a series of Kirkland Conversations topics. What would you do (or have others do) about Totem Lake?

What is Totem Lake?

Let’s broadly define the area for this discussion as the Totem Lake neighborhood with its epicenter at the intersection of N.E. 124th Street and I-405. This goes beyond what first usually comes to mind – the malls.

Does Totem Lake really matter? These statistics suggest Totem Lake is important, even with the current state of things:

• 36 percent of Kirkland’s jobs

• 31 percent of Kirkland’s sales tax

• 13 percent of Kirkland’s acreage

• 11 percent of Kirkland’s current population

Kirkland’s largest employer, Evergreen Healthcare, is prominent in Totem Lake. The auto dealerships in Totem Lake contribute very significant sales taxes supporting important city services.

Transportation investment in the N.E. 128th Street overpass of I-405 has improved traffic circulation somewhat. Programmed improvements to I-405 along N.E. 116th Street and addition of a half-interchange at N.E. 132d Street (the northern complement to N.E. 116th Street half interchange) will provide additional help to the traffic situation. Plans for additional development of traffic circulator streets in the south and east parts of the business district should also provide additional traffic options.

Transit improvements have provided additional flexibility and opportunities with Sound Transit’s investment in a transit center located between the hospital and the Totem Lake Malls. The Sound Transit direct-access ramp at N.E. 128th Street has provided access to a greater variety of regional transit routes.

The city designated the Totem Lake neighborhood as an “Urban Center," which has established the area as a regional priority for investments to accommodate significant growth. We will eventually see the highest density of jobs and housing in the city here – a neighborhood where you have most shopping and services conveniently located within walking distance. Of course, that depends on an economic situation supporting growth.

Totem Lake will be the central area of the new, “greater Kirkland,” and the city is making investments in Totem Lake that reflect that. The city purchased the Costco Home building in Totem Lake as a public safety building for police and courts. And Kirkland’s new off-leash dog park will also be opening up in Totem Lake.

So what about the malls?

One of the quietest places in Kirkland, now, is the hallway of the lower mall in Totem Lake. The memories of a once-bustling retail trade, pale in the gloomy silence - awaiting promised improvements. Kirkland waits also.

More than five years ago, the city worked with representatives of new owners of the Totem Lake Malls to determine how their plans could be supported. Changes were made to the city’s Comprehensive Plan accommodating their vision.

A development agreement with the owners was approved, committing the city to $15 million infrastructure investment. The new owner’s plans called for around $100 million for retail, office, housing and a hotel.

The new owners took some actions to recruit businesses. A Preliminary Master Plan was approved showing the redevelopment plan. Included in that was a central, public open space as part of the redevelopment.

Some challenges became evident when prospective businesses found that they had agreements not to locate new stores within 10 miles of an established business – think Bellevue Square.

In late 2009, the Totem Lake Malls financial partner sued the developer alleging fraud, malfeasance and mismanagement among other allegations. Totem Lake Malls is only one of a dozen properties nationwide involved in the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, that is where it stands at the moment, and it appears that the courts will have to act before much more can happen with redevelopment of the malls.

Despite lawsuits, floods, and delayed funding, we can take stock of what we have, and what we would like to have in the Totem Lake Neighborhood. There are a lot of hard working, long-standing businesses and neighbors living and working in Totem Lake, but there are significant improvements we want to have when change occurs.

To begin the conversation, we have some questions for you to ponder. Please create your discussion groups, get together and see what answers you come up with for the questions.

Please complete and submit the survey below, or e-mail any additional comments to: letters@kirklandreporter.com

We will publish the results that will be relayed to the Kirkland City Council.

Your care in engaging with your acquaintances to discuss improvements to our community is the way we build a community conversation around important topics. We are fortunate to live and work in a wonderful town. Given the challenges we have, how do we move forward to improve this important part of our community? Let’s have a conversation!

Kirkland Councilmember Dave Asher is a member of the Kirkland Conversations group.

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