Kirkland Planning Commission to receive public comment on Parkplace project
By MATT PHELPS
Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor
June 22, 2010 · Updated 6:46 PM
Kirkland's Planning Commission meetings don't normally have many citizens in attendance. Kirkland attorney Ken Davidson and the group Kirkland Citizens for Responsible Development (KCRD) are hoping for a better turnout at the next meeting when the board will receive public comment on the three zoning options submitted by developer Touchstone Corp. on plans for the redevelopment of Parkplace in downtown Kirkland.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 24 at City Hall. The city is also taking written public comment on the project until June 28.
Touchstone submitted three zoning options to the Design Review Board for the Parkplace project in response to the Growth Management Hearings Board ruling last October that the original option violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The ruling found that the city failed to consider alternatives that would have less impacts on the environment.
Davidson Serles and Continental Plaza - the original petitioners - along with the KCRD are concerned that the zoning options submitted are not scaled down enough to pass SEPA standards and would like to see a fourth proposal that is smaller in scale.
"I don't think the public knows or understands how massive these buildings will be," said Davidson. "All the buildings are eight stories."
The three proposals range in square footage from 1.3-1.8 million over the five-building development.
"The largest is bigger than Lincoln Square (in Bellevue)," said Davidson. "They are trying to build as much as possible and the only tenant they have is QFC."
The existing Parkplace buildings are 840,000 square feet.
"One requirement of SEPA is that the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) consider at least one alternative action, which will have less environmental impact," said Davidson in a letter to the Planning Commission. "The DEIS does not have such an alternative."
Davidson contends that instead of scaling the Parkplace project back, the new proposals spread the environmental impact to different properties.
Touchstone Vice President A-P Hurd said the Parkplace project was inspired by the City of Kirkland's Downtown Plan and the company "tried to incorporate uses that were responsive to the city's needs."
She added the project is "potentially great" for Kirkland and to date plans have been reviewed extensively.
Regarding the three zoning options, Hurd said Touchstone submitted them in response to the Growth Management Hearings Board ruling, which actually upheld the ordinances that the petitioners sought to review. The ordinances, which were passed in 2008, amended the Comprehensive Plan and zoning code in association with the private amendment request for the Parkplace project.
The board "concluded that they (the ordinances) were valid with SEPA, but asked the city to investigate other options for accommodating the additional density in a supplemental EIS," said Hurd, noting that the Parkplace site is located close to the new Kirkland Transit Center.
"(The board) said we should look at other sites that can accommodate this density - not less density," she added.
The other issue that Davidson and the KCRD have with the proposals is the look and feel of the buildings and how they fit with the rest of the architecture of downtown Kirkland.
"They are like Soviet-era buildings," said Elaine Darling of the KCRD. "They are big boxes and there is no sense of the neighborhood. We want to know if this is what the public expected? What they promised is not going to materialize."
Davidson said that other architects in Kirkland have had to use a lot of modulation in their designs and the amount of space between the buildings.
"This is a slice of Bellevue," said Davidson. "There is no modulation greater than five feet."
Davidson said that the amount of retail will end up less than promised because "the definition is getting pretty loose," and with the design, retail stores may be scared off.
"In that complex who is going to come in with a hardware store?" Darling said.
The size of the buildings and the amount of office space added to an area with a high vacancy rate also concerns Davidson: "I can name five office zoning projects that haven't been completed," noting that the vacancy rate is between 15-20 percent in Kirkland.
The KCRD is also concerned with parking for the project in a downtown that already has a lack of parking spaces.
If a zoning option is eventually passed it would only be good for five years and Davidson concedes that the development may never be built within the present economy.
The city will make its final decision on the project in October.
Editor Carrie Wood also contributed to this report.Contact Kirkland Reporter Regional Assistant Editor Matt Phelps at email@example.com or 425-822-9166 ext. 5052.