Houghton/Everest business district rezoning causes stir

Some Kirkland residents are concerned over proposed zoning amendments to a Neighborhood Center that rests on the dividing line between the Everest and Houghton neighborhoods on N.E. 68th Street. The changes could mean four- and five-story buildings in what most consider the Houghton business district.

A Makers' conceptual rendering shows what redevelopment of the Houghton Neighborhood of Kirkland could look like in the future.

Some Kirkland residents are concerned over proposed zoning amendments to a Neighborhood Center that rests on the dividing line between the Everest and Houghton neighborhoods on N.E. 68th Street. The changes could mean four- and five-story buildings in what most consider the Houghton business district.

Houghton homeowner Sandy Helgeson said that the rezoning means higher density with an extreme traffic impact.

“I feel like the residents in Houghton were not adequately informed to the immense changes to the comprehensive plan and the zoning amendments,” Helgeson said.

Houghton Community Council member Rick Whitney said the council and the Planning Commission have been working on the Central Houghton Neighborhood Plan for the last couple of years.

In July, the Kirkland City Council directed the Planning Commission to start the process for rezoning as a part of the 2012 Work Program.

As a result, Whitney said the Everest Neighborhood Association didn’t get much time to deliberate.

“I understand their concern and their resistance on the pace,” Whitney said. “We had two years and they are asked to update their most important part of their area in two months.”

The Everest Neighborhood Plan has not been updated in over 20 years.

“We will have a little over a month (a public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25) to inform our residents, study the facts and give our input,” said Everest Neighborhood Association member Anna Rising. “There is no way that this can be done in that short of a time frame. We are asking for one year to try to get all the information we will need.”

Planning director Eric Shields and senior planner Angela Ruggeri said Everest was notified on Aug. 1 but the chair of the Association never responded.

The Reporter attempted to call the Everest chair Jill Keeney with no response.

“Jill has always been very responsive. She was on vacation for part of that time and I suspect the emails said something about Houghton in the subject line, so they did not catch Jill’s attention (since we don’t live in that neighborhood),” Rising said in an email.

Rising pointed out that even if Keeney had seen the emails when they were sent, it would have made little difference because Everest residents go out of town and the neighborhood association doesn’t meet until the end of September.

The changes under consideration would promote mixed commercial and residential development in the Neighborhood Center.

The Planning Commission proposed zoning that would allow five-story developments in Houghton Center, the Waddell multi-family residential properties, Lakeview Office Center and Houghton Village and Houghton Plaza areas. A four-story development would be allowed just north of Sixth Street South.

“Right now, everything … has density determined by the height and the bulk of the building,” Ruggeri said. “In other words, it doesn’t have a specific number (of units). It’s determined by how many units you can fit in the building.”

The issue is whether this type of zoning should be changed. Shields says there are pros and cons of each.

“When you talk about the type of buildings that are five stories and have the type of flexibility to determine the density by the bulk and mass, it allows buildings that are built to put their parking underground or in a garage and, economically, it works,” Shields said.

In turn, Shields said capping density could be expensive because parking requirements would shift to the street level.

The Growth Management Act is in place to promote more density but Shields can’t deny that it brings more traffic.

“That’s probably the biggest concern that we’ve heard from people,” he said.

Shields said there has not been any kind of traffic analysis even though traffic impacts will be discussed in the October public hearing.

Traffic analysis is typically done for a 20 year time span. Shields thinks “very little” of the area will be redeveloped during that time, which makes traffic hard to predict.

Only one developer has interest in redevelopment. Doug Waddell, who has owned the apartment buildings near the railroad for 16 years, said the soonest redevelopment would happen is about two years.

He says his property would most likely maintain its residential use, despite the option to incorporate retail space, and that the “economy would have to be right.”

But developers could technically take action any time after the amendments are made and changes to the comprehensive plan are accepted.

Ruggeri noted if businesses wanted to redevelop now, without any zoning or Comprehensive Plan amendments, they could build “quite a bit more than what’s there now.” She added that the changes have been made “piecemeal” over the years and there was no overall plan.

“That’s the heart of their neighborhood …,” said Ruggeri. “We want something there that will work so this can all come together in a better way.”

The upside of this proposed plan is that redevelopment can provide public infrastructure improvement, according to Shields.

“How do we make the streetscape along 68th more pedestrian oriented and more ‘green’?” Shields asked. “By incorporating a lot of street trees and landscaping into the infrastructure there, bike lanes, wider sidewalks. And for these properties that are next to the railroad, there’s the opportunity to incorporate public access to the trail that’s going to be there.”

Various meetings on the issue are to be held through September, October and November before final updates to the Comprehensive Plan are decided by Dec. 11 and zoning amendments (which can be changed throughout the year) by Jan. 1.

 

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