Hundreds of Kirkland residents crowded into City Hall June 12 for a Planning Commission meeting to discuss two plans for Parkplace redevelopment, but it was a third plan floated by the commission to allow up to 11 stories that had the crowd buzzing.
Of the estimated 200-250 people in attendance, many expressed surprise that the Commission would offer a plan to increase by three-stories the first proposal submitted by the developer — especially considering the controversy surrounding an original request to increase the height limit from five to eight stories.
City planner Angela Ruggeri, who is handling the developer’s public amendment requests (PARs) for Parkplace, said officials floated a plan for increased height in exchange for lower elevation on the rest of the site.
Parkplace owner Touchstone Corporation is seeking both an additional height allowance of up to eight stories and reduced setbacks as part of a “preferred” 1.8 million square-foot mixed-use proposal. An alternative “office park” plan for the site, which meets present zoning requirements, currently awaits approval from the Design Review Board.
Arriving early, the majority of the more than 50 people who signed up to speak at the meeting supported the Parkplace mixed-use plan.
Touchstone President Douglas Howe said the months of criticism and numerous neighborhood meetings had improved the design of the project.
“In fact, it has challenged us,” he said. “We are about to invest nearly a billion in Kirkland and we want to do it in a way … that creates a thriving and well-loved Kirkland Parkplace that we can all be proud of.”
In opposition to the project, Kirkland Citizens for Responsible Development (CRD) head Ken Davidson said choosing between the “preferred” and “office park” plans were a false choice. He openly questioned Touchstone’s business plan.
“I have yet to hear someone say that to be successful, retail must be subsidized by office,” he said. “That doesn’t have to be the choice … This community does not have to be bullied.”
He advocated amending the zoning to require first-floor retail and challenged the audience to imagine the buildings proposed along the border of Peter Kirk Park, which he called the “city’s crown jewel.”
The hearing took on shades of a political convention. Supporters wore large green buttons that read “Green Light for Touchstone’s proposed mixed-use project,” while opponents, led by CRD, wore blue stickers that read “See the Sky.” Groups set up near the entrance to City Hall and passed out free refreshments and informational materials.
Before the meeting got under way, a Kirkland fire marshal ejected several audience members seated on the floor of the council chamber, citing fire code regulations. Lack of room forced about 60 people to stand outside the chambers in the foyer and listen to the meeting on a public address system, while more milled about outside City Hall. When the public address system failed in the foyer, city staff attempted to accommodate the standing-room only crowd by propping open the council chamber doors and bringing in chairs.
Arriving at 6:40 p.m. to speak in opposition to Touchstone, Colleen Holden said the choice of venue made it impossible for her to participate from the foyer. She left without speaking at 8 p.m.
“I felt like we were a bunch of cattle, herded in there with our ears pressed up against each other, trying to hear what was going on,” she said.
The hearing will be continued June 26 at City Hall.