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Controversial Potala project poses no significant impact to neighborhood, study says

The City of Kirkland released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)on Thursday, which concluded that the project would not have any significant impact to neighborhood character or transportation, according to city standards.  - File photo
The City of Kirkland released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)on Thursday, which concluded that the project would not have any significant impact to neighborhood character or transportation, according to city standards.
— image credit: File photo

The proposed Potala Village project has drawn much opposition for potential surrounding neighborhood impacts. But a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released Thursday concluded that the project would not have any significant impact to neighborhood character or transportation, according to city standards.

However, project opponents say that the project will still impact the neighborhood and the EIS fails to address several important issues.

City officials stress that this is not the final document and the community still has the opportunity to weigh in on EIS findings.

The city will accept written comments about the EIS through 5 p.m. Aug. 24. In addition, the public will have the opportunity to comment on the EIS during a public hearing at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 in the City Hall Council Chamber.

Following the public comment period, the city will issue a final EIS in October that will include responses to comments received during the public comment period.

The EIS examines the height, bulk and scale of the proposed building, residential density, traffic, parking, environmental remediation and construction impacts.

The 52,600-square-foot Potala site is located at the southeast quadrant of Lake Street South and 10th Avenue South, approximately half-mile south of downtown Kirkland.

The four-story mixed-use development would contain 6,200 square feet of commercial use (general office and medical office), 143 residential units and underground parking with 316 parking stalls.

Traffic impacts

One significant area of controversy surrounding the project proposal includes the extent to which it would result in significant transportation impacts.

Kirkland resident Chuck Pilcher, who lives near the site, said traffic in that area is already out-of-control.

He said he and his family recently pulled their car out onto Lake Washington Boulevard at Houghton Beach to go to Santorini Greek Grill. Traffic was backed up all the way to Carillon Point, so Pilcher got out of his car and walked to the restaurant, ordered his food, and got the food before his wife and son got there.

“Yeah, it’s really walkable and pedestrian friendly,” he joked of the area.

Pilcher said the EIS findings were “a mixture of interesting and unacceptable.”

He was disappointed that the study only looked at major intersections, some of which were at least a half-mile from the project site. He was also disappointed that the EIS didn’t address the traffic volumes on Lake Street and Lake Washington Boulevard.

According to the study, the project would result in increased traffic volumes and delay at several intersections near the site. However, the operational effects of the additional vehicles do not exceed the city’s adopted threshold for significance and are therefore not considered a significant impact, according to the EIS.

Pilcher said significant or not, the project will still cause adverse traffic impacts, including during construction that “is going to cause massive congestion,” he said.

All Traffic Data Services, Inc., a traffic data collection firm, collected hourly traffic data for seven days, beginning May 12, on Lake Street South south of 10th Avenue South, near the project site. The firm used existing traffic volumes to help determine future conditions, which were evaluated for 2014, the year the proposed project would be complete.

Other pipeline projects - including the Yarrow Bay expansion, South Kirkland Park & Ride expansion, Northstar Junior High relocation, McCleod and Parkplace redevelopments - are also expected to impact transportation in the study area.

Projected traffic volumes without the Potala development on Lake Street South are 1,095 total vehicles during the Saturday peak hour, and 1,100 vehicles during the Sunday peak hour.

The study looked at how the project would impact traffic conditions. Currently, the study area does not have any intersections that are “approaching congestion” or at a “high level of congestion.” The study found that without the project, three intersections would reach the level of “approaching congestion,” while a fourth would “high congestion.”

The project is expected to add about one to three seconds of average delay at each of the signalized study area intersections. During the AM peak hour, all signalized intersections are expected to see some delay. During the PM peak hour, the project would add one to three seconds of average delay at the four intersections projected to operate at at the “approaching” or “high” level of congestion in the 2014 conditions without the project.

At the unsignalized intersections, the project is expected to add one to 12 seconds of average delay to the stop-controlled movements, degrading the Lake Street South/10th Avenue South intersection, to “approaching” congestion during PM peak hours in the eastbound direction.

Neighborhood character

Another area of controversy is whether the project is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood character.

Many opponents are concerned that the project is too dense.

With 143 units on a 1.21 acre site, the proposal would result in a density of approximately 118.4 dwelling units per acre. This is at the high end, but within the range of densities found in the study area, according to the EIS.

The proposal would also result in a greater density of land use on the project site. However, this change to the land-use pattern to include multi-family use is consistent with the surrounding land-use pattern and the Kirkland Zoning Code. With recommended mitigation, no significant unavoidable adverse impacts are anticipated, the study continues.

According to the study, the proposed building footprint is larger and lot coverage higher than much of the development in the study area. However, the study emphasized that the footprint and lot coverage are allowed under the existing development standards for the Neighborhood Business (BN) zone.

In addition, the style of the proposed development, while permitted by the city’s development standards, is generally not consistent with development in the area, the study continues.

The study cites aesthetic elements that appear to be out of scale with the neighborhood, including the building size and mass, landscaping, building colors and building street relationships. The study suggests three alternative development scenarios that could be used to mitigate those impacts, including a central courtyard, three buildings and an “H”-shaped footprint.

Project background

The city issued a Determination of Significance, requiring an EIS on Aug. 4, 2011. Prior to starting the EIS, developer Lobsang Dargey of Dargey Enterprises delayed moving forward with the study because of the city’s pending parallel actions to review the existing BN zone.

The proposed project lies within the BN zone, which permits such uses as retail, office and residential. Those actions included a council-imposed moratorium on development in the BN zone that was originally set to expire on May 15, but was extended to Nov. 15. The moratorium will provide the Planning Commission time to study potential changes to the BN zone, which opponents say conflicts with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Calls to Dargey from the Reporter requesting comment on the EIS were not returned.

Dargey’s attorney filed a lawsuit against the city over the building moratorium in May.

At the developer’s request, the city reinitiated the EIS process in April.

Staff writer Matt Phelps also contributed to this report.

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