Council Closes Out 2012 By Capping Potala Village Density at 48 Units/Acre

The Kirkland City Council also approved a rezone request for the "Howard Properties" on Juanita Drive at Holmes Point Drive, eliminating a requriement a housing developer include ground floor retail use.


The Kirkland City Council closed out its 2012 Tuesday night by tackling two tough development issues, in the most contentious case putting a firm density cap of 48 units per acre on the Potala Village apartment proposal on scenic Lake Street -- a compromise with neighbors who have fought the project for months.

In the other case, the council rejected a recommendation by the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance by approving a property owner’s request to eliminate a zoning requirement for commercial use on parcels he wants to develop as cottage housing along Juanita Drive.

The busy year-end meeting also saw the council approve a $543.7 million city budget for 2013-14 -- a 13.2 percent increase over the 2011-12 budget -- and a six-year Capital Improvement Program. (For details on the budget, see the attached PDF file.

Both the rezone request of the so-called “Howard properties” and the vote on density limits in areas zoned “BN” (neighborhood business), including the Potala Village site, generated significant debate by the council.

Complicating the discussions about the BN zone density limit was a recent revelation by city staff that Kirkland's Zoning Code allows for additional “bonus” units in such cases if a certain number are built and sold/leased at “affordable” levels. This raised anew the concerns of a group of neighbors fighting the density proposed by the developer for Potala Village -- originally planned at 144 units on the 1.3 acre site along the Lake Washington shoreline in a neighborhood of expensive homes and condominiums.

Neighbors say that level of residential density would be out of character with the neighborhood along Kirkland’s signature lakeshore arterial, would lower surrounding property values and worsen already bad traffic on Lake Street/Lake Washington Boulevard.

The council last month had agreed on a split vote to consider a compromise proposed by the group STOP Potala, capping development in BN zones to 48 units per acre. That would mean the Potala Village project would be limited to about 58 units overall.

But the council barely even considered allowing any ‘bonus units” based on affordability, despite the testimony of the owner of the company that would build the Potala Village complex.

During the open testimony portion of the meeting, Justin Stewart, noting that he and developer Lobsang Dargey of Dargey Enterprises had left “a lot of time and money wasted behind us,” made a final plea to let the project move forward. To do otherwise, he said would “obviously seem unethical.”

But the council held fast to its November vote to keep density levels at 48 units per acre at the site, along with one other area zoned BN, on south Rose Hill. Council Member Amy Walen said the council in November made a commitment to the neighbors.

“I do want to communicate to the neighbors that they came to us in good faith and agreed to a number they were not quite comfortable with,” she said. “It was 48 (per acre), period. I will be asking we take the bonus out.”

The vote was 5-3 to cap it at 48, with Council Members Dave Asher and Bob Sternoff voting no, not because of the bonus unit issue, but because both preferred the cap be set at 36 unit per acre as the city Planning Commission recommended.

The next phase of the long-running development battle might well be the fate of a lawsuit Dargey Enterprises filed in May contesting moratoriums on building permits in BN zones the council has enacted in response to neighbors’ concerns.

On the Howard properties rezone request, Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance member Francesca Lyman urged to council to hold off approval until a neighborhood plan could be developed that gathered public input and examined  appropriate uses in the area. Finn Hill was annexed to Kirkland in 2011, and no neighborhood plan has yet been developed for the area.

Noting that major traffic issues along Juanita Drive have not been addressed and that density levels there need to be considered as well, she urged the council to put off the rezone until a plan can be developed that gives “the city enough information to make a (proper) decision.”

Jeff Howard, the owner of two parcels at the unusually shaped intersection of NE 122nd Place, Holmes Point Drive and Juanita Drive, had asked that one property be rezoned to eliminate a ground-floor commercial requirement so he could develop both as multi-family cottage-style housing. He has argued that the odd shape of the intersection and location make ingress/egress difficult and thus the two parcels, totalling 1.81 acres, unsuitable for retail use.

The Planning Commission last month earlier agreed, after long and difficult consideration recommending the rezone be approved.

Deputy Mayor Doreen Marchione said she understood the alliance’s concerns, but felt the case is unique and that it would be unfair to make the developer “have to wait two or 10 years.”

Four other council members agreed, but Mayor Joan McBride said she was “allergic to these kinds of down-zones” and joined Asher in voting against. Said Asher: “This (area offers) one of the few commercial opportunities in the Finn Hill area. I won’t support this down-zone.”

The rezone request was approved on a 5-2 vote.


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