City prepares for second Totem Lake Symposium - Part two: First event yielded work plan
By MATT PHELPS
Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor
September 27, 2012 · Updated 8:39 AM
From its prime visibility for commuters on 405 to supporting the biggest employer in the city - Evergreen Hospital - to its economic impact on Kirkland, the Totem Lake area is vastly important to the City of Kirkland.
City officials have made the Totem Lake neighborhood a priority during the past three years. The city began its outreach in 2010 with the Totem Lake Symposium and continued that dialogue with community members through four Totem Lake Conversations meetings.
City officials and community members met for the fourth Totem Lake Conversations on Monday at Cafe Veloce to talk about community issues and to promote the second Totem Lake Symposium, set for 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 26 at Studio East. During their meetings with the public, city officials have received input and direction from business leaders, real estate developers, residents and others.
“We want to turn the second Symposium into a work plan like we did with the first Symposium,” City of Kirkland Economic Development Manager Ellen Miller-Wolfe during the meeting.
The first Symposium was by invitation only and the second will be open to the public.
“One of the things we heard (during the first Symposium) was ‘it’s the economy stupid,’” said Miller-Wolfe.
With the real estate market in full collapse and not very many developers wanting to take a chance, city officials went after other issues that arose from the Symposium. Those changes have brought some movement in the business district.
“We have seen growth in residential development and employment,” said Miller-Wolfe. “But we are not where we want to be.
The city has worked on promoting the Totem Lake area to businesses and developers and they have made changes to zoning codes.
“We have worked on the zoning and we now allow other types of uses for the first floor,” said Miller-Wolfe.
The city has loosened the zoning demands and it is no longer zoned strictly for retail business use. During the meeting Monday, city officials talked about how they are seeing more high tech businesses moving into the Totem Lake neighborhood as a result.
“The new businesses that are moving into the Totem Lake area know that they are pioneers,” said Kirkland Chamber of Commerce Director Bruce Wynn. “We in the Chamber are trying to help them.”
Wynn talked about the Chamber’s effort to expand some of the Kirkland downtown events throughout the city and into Totem Lake. Many of those events take place on the weekends.
“Weekdays are good because of the hospital,” said Cafe Veloce owner Liz Calouri. “But the weekends are bad. No one wants to come to Totem Lake on the weekends.”
Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride told attendees at the Conversations gathering that the city plans to begin work on amending the comprehensive plan to “end the barriers to expansion in the Totem Lake area.”
City officials are also beginning to work through traffic circulation issues explored at the first Symposium. One big project is to make a cut-through street between Slater Ave. N.E. and 124th Ave. N.E. at N.E. 120th St.
“This will be important for street connectivity,” said McBride.
The city is also approaching some other ideas for better connectivity through the area.
“We are also beginning to look at better access to 405,” said Miller-Wolfe.
A new on and off ramp at N.E. 132nd St. has been talked about for years, along with north-bound access from N.E. 116th St.
One issue that came from the first Symposium is the confusion with numbered street names that are similar to each other and intersect. But correcting the issue is about more than just changing some street signs.
“We have not tackled that one yet because the issue is a lot more complicated than it seems,” said Miller-Wolfe. “There are businesses that have invested a lot of money in signs.”
Street names also give some businesses their identity. The city wants to make sure the renaming of the streets makes sense and gives a sense of place.
The issue of flooding has had a big impact on many businesses and some efforts to redevelop. Totem Lake Boulevard and other roads have often flooded in the past. But the city has made headway in fixing many of the roads and flooding issues. City workers will also replace two culverts around the Boulevard and under 405 to prevent more flooding in the future.
“This is a big commitment from the city,” said McBride.
There has been one big change as far as Totem Lake Malls is concerned.
“They now have local representation in CBRE (the malls property management company),” said Miller-Wolfe. “Having a home team that we can deal with directly and is more responsive makes things easier.”
As a result the city has had an ongoing dialog with representatives and has invited the owners to take part in the next Symposium.
And while the redevelopment agreement between the city and the malls’ owners expired in 2009, the two still have another agreement on the table. That agreement expires in 2016 and essentially says that if the mall is redeveloped the city will help with $15 million in infrastructure improvements.
The building that My Home Furniture and Decor moved out of in July is not vacant and still houses four businesses. The building was shared by My Home prior to move to Totem Lake Malls. Jamieson Furniture Gallery, Atlas Rugs, Cascade Door and Trim and The Picture Source still inhabit the building until the January 1, 2013.
Contact Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor Matt Phelps at email@example.com or 425-822-9166 ext. 5052.