In a surprise 5-1 vote, the Kirkland City Council on Tuesday night imposed an emergency 60-day moratorium on development of properties zoned “BN,” a move designed to delay the controversial proposed Potala Village 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.
Council member Amy Walen was absent, and only Mayor Joan McBride voted against the moratorium, largely because of its sudden nature. Other council members also expressed concern about the suddenness of the action.
“I have not had good experiences with emergency moratoriums,” McBride explained Wednesday. “This was done very quickly. But I understand and respect the council decision and support it now. My sense of fair play last night prevented me from voting for it.”
Representatives of the developer, Lobsang Dargey, were not at the meeting Tuesday night. But the group opposed to the development did speak at the meeting and urged action.
Patch is attempting to contact Dargey Enterprises and will update this story as soon as possible.
The property where the development is proposed, a long vacant lot adjacent to a dry cleaner and hamburger restaurant, is one of only two in Kirkland with the unusual zoning designation of BN, or neighborhood business, which does not impose density limits as do other designations. Only one other parcel in the city is zoned BN.
Although the development is in the initial stages of the city approval process, with an environmental impact study not yet prepared, council members approved the moratorium as a sort of timeout. It requires that the council conduct a public hearing by Jan. 14.
“I think their feeling was, let’s pause, let’s see what’s going on,” said Eric Shields, Kirkland’s planing director. “I think they felt is was best to pause and evaluate this.”
The action even took by surprise the development’s opponents, who argue that the BN designation is inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and thus illegal.
“There were a lot of comments, a lot of input to the council by the core opposition group,” said Chuck Pilcher, who lives nearby and is a member of the group, which numbers about 200. “I think this indicates the depths of the council’s concern.
“We all want something built on this vacant land down there. We're not opposed to development. But every other parcel of land in the city has some guidelines on how it can be developed. This spot is zoned with unlimited density of residential development.”
Although she voted against the moratorium, McBride said she understands the residents’ concerns.
“I think the concerns are valid,” she said. “The neighbors are very eloquent and really do not feel comfortable with that density in the area. But we have an ongoing environmental impact statement process and I have a lot of confidence in that process.”
For an earlier Patch story that includes the developer’s comments about the project, click here.