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Kirkland City Council considering downtown building moratorium

Permitting developments in downtown Kirkland will be blocked by a proposed moratorium, to be considered by City Council on Sept. 16. - Katherine Ganter/ Reporter Newspapers
Permitting developments in downtown Kirkland will be blocked by a proposed moratorium, to be considered by City Council on Sept. 16.
— image credit: Katherine Ganter/ Reporter Newspapers

Building heights in downtown Kirkland will soon get a closer look.

So soon, in fact, that an emergency cap was nearly imposed at City Council’s Sept. 2 meeting.

Mayor James L. Lauinger jump-started discussion on freezing further development downtown until building guidelines could be rewritten -- catching a number of council members by surprise. Councilman Dave Asher moved to discuss the suspension of downtown planning codes and was supported by Lauinger and council members Jessica Greenway and Tom Hodgson, but the four did not support imposing changes yet.

Instead, the mayor instructed City Manager David Ramsay to return to the Sept. 16 City Council meeting with a staff report on the various issues involved with a moratorium, the history of the petition and an ordinance to enact a temporary ban on development permits.

Referencing a petition by local residents last year to “stop all downtown building permits” until planning revisions are made and his authority to do so for up to six months, Lauinger said the council should immediately begin discussing the changes.

“We are in an advantageous position ... after the two (Bank of America/Merrill Gardens “BofA” and McLeod project) appeals,” he said.

State law permits a legislative body to impose an interim zoning ordinance for up to 60 days before a public hearing is held.

The petition, organized by downtown residents Rob Brown, Andrew and Amy Chavez, was started in December as opposition to the BofA plans grew. Brown, who is head of the homeowners association at Portsmith Condominiums, said the petition was tabled in March after the council prepared for the land-use appeals. Approximately 300 residents - mostly from neighboring downtown condominiums - signed the petition.

“The entire concept of the petition was not to stop construction for a lengthy period of time,” Brown wrote in an e-mail. “It was to ask that the DAC (Downtown Advisory Committee) be allowed to complete it’s discussion regarding the updating of the Downtown Strategic Plan before further construction projects were approved.”

Councilwoman Mary-Alyce Burleigh, a former mayor, nearly jumped from her seat on hearing the proposal. Along with council members Joan McBride and Bob Sternoff, she complained that a public discussion of freezing the permitting process without giving prior notice was not following the accepted standard of “process.”

“This is completely premature,” she insisted. “It’s inappropriate!”

While the land-use appeals have been dealt with by the City Council for now, the decisions still are keeping the council busy. Before their meeting, council members huddled with staff behind closed doors to discuss legal strategy for dealing with a lawsuit filed by BofA property owners SRM Development. The group still seeks to build a five-story building on the property at the intersection of Kirkland Avenue and Lake Street South and are seeking relief in King County Superior Court.

During the council meeting, SRM Development principal Andy Loos sat bemused in the audience.

“I’m glad I came tonight,” he said, smiling.

Building heights in downtown Kirkland will soon get a closer look.

So soon, in fact, that an emergency cap was nearly imposed at City Council’s Sept. 2 meeting.

Mayor James L. Lauinger jump-started discussion on freezing further development downtown until building guidelines could be rewritten -- catching a number of council members by surprise. Councilman Dave Asher moved to discuss the suspension of downtown planning codes and was supported by Lauinger and council members Jessica Greenway and Tom Hodgson, but the four did not support imposing changes yet.

Instead, the mayor instructed City Manager David Ramsay to return to the Sept. 16 City Council meeting with a staff report on the various issues involved with a moratorium, the history of the petition and an ordinance to enact a temporary ban on development permits.

Referencing a petition by local residents last year to “stop all downtown building permits” until planning revisions are made and his authority to do so for up to six months, Lauinger said the council should immediately begin discussing the changes.

“We are in an advantageous position ... after the two (Bank of America/Merrill Gardens “BofA” and McLeod project) appeals,” he said.

State law permits a legislative body to impose an interim zoning ordinance for up to 60 days before a public hearing is held.

The petition, organized by downtown residents Rob Brown, Andrew and Amy Chavez, was started in December as opposition to the BofA plans grew. Brown, who is head of the homeowners association at Portsmith Condominiums, said the petition was tabled in March after the council prepared for the land-use appeals. Approximately 300 residents - mostly from neighboring downtown condominiums - signed the petition.

“The entire concept of the petition was not to stop construction for a lengthy period of time,” Brown wrote in an e-mail. “It was to ask that the DAC (Downtown Advisory Committee) be allowed to complete it’s discussion regarding the updating of the Downtown Strategic Plan before further construction projects were approved.”

Councilwoman Mary-Alyce Burleigh, a former mayor, nearly jumped from her seat on hearing the proposal. Along with council members Joan McBride and Bob Sternoff, she complained that a public discussion of freezing the permitting process without giving prior notice was not following the accepted standard of “process.”

“This is completely premature,” she insisted. “It’s inappropriate!”

While the land-use appeals have been dealt with by the City Council for now, the decisions still are keeping the council busy. Before their meeting, council members huddled with staff behind closed doors to discuss legal strategy for dealing with a lawsuit filed by BofA property owners SRM Development. The group still seeks to build a five-story building on the property at the intersection of Kirkland Avenue and Lake Street South and are seeking relief in King County Superior Court.

During the council meeting, SRM Development principal Andy Loos sat bemused in the audience.

“I’m glad I came tonight,” he said, smiling.

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