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Kirkland City Council makes final decision on Potala Village zoning

David Mann,  who represents a group of neighbors opposing the Potala Village project, spoke at the last Kirkland City Council meeting of 2012 in which the city made final decisions on zoning for the Potala Village project. The council also amended the Comprehensive Plan and adopted the biennial budget.  - Carrie Rodriguez, Kirkland Reporter
David Mann, who represents a group of neighbors opposing the Potala Village project, spoke at the last Kirkland City Council meeting of 2012 in which the city made final decisions on zoning for the Potala Village project. The council also amended the Comprehensive Plan and adopted the biennial budget.
— image credit: Carrie Rodriguez, Kirkland Reporter

At least one dozen opponents of the Potala Village project dressed in red at the last Kirkland City Council meeting of the year Tuesday to express dissatisfaction on an unclear zoning code that would affect development in the Moss Bay neighborhood, among others.

But in the end, the group walked away with a compromised victory.

On a 4-3 vote, the Kirkland City Council voted to amend the zoning code, which caps density for Neighborhood Business (BN) zones at 48 units per acre. The amendment also exempted the 25 percent bonus for developers looking to provide affordable housing.

Council members and residents alike were shocked to discover an affordable housing bonus provision that would have allowed developers in the BN zones to increase density by including affordable housing units in their project under a 25 percent bonus.

Deputy Mayor Doreen Marchione said that the bonus provision “caused quite a stir” with the council and citizens when it was outlined in the council packet.

If the council had not taken action, a development with six affordable housing units in a 48 unit per acre dwelling would be allowed an additional 12 bonus units for a total density of 60 units.

“I think what the council did tonight was to preserve the spirit and the numbers that were discussed and agreed upon the last time around,” said Tom Grimm, a STOP advocate. “I think the council had not had any experience with the 25 percent (provision) as was stated tonight.”

Karen Levenson, a backer of STOP, expressed to the Reporter this could be the end for neighbors.

“I think we may be done with the Potala Village controversy - at least as far as citizen involvement with the Planning Commission and the City Council,” said Levenson in an email, noting that litigation between the city, neighbors and developer is still ongoing.

During the council meeting, Justin Stewart spoke on behalf of developer Lobsang Dargey and said the Potala project’s process so far has been “disheartening.” He said the developer has spent much time and money trying to move the project forward.

When Dargey initially submitted the project proposal last year, it sparked a controversy between more than 1,000 nearby residents, the developer and the city over the project’s scale and neighborhood impacts. Potala Village is a proposed 143 apartment unit project on a 1.2 acre lot with a view of Lake Washington in the Moss Bay neighborhood. The building would have 6,000 square feet of retail space, plus retail parking.

Since then, the council has imposed four moratoriums against development on the Lake Street BN zone.

Dargey filed a lawsuit against the city in May that sought an injunction against the moratorium, which is still active.

The council is currently in mediation with the developers and concerned neighbors, who formed the coalition STOP (Support the Ordinances and Plans).

Although the council did not agree to a settlement that Dargey recently put forth, the council did agree with Kirkland citizens to revisit a 48 unit per acre limit at their Nov. 20 council meeting.

Many residents initially hoped zoning would cap density at 12 units per acre and the Planning Commission even recommended 36 units per acre or less, but Councilwoman Amy Walen said the people came together with “a sincere desire to improve the neighborhood.”

Council members Dave Asher and Bob Sternoff motioned to amend the density ordinance to cap at 36 units per acre, but the amendment lost by a 3-4 vote.

The council also agreed to keep the affordable housing bonuses applicable to the Market Street Corridor (MSC 2) zone.

Marchione agreed with Councilwoman Penny Sweet that the MSC 2 zone was better equipped for affordable housing because of its location and accessibility to transit.

The council also voted on various changes to the Comprehensive Plan and unanimously adopted the 2013-14 biennial budget.

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