Opinion

EDITORIAL | New development means more affordable housing in Kirkland

The City of Kirkland supports transit-oriented development (TOD) at the South Kirkland Park and Ride.

The site is ideal for combining higher residential and employment densities with frequent transit service. It's a major transit hub, with service to Totem Lake, downtown Seattle, the University of Washington and other employment and residential areas.

The park and ride lot, owned by King County Metro, is located in the Lakeview neighborhood, near the intersection of Lake Washington Boulevard and 108th Ave. N.E. The site is about seven acres with equal portions lying within the cities of Kirkland and Bellevue.

The Kirkland City Council had good reason for recently voting to approve the TOD when they did.

At stake was $6.25 million in funding that King County will receive from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would add 250 much needed parking stalls. The park and ride is currently at capacity with 603 stalls.

King County could have lost the federal grant if the city did not take action by early 2011.

Even more significant is the TOD ranks among the city's top affordable housing strategies.

No doubt, there is a dire need for affordable housing in Kirkland. Despite the city's long-standing commitment to support housing issues that face the community, the city continues to fall short of meeting its annual affordable housing targets.

In fact, the Eastside has the smallest stock of affordable rental housing in the county for people at 50 percent of the area median income, according to a King County Benchmark Report. For a four-person family, that's an annual salary of $42,150.

Creating more affordable housing eliminates long commutes for those who have to travel from places they can afford to the places they work. It would allow lower wage workers to stay in the community they work in so they could develop a sense of community and get more involved. It would strengthen families.

And the most common cause of homelessness on the Eastside is a lack of affordable housing. Why not prevent this widespread problem and create more affordable housing?

The TOD project at the South Kirkland Park and Ride calls for 200 multi-family units, of which 20 percent would be affordable to low or moderate income households, in two five-story buildings. An additional 20 percent of units could be affordable to median income households through a city policy that urges this type of affordability.

The affordable housing issue at the TOD site has drawn the greatest controversy to many residents in the Lakeview neighborhood. A majority of the Lakeview Neighborhood Advisory Group members have expressed outright opposition to affordable housing.

Among the “NIMBY” sentiments expressed is that affordable housing would lower property values and degrade the neighborhood.

Not so. Numerous King County studies show that existing affordable housing – including on the Eastside – has not lowered property values.

Whether the project causes significant traffic impacts remains to be seen. We agree the city should mitigate these impacts as part of the project. This includes relieving congestion on Lake Washington Boulevard and nearby streets.

Assessing the adequacy of parking at the park and ride and future development on Bellevue's portion of the property are other issues the city should address going forward.

Some feel the council ignored the neighborhood advisory group by moving ahead with the TOD.

But council's approval of the project solidifies some of the crucial factors established for the South Kirkland Park and Ride – including the housing element.

And not all avenues for change are lost. Residents still have the opportunity to address other issues through zoning code regulations, such as those related to parking and design.

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