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Kirkland Council approves delay of downtown development

Kirkland
Kirkland's central business districts. Each zone is rated by city planner's discretion around building heights. Red represents a high level of discretion, blue moderate and yellow little or no discretion.
— image credit: City of Kirkland

In a 4-3 vote, the Kirkland City Council approved a downtown moratorium that will affect most new development during a meeting Sept. 16.

The ordinance will prevent the city from accepting applications for development permits in excess of 500 square feet of gross floor area within the city's various central business district (CBD) zones. The motion does not apply to ParkPlace (CBD 5) and excludes the Mcleod and Bank of America projects, which are considered vested as the building applications were filed prior to the moratorium.

As required by state law, the council will hold a public hearing within 60 days, or by Nov. 15, at which time the council will determine if the moratorium should be continued. The council could decide to delay downtown development as long as a year.

During the meeting, several residents spoke in favor of the moratorium, including Rob Brown who originally presented the moratorium petition to the council.

The intent of the petition, Brown said, was not to stop construction for a lengthy period of time. He said the more than 300 residents who signed the petition want the city to update its Downtown Strategic Plan, Comprehensive Plan and clarify zoning codes before it approves further construction projects.

Others, like Marilyn Dillard, have development plans directly at stake and urged the council not to include their development plans in the moratorium. A property owner, Dillard said she and developers are ready to sign the ground lease for the Antique Mall site on the corner of Main Street and Park Lane. Financing is also in place, she added.

According to meeting minutes of Kirkland's Downtown Action Team in which Dillard is a member, the proposed development of the Antique Mall site includes condos, parking and retail.

Planning Commission member Kiri Rennaker said the moratorium is "severe" and restricts the development rights of downtown property owners "to the point of rendering their land essentially valueless."

She told the council that it appears they are responding to a petition supported by more than 300 signatures, most of whom live in newly built condominiums, she said.

"Ironically, these buildings would not even be here today if it weren't for the very codes these people are assaulting," Rennaker said of the condominiums, adding, "It is insulting to know that you are giving this much weight to 300 people who simply made the commitment to sign a petition over the thousands of hours of ongoing public service given by these various groups (including the Planning Commission and Design Review Board).

"By enacting a moratorium you will effectively declare inadequate and faulty my work ... " she continued, and " ... You will say yes to people who value their view more than the basic property rights of others. You have the right to enact a moratorium -- show the wisdom not to."

Her public comment was met by a room full of applause.

Council member Jessica Greenway disagreed with Rennaker and said those who object to downtown development are not in the vocal minority.

"I hear widespread concern all over Kirkland from people who don't live anywhere close to downtown about what's happening downtown," Greenway said.

The real "heartburn" downtown is along Lake Street and Park Lane, up to Main Street, said Council member Mary-Alyce Burleigh, who voted against the ordinance along with Council member Bob Sternoff and Deputy Mayor Joan McBride.

Burleigh urged the council to take a "surgical approach" and put a moratorium only on those problem areas. She referred to the ordinance as "draconian."

Council member Dave Asher said the moratorium is a "once-in-a-community's life potential" to shape the downtown.

"We can't make mistakes," he said. "Our moratoriums in recent past have occurred after something has been permanently installed on our city’s landscape. We’re running out of room for error. It’s time to create an opportunity for a pause and insure that we don’t impose another mistake on our downtown."

Carrie Wood can be reached at cwood@kirklandreporter.com or 425-822-9166, ext. 5050.

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