Mediation: City, Developer, Neighbors to Meet on Potala Village Conflict

A mediation session is planned for Monday on the controversial apartment development proposed for a site in Kirkland on upscale Lake Street South - but the sides appear far apart.


The City of Kirkland, the developer proposing a large and controversial apartment project for the upscale Lake Street South area and angry neighbors will enter meditation talks Monday in an effort to resolve the conflict.

City Attorney Robin Jenkinson said city staff, developer Lobsang Dargey of Dargey Enterprises and members of a neighborhood group opposed to the “Potala Village” project -- along with their lawyers -- will meet Monday with mediators from the King County-managed Inter-Local Conflict Resolution Group. A second session is scheduled for Oct. 15.

“It looks positive,” Jenkinson said Thursday.

The mediation was suggested by City Manager Kurt Triplett, a former acting King County executive, and all sides have agreed to meet.

But it appears the neighbors and the developer will begin the talks on opposite sides of a long table. Two attorneys representing the neighbors and one member of the group STOP Potala kept up their steady drumbeat for lower residential density limits on the site at the Kirkland City Council's Tuesday night meeting.

The council had earlier asked the city Planning Commission to consider changes to the “BN” family of zoning designations last year after Dargey Enterprises filed for a state shoreline permit to build a 143-unit development, triggering an outcry from the neighbors. Twice the city has enacted moratoriums on issuing new building permits in the BN zone, prompting a lawsuit filed in May by Dargey Enterprises.

The council is expected to take action on the Planning Commission’s recommendations for density limits in the zoning designations known as “BN” (Neighborhood Business) and the similar “BC” at its next meeting, on Oct. 16. Currently the BN designation has no density limit.

The commission is recommending that density be restricted to 36 residential units per acre at the proposed Potala Village site, which is on two lots across 1.2 acres at the intersection of 10th Avenue South and Lake Street South. Neighbors are urging it be limited to 24 units per acre, as is recommended for two other locations in the BN family of zones, one on south Rose Hill and the other on Market Street.

Dargey Enterprises first proposed a complex with 143 units on the Lake Street site, later offering to reduce that to 110. But if the Planning Commission’s recommendation is approved by the council and applied to the Potala Village project, only some 40 units could be built on the site.

But the neighbors’ attorneys and one neighbor Tuesday urged the council to act right away to limit density at the Potala Village site to 24 units per acre like the other two areas, or less.

Attorney Brian Lawler noted that the state Growth Management Act, which requires updates every 10 years of municipalities' comprehensive plans, urged compatibility in zoning. “We feel they all need to be the same density, and not based on a ‘gut feel,’” he said.

The "gut feel" comment was a reference to a remark in an earlier meeting by the Planning Commission chairman that the Lake Street site recommendation was based to some extent on commission members’ general sense of compatibility with surrounding densities.

Lake Street resident Tom Grimm, a frequent speaker at city council meetings, was more blunt. “We don’t like what you’re planning to do,” he said. “We don’t want that foisted upon us.”

For more Kirkland Patch coverage of the Potala Village proposal, click here.

