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Parking, traffic concerns mount for Kirkland business owners on N.E. 85th Street project
The City of Kirkland's potential use of eminent domain is a mixed bag for business owners along N.E. 85th Street, but one thing's for certain - concern mounts as construction for the city's largest project in history draws near.
The $14 million N.E. 85th Street Corridor Improvement project, which spans from 114th Ave. N.E., under the 405 overpass and up to 132nd Ave. N.E. at the Redmond City border, will balance access for cars and buses and provide coordinated streetscape improvements. Construction for the first phase of the project - under grounding of overhead utility lines on N.E. 85th St. - is scheduled to begin later this summer. Phase two, which includes improvements to the main roadway, sidewalks, storm drainage and intersection, will start in the fall of 2011.
Eminent domain concerns
Owner of Body Boutique, Lori Christopher-Hislop still has several issues to settle before she reaches an agreement with the city.
"My frustration is that they are not giving us enough time to hit a moving target," said Christopher-Hislop, who is among the remaining 15 N.E. 85th Street land owners who have yet to settle with the city, which recently authorized the use of eminent domain, if necessary. Most of the land acquisitions are small portions of the property near the street that the city needs to widen the corridor. "I would like them to give us more time and work with us ... If they have to take 15 of us to court it will take a lot of time. It will take more time than just sitting down with each of us individually."
Her issues are not with the specific project, but the way the city has communicated with business owners. She attended Kirkland City Council meetings when the project was in its preliminary stages in 2006-2007. When the economy went under in 2009, the city put the project on hold and Christopher-Hislop contends that the city did not notify business owners it was moving forward again. And she said that the plan has changed from the original, which has complicated things.
"I know that this project has been worked on for a long time so this is not a surprise to me," she said. "With these changes we don't have enough time. It is hard in a three-month period to change the entire scope of what I have researched."
Christopher-Hislop said that she and her neighbors have three different proposals and that the plan is only 30 percent complete. And the differences in the plans are big. Her neighbors' plan shows both businesses sharing a driveway, while Christopher-Hislop's plans show her sharing a driveway with the business on the other side.
The project is also costing the business owners money in the short and long term. Christopher-Hislop said that she has to talk to a lawyer every time there is a change in the project. She also contends that some of the business owners are getting "low-ball offers," and that since the city's work only pertains to the project, business owners are still responsible for the changes inadvertently made to their property.
"They don't pay for where theirs meets mine," said Christopher-Hislop. "They are taking away a chunk of my retirement."
She also said that the money given to the property owners for the portion of land acquired for the project goes directly to the mortgage company.
"With eminent domain the mortgage company gets the money," said Christopher-Hislop. "I will still have costs with this beautification project. I am all for the project but not if it hurts the businesses up there."
However, Interim Capital Projects Manager Dave Snider says eminent domain protects the property owner and guarantees them a fair price for their property. He added that about half of the affected businesses have reached an agreement with the city.
Parking, traffic concerns
Another issue is parking. Some of the land acquired from businesses is current parking spots. Business owners contend that the land is more valuable because of that reason.
"They don't want to pay the actual value of a parking spot," said Christopher-Hislop. She added her 26-year-old sign that is the only means of advertising for the business will have to be downsized as the sign is currently sitting on the land the city wants to acquire.
Other business owners have accepted the city's offer and are ready to get on with the project.
Long-time business owner Len McAdams, of McAdams Builders says the city "did as much as they could do without going through condemnation and they bent over backwards to make it reasonable for me to go ahead. I'm glad the city is taking action on this because I want it done."
McAdams added that in the long-term, the project will be a substantial improvement to the area. However, "short term construction is just going to be a disaster," he said, noting that he plans to telecommute during construction. "If you drop a McDonald's wrapper on N.E. 85th it's a traffic jam. It's going to be a very difficult time for everyone in the metropolitan area because you can't get from Kirkland to Redmond any other way."
Dr. Victoria Jones of the Northwest Animal Eye Specialists is also concerned about traffic impacts during construction.
"Many of my clients come from great distances as it is," said Jones. "If they then have to deal with delays along 85th Street, the situation could create enough frustration to deter them from returning. That would certainly be undesirable particularly in this tough economy, but most importantly for the sake of the animals."
City officials said that a traffic mitigation plan is in the works, which includes implementing construction work around peak hours.
Jones added that she will temporarily lose parking spaces during construction.
"I have had to become quite creative in coming up with a solution where our employees will park," said Jones, noting her only long-term loss as a result of the project will be her custom-built, stone covered mailbox that matches the building. "I can only hope that they (the city) will approach this project in an organized manner so that there is minimum impact on any given business and that negative impacts during the process will be as short-lived as possible."
For more information about the N.E. 85th Street Corridor Improvement project, contact Don Anderson, project engineer at 425-587-3826, or Kari Page, community outreach coordinator, at 425-587-3011.
Kirkland Reporter Editor Carrie Wood contributed to this report.