The Kirkland City Council unanimously approved the purchase of 5.75 miles of abandoned railway for $5 million Monday night, a step described by council members as a bold and historic action to link the city’s parks, neighborhoods and businesses with a cross-town trail.
The vote authorizes City Manager Kurt Triplett to enter a sale and purchase agreement with the Port of Seattle for the Kirkland segment of the 44-mile “” from Snohomish to Renton. That would intitiate a 60-day “due diligence” period for inspection and review of outstanding issues, which, if cleared, would be followed by the purchase in March.
The council also approved an “inter-fund loan” plan to pay for the purchase, with the city essentially loaning itself the money through existing capital funds that would have to be paid back over three years.
“I am very pleased to have this before us,” said Mayor Joan McBride. “I think in the future, we will be so proud we went out on a limb to do this.”
Council Member Jessica Greenway, who , said it’s important that the railway be made useable as a pedestrian/bicycle trail as soon as possible.
“I am so proud to be able to vote yes on this proposal as one of my last acts as a Kirkland City Council member,” she said. “We realize what a risk this is. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Kirkland portion of the former Burlington Northern railroad stretches from the Totem Lake area south almost to state Route 520, and would be developed over time, first as a trail and later also as a light transportation corridor. The port purchased the railway a few years ago and has been negotiating its transfer to King County, but as those talks dragged on, Kirkland negotiated its own purchase plan.
Council members made clear that the purchase is not without risk, that other needed projects would be deprioritized and delayed.
“I am really concerned about how close to the edge we are,” said Dave Asher. "We’ve really taken on significant expenses in the last couple years with our annexation. We have a fundamental responsibility to maintain infrastructure. Our CIP (Capital Improvement Program) is really being raided, I think for a very good purpose, but it’s going to have an impact on our CIP.”
The money for the purchase could be found in a number of ways, city staff explained, including using existing funds for other parks, transportation and water-sewer utility projects, a parks funding levy currently being examined by a citizen committee, or a 20-year municipal bond.
The City Council in April adopted a vision statement for the rail corridor, a plan seen as a way to connect Kirkland’s neighborhoods, parks, schools and businesses, and by linking it with some sort of community park or commons, as a way to revitalize the Totem Lake area.
Three members of the public spoke in favor of the purchase, none against.
Gary Greenberg called the purchase “an investment in our community and its neighborhoods through clean, green transportation. I ask the council to invest in making the cross-Kirkland trail a reality.”
IN OTHER ACTION, the council instructed city staff to pursue an extension of a 60-day moratorium on development in areas zoned “BN,” or neighborhood business, and scheduled a hearing on the move for its Jan. 3 meeting.
The emergency moratorium was last month to delay the apartment development on Lake Street South.
The development proposed by Dargey Enterprises of Everett would create a 143-unit apartment complex across two lots on busy, scenic and largely upscale Lake Street. It faces stiff opposition from a group of neighbors who say allowing density that high would be inappropriate for the neighborhood, would lower property values and cause severe traffic and environmental impacts.
The council also approved a comprehensive review of the BN designation by the city’s Planning Commission.
The developer, Lobsang Dargey, an immigrant from Tibet, spoke during the public communication period of the meeting, asking for fairness and open communication by all parties.
“I know a lot of neighbors really hate me very much,” he said. “We need to have better communication. We’re basically all immigrants. I know the neighbors have a lot of concerns. We need very clear direction on what we need to do next. I encourage fairness. I encourage neighbors to come to us and give their opinion.”
Dargey seemed to indicate he had downsized plans for the project to 115 units, and would change them from rental units to condominiums for sale. But he later refused to speak to Patch to clarify the issue.
FINALLY, THE COUNCIL made a special presentation honoring Greenway’s service to the city, taking a break in the meeting to serve cake and refreshments. Council members praised her dedication, commitment and work for the city.
Said Deputy Mayor Penny Sweet, who ran against and lost an election to Greenway a few years ago: “She is very gracious. She honestly loves this city. She has worked her butt off for all of us in Kirkland.”