Chuck Pilcher October 05, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Thank you Greg for your excellent coverage of this complex issue. Over 90% of the opposition to the Potala project comes from people who are NOT "neighbors." They are from Finn Hill, Totem Lake, Juanita, Houghton, Medina, Clyde Hill, Bellevue, etc. People from all over the area recognize the beauty and pedestrian friendly ambience of Kirkland's signature waterfront boulevard and the damage that such high density development would do to this community asset. The CITY is the party on the hot seat here. Both the developer and the community are the victims of the Kirkland Planning Department's failure to implement a zoning code that was twice mandated by City ordinance when Comp Plan revisions were enacted in 1995 and 2004. As several City officials have publicly stated, "We never intended anything like this to ever happen on that property." We are all looking forward to finding creative solutions to extract ourselves from this unfortunate situation.
Greg Johnston (Editor) October 05, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Thanks Chuck, that's a good point. While Lake Street and Lakeview folks are the loudest voices in the Potala Village debate, it's really an issue of concern to all of Kirkland.
GO October 05, 2012 at 04:38 PM
If the opinions of people in Finn Hill, Totem Lake, Juanita, Medina, Clyde Hill, Bellevue, etc matter, then why does someone expressing support of the Potala development get angrily confronted and insulted, in part because they don't live nearby but in a neighborhood closer than any of those? Did the City officials use the word "intended", or did they use "anticipated"? That's a very important distinction.
Chuck Pilcher October 05, 2012 at 04:54 PM
The city officials used the word "intended" in both meetings and in the newspaper. Other than that, please clarify this comment, because it's unclear if this is a criticism or an endorsement of Potala. It also helps to submit your name so that readers will take your comments seriously.
GO October 05, 2012 at 06:00 PM
It's an endorsement of Potala at the 110 or 143 unit density. I'm witholding my name not because my comments aren't serious; they are quite serious. However, the leaders of STOP, and some of its members, make it very clear by their actions that they are are not interested in an alternative point of view, nor will they tolerate a message other than theirs. I can say that both from personal experience in my interaction with them, and also in what I observed with another person who also expressed support for Potala. I won't subject myself to that again with the STOP folks. I completely respect their concerns and points of view, but I have different ones. I'll ask again, though: If the opinions of people in Finn Hill, Totem Lake, Juanita, Medina, Clyde Hill, Bellevue, etc matter, then why does someone expressing support of the Potala development get angrily confronted and insulted, in part because they don't live nearby but instead in a Kirkland neighborhood closer than any of those? I'll add that I observed this same confrontational attitude directed at someone who lives within a block of the Potala site on Lake St. That sort of interaction doesn't engender a productive dialogue. It certainly does stifle dissent (which I'm sure is the intent), but reflects poorly on the group and its leaders as a result. And that makes them hard to take seriously.
Robin Herberger October 05, 2012 at 08:28 PM
I want to make four points regarding this article and comments. Due to space constraints, I’m submitting it in two parts. 1. The project covers three lots not two. (Although each parcel is zoned with setbacks, the City is considering letting Dargey have only 10-foot setbacks for the three-in-one, mega project footprint - instead of the setbacks for each of the three parcels being part of the final equation.) a. Parcel No. 935490-0220 (dry cleaner’s and hamburger joint) b. Parcel No. 935490-0240 (house on 10th Ave S behind dry cleaner’s and hamburger joint) c. Parcel No. 082505-9233 (vacant lot for which Dargey obtained a 99-year ground lease, from which his team has publicly admitted Dargey has an “out” if the project is unable to be built ) 2. The only plan Dargey has on file with the City is for 143 units. Not 110, not 100 – both of which he and his representatives have bandied about. He has also said he changed the name from Potala Village to Kirkland Aqua. He has said they will be condos, not apartments. At various times, Dargey has said the commercial space will be used for: 1) retail; 2) medical; 3) general office. Evidence proves that Lobsang Dargey has said, and will say, anything to try to get himself over whatever obstacle presents itself at any given moment to advance the project to the next level. Expediency trumps the truth here.
Robin Herberger October 05, 2012 at 08:30 PM
3. City Council members have said on several occasions that a project the size of Potala Village was never intended on the Lake and 10th properties. The following direct quote, referring to the Potala site, by Council Member Penny Sweet from the November 15, 2011 Kirkland City Council meeting serves as a case in point: a. “In this case we have such a unique and extraordinary situation with this case which doesn’t make any sense to me in the first place how this place was zoned. I truly believe that there was never an intention to allow for unlimited density in zoning this property. I don’t believe the City intended to do it that way. I believe that this is what we discovered in this process. The moratorium is the ONLY opportunity we’re going to have to make a decision one way or the other – to weigh our risks, to weigh the long term impacts of this on our community. . . . I really believe that this was a mis-zoned piece of property.”
