City Council again delays decision on downtown redevelopment

City Council again put off a definitive decision on downtown development at its June 3 meeting, both delaying judgement on an appeal of the Bank of America redevelopment project for a third month and continuing a hearing for another downtown development proposal.

  • Thursday, June 5, 2008 6:40pm
  • News

City Council again put off a definitive decision on downtown development at its June 3 meeting, both delaying judgement on an appeal of the Bank of America redevelopment project for a third month and continuing a hearing for another downtown development proposal.

In pushing back a decision on the Bank of America/Merrill Gardens (BofA) project, the Council said it wanted to give the applicant, SRM Development, and the appellant, Citizens for a Vibrant Kirkland (CiViK), time to work together on a potential compromise plan. The issue first came before Council April 15. It will next meet to discuss the project on July 1. The Council also heard an appeal of the neighboring McLeod project — a proposal for an 180,000-square-foot four-story building along Lake Street — but continued the hearing until June 17 after the meeting ran past midnight.

Well over 100 people attended the meeting, with some forced to watch the meeting from the lobby because of a lack of seating.

City officials have worked with the Council since May to draft a series of “findings and conclusions” after the Council supported an appeal (4-3) of the project, reversing an approval by the Design Review Board (DRB). Council members Jessica Greenway, Tom Hodgson, Dave Asher and Mayor Jim Lauinger supported the appeal.

The Council hoped a preliminary draft of findings would give SRM a chance to return with a modified proposal which they could approve. A majority of the Council ruled out a fifth floor of the project, citing zoning conflicts, but couldn’t agree on a precise interpretation of building heights on Lake Street. Several council members cited a reluctance to “design from the dais” and act in the place of the DRB.

“Clarity is something we don’t have here,” Hodgson said. “I think there is some interest on the Council to modify the appearance along Lake Street … but we’re not together on exactly what that is. I think that’s probably about the best guidance we’re going to give.”

City manager David Ramsay tried to reassure the Council, saying the findings could be changed again at its next meeting.

“I don’t believe it has to be settled at this point,” he said.

Lauinger continued the hearing to allow time for SRM and CiViK to meet in the hopes of a redesign that satisfied the concerns of the majority of Council.

Additional Disclosures and Threats

The hearing opened with revelations showing just how heated the issue of downtown development has become.

Councilman Hodgson said he was threatened to change his vote during the appeals process by “a prominent member of the Kirkland business community.”

He would not reveal the exact nature of the threats, but no police report was filed.

On May 21, the city also received an anonymous letter (addressed to City Attorney Robin Jenkinson), which outlined the relationships between CiViK and Council members Hodgson, Lauinger and Greenway. The three Council members all had CiViK board members work on their most recent election campaigns, including Jeff Leach, Bea Nahon and Jim McElwee.

“The votes of Council members Lauinger, Greenway and Hodgson for the appellant were predictable given the appellant’s involvement in the City Council campaigns. Shame on CiViK and shame on Lauinger, Greenway and Hodgson,” the letter read.

City attorney Jenkinson, however, said the relationships wouldn’t prejudice the hearing.

“They’re putting those disclosures out there for people to see in their deliberations. They feel vindicated in their conduct,” she said.

McLeod Project Appeal

The evening ended with the start of another appeal, which, unlike the BofA hearing, is not led by CiViK.

Andrew Chavez and Dean Tibbott spoke on behalf of 12 individual appellants — 10 of whom live in the Portsmith Condominiums — contesting the McLeod project. The condominium complex is situated directly behind the proposed development from Lake Street. The two other appellants listed are CiViK volunteers.

The group said it opposes the project primarily because of plans for a third and fourth story, which under certain circumstances are allowed by zoning code. Views from the complex over Lake Washington could also be obstructed by the four-story proposal. Notably, construction of the Portsmith residence — a five-story complex built in 1997 — ignited a storm of protest of its own, City Planning Director Eric Shields said. He said the furor over that development led to the creation of the new, more restrictive zoning that has been used to define the McLeod proposal.

“There was, kind of like now, a wave of concern about buildings being built too tall,” he said.

Chavez, who admitted his view would be obscured, claimed that he moved to Kirkland after getting assurances from city planners that buildings on Lake Street would not exceed two stories.

“We are pro-redevelopment,” he said. “(What’s there now is) an eyesore … but two stories means two stories.”

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