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Kirkland group goes informal after Lake Street Place SEPA determination

This artist’s rendering shows what the Lake Street Place project will look like when built in downtown Kirkland. - Contributed
This artist’s rendering shows what the Lake Street Place project will look like when built in downtown Kirkland.
— image credit: Contributed

Kirkland city officials recently released documents outlining several mitigated measures developers of the Lake Street Place project will need to undergo as they construct the five-story office, retail and parking structure in the middle of downtown Kirkland.

“The vast majority [of the mitigated measures] are related to either traffic or transportation issues and pedestrian safety,” said city of Kirkland Senior Planner John Regala, adding that many were a response to what they heard from the project’s neighbors.

Since late 2012, several residents of the Portsmith and Merrill Gardens retirement home have been opposed to the scale and potential traffic impacts the project could bring.

After appealing the Design Review Board approval in February 2013 and asking for a moratorium, Kirkland Neighbors United observed the process of a new proposal - split the construction into phases.

Developer Stuart McLeod and architect Rick Chesmore went back to the Design Review Board for the phased approach but ultimately decided to go forward in constructing the entire project at once.

The State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, application was submitted on June 10, 2013. A determination wasn’t issued until eight months later.

“It took a while because of all the different components,” Regala said, adding that it was longer than the average project.

Around the same time the SEPA determination of non-significance was issued, Kirkland Neighbors United issued their own determination.

“After more than a year of effort, due to lack of funding, we are not going to renew the business license, PO Box or website for Kirkland Neighbors United,” said a Kirkland Neighbors United group email on March 24.

Brian Rohrback, a member of the group, said they haven’t disbanded, but have just gone informal. They continue to work with a lawyer, as well.

“We will continue to email and send information around as we know it,” said Rohrback, who is a Portsmith resident. “We’re the touchstone for the Merrill Gardens people. My mom lives there, so we haven’t gone away.”

The group of about 60-70 members solicited donations on their website www.kirklandneighborsunited.com, but couldn’t come up with the $500 annual cost of administration and the several thousand dollars for legal fees.

Sandra Hart, another member, said the decision was made by the four group officers after receiving the SEPA report.

“The SEPA determination was a setback, but we are just as determined as before,” Hart said in an email. “Our main concern is that our conflict is being perceived as simply a view obliteration grievance when there is much more at stake.”

Although Hart said the newer building design is better than the original, the current building design will result in a “stifling, cocoon-like structure that will create a dark canyon between the new project and Portsmith.”

This is why she’s “astounded” that the SEPA decision did not choose to require an Environmental Impact Statement.

“This will create a passageway between the buildings that will be potentially more dangerous to our residents (because of the lack of visibility from the street),” she said, “as well as a potential air-quality problem created by the proximity of the building in conjunction with the exhaust venting directly into the newly formed canyon.”

Regala said the mitigated measures - which include installing a speed bump, painting curbs, a crosswalk and inputting road signs, among others - were made in consideration of the nearby residents, but noted there’s no mitigation for addressing the building size. That was determined in the Design Review process.

“From my analysis, we felt that we determined that our process, in terms of how the zonings are reviewed, they already address the issue of building size,” Regala said. “So in that sense, it’s a neighbor’s concern, but there’s not a mitigating measure.”

Rohrback said the mitigated measures, which can be found in detail on the city’s website, certainly can’t hurt but he doesn’t feel they’re an adequate solution.

Rohrback said the parking garage entrance location will force nearly 100 percent of cars to enter and exit in front of the Merill Gardens’ front door.

“That’s 1,500 cars added a day,” he said, adding that there’s 100 too few parking spaces to begin with. “That’s a lot of cars.”

Rohrback and his wife submitted a letter on March 27 explaining their issues with the SEPA determination. Ultimately, they don’t feel the traffic study was done properly because it was not done during the peak driving period.

Regala said the Rohrback’s letter was submitted as a comment letter and does not act as an appeal.

“With SEPA comments, the city will review and make a decision as to whether or not to keep the original determination, modify it, or withdraw it based on a determination that significant impacts are likely.”

The deadline to appeal the determination was on March 28.

Rohrback said the reason they didn’t appeal the determination is because of the limited time to respond and the “500 pages of documents” from the city made it hard to review in the two-week time frame.

At this time, Rohrback and Hart have asked their attorney to come up with a series of options.

Chesmore would not comment on the issue and directed the Reporter to McLeod, the developer, who couldn’t be reached for comment.

For more information, visit the city's Lake Street Place web page www.kirklandwa.gov/depart/planning/Development/Lake_Street_Place.htm or www.kirklandneighborsunited.com.

 

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