City to study rezone of Kirkland's 'employment center' this year

The Emerald Building sits behind a one-story building on the 1.7 acre MRM site. The latter building is currently leased to Microsoft until 2015. The council will vote later this year on a rezone request that would allow the site to construct an eight-story apartment complex with retail base.   - Raechel Dawson/Kirkland Reporter
The Emerald Building sits behind a one-story building on the 1.7 acre MRM site. The latter building is currently leased to Microsoft until 2015. The council will vote later this year on a rezone request that would allow the site to construct an eight-story apartment complex with retail base.
— image credit: Raechel Dawson/Kirkland Reporter

After years of Planning Commission-related delays, the Kirkland City Council voted last week that 2013 will be the year to study a rezoning request that, if approved, would allow the construction of an eight-story apartment complex with retail in a commercially-zoned district in downtown Kirkland.

The MRM Private Amendment Request (MRM PAR), initially filed in 2010, was voted into the 2013 Work Program with a 6-1 council vote, despite Planning Commission members’ recommendation the proposed amendment be folded into the city-wide Comprehensive Plan update.

“They basically just reaffirmed the original direction they gave the Planning Commission the first time around,” said MRM PAR applicant Joe Razore, vice president of the Broderick Group in Bellevue. “So, we’re three years into this process and finally moving.”

The MRM property is a 1.7 acre lot located at 434 Kirkland Way and is being leased to Microsoft until 2015. It is surrounded by the Kirkland Performance Center, QFC in Parkplace Center and the Emerald Building, which hosts business such as Davidson and Kilpatric PLLC and Bright Horizons.

Razore’s zoning amendment proposal seeks to allow a height increase from the current five-story maximum height to eight stories. Razore also wants to add more residential use to the current commercially-zoned area.

The existing zoning for the MRM site only allows residential uses within 170 feet of Peter Kirk Park and limits total residential to 12.5 percent of the gross floor area of the development.

The MRM PAR was intended to be specifically for the site, but after the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the council voted 4-3 for the Work Program’s study area to include all of Central Business District 5.

In early March, Planning Commission vice chair Jon Pascal said there is not a high potential other property sites in that zone would be affected because they have already been redeveloped.

“When you look at all the properties in that zone, the only one that has a realistic chance to be redeveloped is this site,” Pascal said, referring to the MRM property.

In a March 6 letter to the council, Razore explained that several years ago his family purchased the one-story building, which was formerly occupied by Bungie, Inc., a video game developer company that created the Halo video game, among others.

Razore’s vision, which includes a grocer or drug-store-type retailer at the base with high density apartments on top, is looking ahead after Microsoft’s lease expires. He says it is intended to accommodate the 2,000-plus office employees expected with the development of Google’s expansion and Parkplace’s 1.2 million-square-foot office structure.

“When Touchstone came along and got their big rezone, we felt that it would be in the best interest of the city and our property to build something that compliments Touchstone’s vision for Parkplace rather than compete with their vision,” said Razore. “So if you bring another 250,000 square-feet of office here, you’re going to bring cars for those as well.”

Razore believes the apartment complex could help alleviate some of Parkplace’s future traffic issues and has offered to fully fund the Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate his rezone request.

But Ken Davidson, an attorney with Davidson and Kilpatric PLLC, said rezoning CBD 5 to eight-stories would further cement the precedent after Parkplace’s approved eight story zoning in 2010.

“MRM is coming in and doing exactly what the opponents of Parkplace feared. They’re saying ‘you gave Parkplace eight stories, give us eight stories,’” Davidson said. “People were opposed to going to eight stories because they feared it would take away from the look and feel of Kirkland.”

Although Davidson acknowledges his office building’s view would be completely obstructed if the eight-story apartment complex was built, he says changing a commercial district for residential use restricts the opportunity for office buildings and therefore more high-paying jobs.

“This is where we’re going to attract the kinds of employers that we want in our community, to provide the kinds of jobs that allow people to both live and work here,” Davidson said, who served on the Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce in the early 1990s. “That’s why in CBD 5 in the Comprehensive Plan, it identifies CBD 5 as the ‘employment center,’ and why the zoning code says commercial and office. It does not include multi-family.”

Davidson points out that Kirkland will be damaging its brand among professional firms if an apartment building with barbecues and plastic deck chairs obstructs the views from some prominent office buildings, such as the Emerald Building and the Continental Plaza, in the surrounding area. An office building, he says, would ease his concern.

There is also a speculation of whether Parkplace will ever secure a tenant for their planned eight-story office building, but Razore said if national tenants see “shovels in the ground” on his site, then hopefully it could help Parkplace “land the tenant” they need next door.

“We want to build something that’s great for Kirkland,” Razore said. “We’re long-term holders, our family has been [on the Eastside] for three generations. We don’t plan on going anywhere so the last thing we want to do is go build something for the city that doesn’t work for us.”

Although the vision for his rezone request is still in the preliminary stages, Razore said he “loves buildings that look like they’re built on top of older buildings” because it’s as if the building is “connecting yesterday to today.”

Razore said he welcomes and is very open to all ideas and opinions for what could be done with the site.

As soon as the environmental review is complete, which will likely be complete by late summer or early fall, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing. After the public’s comments are taken into consideration, Planning Commission members will make a recommendation to the council. The council would then vote on the zoning code by the end of the year.

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