The Houghton Community Council decided to consider the idea of properties in the Houghton/Everest Neighborhood Center being up to three stories tall on Monday night.
The council had three options presented by city staff: The “Preservation” scenario, which would keep in place existing zoning and development standards at 30 feet (one to two stories); the “Modest Change” scenario, which would allow an increase in building height from 30 feet to 35 feet (three stories); and the “Greater Change” scenario, which would allow a base height of 35 feet with the potential to increase up to 55 feet in specific areas based on meeting incentives for public benefits (three to five stories).
Council Chair Rick Whitney said the scenario they would like to see is somewhere between “Preservation” and “Modest Change,” with strict restrictions on what will be allowed in the area in terms of development, especially if a project involves a three-story building. The council is recommending that any redevelopment projects in the area go through a design review process to ensure they are truly offering uses compatible and desirable to the neighborhood.
Whitney said they took a lot of direction from Houghton and Everest residents. Some locals, including Houghton resident Sandy Helgeson and Everest Neighborhood Association Chair Anna Rising, developed a five-page document that they gave to the community council for consideration.
“We had a very well-thought-out plan from a group of neighbors,” Whitney said, adding they took a lot of the points made in the plan into consideration.
The issue of the proposed zoning code amendments has been very contentious between area residents, who have spoken out against taller buildings, and commercial property owners and businesses, who have voiced support for more height in the neighborhood center.
Last week, it was standing room only in the council chambers at Kirkland City Hall, as the Kirkland Planning Commission and the Houghton Community Council held a joint public hearing to hear from community stakeholders on the issue.
“The public involvement was overwhelming, and they weren’t being emotional — they were being very rational,” Whitney said.
“This seems like a good year to protest things, and this is a good thing to protest,” Steve Cox said of the possible zoning code changes at the public hearing.
The majority of residents from the area spoke against having three to five stories allowed in the Houghton/Everest Neighborhood Center, while some thought going up to only three stories from the current two was reasonable. Representatives from local businesses and commercial properties in the area spoke in favor of allowing additional height in the center.
“It’s not the developer that makes Houghton, it’s the people,” Trish Zuccotti said at the hearing.
One of the most concerning issues for everyone is the traffic in the area, which is often at a standstill during rush hour.
“Traffic congestion is already far worse than anything I could’ve imagined 25 years ago,” Wayne Drury said at the hearing, adding that it would be “irresponsible” to have buildings in the area be three to five stories tall to add more traffic to the equation.
Another commenter suggested that any new apartments or houses built in the area should come with jetpacks to offset the traffic impacts.
“Adding more traffic doesn’t make sense,” Linda Lambert commented.
Residents also cited safety concerns in the area, mostly tied to traffic around Lakeview Elementary School.
“I have a major concern for the safety of the children in that area,” Neal Schmidt said.
The planning commission will take up the issue at its April 13 meeting, taking the community council recommendation into consideration. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at city hall.
At the meeting, the commission will vote on what to recommend to the Kirkland City Council. The city council will then discuss and vote on the zoning code amendments at one of its May meetings.
Should the city council make a decision the Houghton Community Council doesn’t like, the community council has veto power over the Houghton part of the neighborhood center.
However, Whitney said the community council is working closely with the planning commission to prevent a veto situation from happening.
“We will make every effort to not have a veto,” he said.
Those who couldn’t attend the public hearing can still send written comments up until the planning commission’s April 13 meeting. For more information about the project, visit kirklandwa.gov/HE6th or contact Kirkland senior planner Andrea Ruggeri at 425-587-3256 or email@example.com.