Tibetan-themed development stirs disharmony amongst Kirkland residents
By PEYTON WHITELY
Kirkland Reporter Reporter
October 11, 2011 · Updated 12:27 PM
As Kirkland struggles with another controversial development proposal, it finds itself essentially grappling with the ideas of one man.
His name is Lobsang Dargey.
It's almost impossible to overstate how unusual Dargey's life has been.
He's from Tibet. He studied to be a monk. He didn't come to the United States until 1997. He didn't speak English.
By 2004, he was married. His wife, Tami, is the sister of Andre Agassi, famous tennis player. His wife is a cancer survivor. They live modestly, in a 1954 rambler in Bellevue.
He works modestly, in an office above a food co-op in downtown Everett. And if a person perhaps could be judged by their taste in décor, Dargey might be seen as being next to Heaven, his business entryway filled with Tibetan photos and philosophical ponderings.
"On the day you were born, you began to die. Do not waste a single moment more!"
Yet for what might seem to suggest life choices based on serenity and contemplation, Dargey's concepts for Kirkland have inspired what seems closer to frenzy.
Dargey, 37, wants to build a place called Potala Village along the Kirkland waterfront at 10th Avenue South and Lake Street South.
A burger place and a dry cleaner now occupy the 53,601 square-foot site, which is mostly a dirt lot. The Kirkland Kiwanis used to sell Christmas trees there.
What Dargey proposes certainly would change that stretch of roadway. The area, south of downtown Kirkland, already is the site of landmark lakeside condo and apartment developments, largely setting the tone for the city and its waterfront.
But those properties mostly date to the 1960s, before the advent of a state shorelines-management act. The lakefront properties often are about 30 units, with roughly the same number of parking spaces.
Dargey proposes a four-story project with 143 units and 316 underground parking stalls. For comparison, a 1997 condo project called Portsmith, built at 108 Second Ave. S. above a downtown lot once occupied by a double-decker London bus, is 150 units.
To say the Potala project has attracted community interest is to vastly understate vehemence.
City files are filled with letters and emails protesting the project. It's criticized as too big, too dense, not fitting the neighborhood, and likely to cause traffic problems.
None of that's true, says Dargey.
"We're building it within code. We're not asking a variance," he said, adding the subject property is zoned as BN (Neighborhood Business) and the proposed uses are permitted in that zone.
Dargey points out the property was for sale for years, and many other developers tried to buy it, but none were successful. Dargey says he was able to make a deal by buying the north part of the site for $4 million and negotiating a 100-year ground lease for the southern part because that's what the elderly Portland owner wanted.
Dargey also argues that many concerns are unfounded, noting that an original 183-unit proposal has been reduced to 143 units and that issues such as parking are non-existent, with ample below-ground parking to be provided.
"There is no project out there that has two parking spaces per unit. One project would not increase traffic," he said.
He adds that the building will be the first on the Eastside to be built to full environmental standards known as LEED, including being completely nonsmoking, and won't be targeted at low-income occupants, with rents starting at $1,500 a month.
"Our apartment will be one of the best," he said. "More professional people, a high-end apartment."
Dargey notes that a Potala Village already exists, which he built in Everett, and others are under development in such locations as West Seattle. All of them are named after Potala Palace, the traditional Tibetan home of the Dalai Lama, and symbolizing peace and harmony, said Dargey.
That's not to say that Dargey operates entirely on a philosophy of altruism, and real-estate offering statements for Potala Village in Kirkland suggest returns of as much as 10 percent.
"Of course," says Dargey, explaining that he expects to make a profit. "I have investors all over the world."
However, he added, he now is anticipating the Kirkland project will be financed without investors, at a cost of about $32 million, through straightforward bank loans.
That Dargey is able to undertake, and complete, such projects as Potala Village in Everett or Kirkland, is, of course, something of a mystery, since countless other developers have crashed in the economic downturn that began in 2008.
"I'm not a regular developer," said Dargey. "My project is the only one built in the middle of the recession."
Dargey says that's because of the values he's adopted in his life, which include disdaining many of the trappings of wealth, such as big houses and fancy cars.
"We live in one of the best places on earth," he says of the United States. "We have no appreciation of what we have. Before I think of myself, I think of others first. Why do we need five or six cars to live? We don't need 6,000 square feet for one person. I do this work because of what I like. I'm not interested in making huge money, I just want people employed."
As for the objections to the proposal, Dargey says the real concerns are based on fear.
"They don't like change," he said. "It's not just me. Every Eastside developer has been trying to get that property for years now."
Dargey says he's planning for a construction start next summer and that's he's unlikely to make many substantial changes, such as dropping the number of units to about 100.
"I don't think so," he said.
The city's review process for the property is scheduled to extend well into 2012. Last April, the city concluded the proposal passed a road-concurrency test, but that finding was appealed and is being reconsidered.
The city is accepting comments on the appeal through Tuesday. In addition, since part of the land is within 200 feet of Lake Washington, a state shoreline Substantial Development Permit is required.
An environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act also is required, with the city withdrawing an earlier determination of non-significance on Aug. 4. Preparing the EIS is scheduled to take through next April. Once those those processes are finished, a building-permit review will begin.
Contact Kirkland Reporter Reporter Peyton Whitely at email@example.com or 425-822-9166, ext. 5052.