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Residents file nine appeals over controversial Potala Village project in Kirkland

A neighborhood group put out fliers along Lake Street South on Wednesday informing residents of how the proposed Potala Village project could impact the neighborhood.  - Contributed
A neighborhood group put out fliers along Lake Street South on Wednesday informing residents of how the proposed Potala Village project could impact the neighborhood.
— image credit: Contributed

The proposed Potala Village mixed-use apartment complex along the Kirkland waterfront is making neighbors and the Kirkland City Council see red.

The surrounding residents are upset at the scale of the proposed development.

Council members saw a sea of red during the Oct. 18 council meeting as approximately 50 people showed up, all wearing red t-shirts, to protest Potala Village.

Residents have also filed nine appeals with the city over the proposed project - a four-story building with 316 underground parking stalls located at 10th Avenue South and Lake Street South.

"If you take a look at the number of dwelling units or houses (in the surrounding area) and you see the new proposed development, which is 143 units with 6,200 feet of retail, it is so far out of scale and I can't understand where this thing came from," said Peter Powell during the council meeting, showing an aerial view of the area. "If you look at it as part of a scale project with 143 units, you can't find one other piece of property around that is even close."

One of the biggest issues with this, and many other recently proposed developments in Kirkland, is the Comprehensive Plan, which often conflicts with zoning codes. The Comprehensive Plan is what city officials and residents use to determine what is best for the different neighborhoods in the city.

The Growth Management Act requires cities to adopt a Comprehensive Plan. The plan aims to help the community and city agree on zoning regulations.

The conflict between zoning laws and the Comprehensive Plan makes the Potala Village development highly controversial.

"We're building it within code," said Lobsang Dargey in a recent story in the Reporter. "We're not asking for a variance."

And he is right.

The land is zoned BN or Neighborhood Business. That zoning code calls for the ground floor to have 75 percent commercial use, which Potala has planned for, with no restrictions to multifamily units above.

But the Comprehensive Plan, approved in 2004, for the Moss Bay area has greater restrictions. The plan states that the area is a "Residential Market" and allows only for a "very small mixed-use building."

Potala Village would have 116 residential units per acre.

"That is more than 10 times the density of anything built on or around those properties. That is a far cry from the 12 units per acre allowed in the Comprehensive Plan," said neighbor Charles Greene, during the council meeting. "Allowing the density to be decided by the developer is not right. That should be decided by the city."

According to Steven Gillespie, an attorney representing the group, the council asked staff to address the discrepancy between the Comprehensive Plan and the zoning codes in 2004.

However, city Planning Director Eric Shields said the city never intended to change the codes.

"It was always presumed to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan," said Shields, noting city officials didn't expect such a large development on the property.

Prior to 2004, the city had planned to review areas zoned as "Residential Markets."

"It kind of went away and never got back on the table," said Shields.

During the meeting, two council members seemed confused on what they could do about the situation. City attorney Robin Jenkinson advised council that they could implement an Interim Emergency Regulation that would change the zoning codes.

No action was taken, but the council directed staff to prepare more information on the Potala project.

Developers must abide by the zoning regulations that are in place when they apply for building permits, said Shields. Dargey has not yet applied for the permits.

Residents have filed nine appeals over traffic issues that will be heard before the Hearing Examiner on Nov. 17.

The group claims that is a record for one project in Kirkland. Each appeal filed cost individuals $207.

But the group, which has approximately 100 members and has the backing of eight homeowner groups, plans to attend the hearing wearing their red t-shirts, even though the appellants are the only ones allowed at the meeting.

One of the biggest reasons for the appeals is the addition of more cars to Lake Street, which is one of the most congested areas of Kirkland at rush hour.

"I have thought about this, 143 units across the street with 200 to 300 parking spots right across from my driveway, now I can barely get in and out of that driveway as it stands," said Jack Rogers, who lives across the street from the proposed site.

In an effort to get greater support, the surrounding residents distributed a flier in the neighborhood this week noting the scale of the proposed project.

It says the Comprehensive Plan, zoning codes and city ordinances are in conflict. The flier also claims that the developer plans to remove "over 3,000 truck loads of dirt."

It urges neighborhood residents to get involved and show up for council meetings to voice their opposition.

Community organizers also hope to get the development scaled back for a second time. The original plan called for over 180 units.

The group hopes that if all else fails, the Comprehensive Plan will be considered as part of development regulations during project review through the State Environmental Policy Act.

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