Robin Herberger October 05, 2012 at 08:31 PM
(Okay, . . make that three parts!) 4. The “gut feel” comment to which Brian Lawler refers is from a direct quote from Planning Commission Chair Mike Miller, who gave the public some insight into what part of the anatomy is sometimes employed in making City zoning recommendations (and perhaps decisions) with which we all have to live. To give it context: Noting the anomaly and inquiring how the Planning Commission singled out the Lake St S/10th Ave S BN zone (Potala site) for a recommendation of 36 units/acre, while at the same time recommending 24 units/acre for the other two BN zones, and trying to ascertain what quantitative formula might have been used, Council Member Dave Asher asked Miller at the public Council Study Session September 18, 2012, “How did you arrive at the number 36?” Chairman Miller replied . . . “It was a gut feeling.”
Maureen Kelly October 05, 2012 at 09:19 PM
I wonder if GO has considered the traffic consequence of Potala Village. I hear from many people that their friends won't even come to Kirkland anymore because of the traffic. It is far easier for those living north to reach downtown than those driving from the south trying to forge their way on one of the only two arterials from the south. The fact is, it can take as long as 45 minutes to drive from 520 to Central in downtown Kirkland during rush hour. It's not always comfortable to be identified with a particular opinion. I am willing to take that risk becuase anonyminity does dilute the credibility of a statement.
GO October 05, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Thank you, Ms. Kelly, for an honest opinion. I respect that and your concerns. My experience on LW Blvd/Lake St is not any different. My take on it is that the City is growing in population, density and visitors to businesses with or without Potala, and much of that will use those streets for access. The additional 120 residences', and the retail businesses' traffic (assuming roughly 23 units are built instead of 143) will, in my opinion, be unnoticable compared to the current traffic volumes. I don't base that on any professional data or advice, just my own opinion (and it seems that the opposition doesn't have any better data supporting their position). They're not all going to travel at the same time, so I'd venture a guess that the 45 minutes turns into 50 or 55. Certainly not fun, but 45 isn't either. Outweighing that 10, or even 15 minutes of my time is removal of an eyesore; truly anything will be better than what's there now. I mean that. Any developer understands aesthetic appeal--he has to be able to sell and/or rent; The rest of our opinions of the aesthetic of the Potala's renderings are in the eye of each beholder. Traffic problems during construction will be a short term problem regardless of what is built there, and again, that temporary inconvenience is worth removal of an eyesore. I applaud your consent to taking the risk of being identified. If you'd been subjected to what I was because I dared to advocate in favor, you'd rethink it too.
Greg Johnston (Editor) October 05, 2012 at 10:58 PM
I stand corrected on the proposal being across three lots Robin; it's still across 1.2 acres though, the relevant measure for proposed density limits. Thanks for pointing it out!
Chuck Pilcher October 06, 2012 at 01:03 AM
GO, the only "official" proposal in the City's hands is for 143 units (116 per acre). You mention 23. The Council doesn't want to vote on even the Planning Commission's recommendation of 36 units per acre (about 43 units total). All of these numbers are higher than we would like. The zoning was "intended" to be 12 units per acre, but that box in the Zoning Code was left blank, so it's officially unlimited. In case you weren't aware, the developer's ORIGINAL proposal was for 183 units.
GO October 06, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Mr. Pilcher, OK, so I'm off by 9 assuming you'd like about 14 ( (43/36)x12=14.3). So it's 129 additional residences if Potala goes through (143-14=129). My opinion is that the effect on traffic of those 129 will be neglible compared to what's already there, and what will be there in the future with growth elsewhere, even if the lots stay as they are today. I'm still wondering if I'm entitled to express my opnion even though it's different from STOP's, especially since I live closer than 6 of the 7 neighborhoods you cite for 90% of the people opposed to the project. Heck, 3 of those 7 neighborhoods aren't even in Kirkland. I would hope my opinion is at least more valued or respected than theirs.
GO October 06, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Wow, I meant "negligible" and "opinion". TGIF
Chuck Pilcher October 06, 2012 at 02:23 AM
There are currently only about 263 cars entering the east side of Lake St/LWB the entire length of the boulevard from Carillon Pt. to 3rd Avenue S. Believe it or not, they do so via ONLY 18 driveways. Potala would put 316 more cars onto the boulevard via a single driveway.
Chuck Pilcher October 06, 2012 at 02:26 AM
The proposed units average 698 sf. About 80% are 1 br, about 10% 2br, 10% studio. Guess what the developer's prospectus says the anticipated rent will be for these units. Better yet, guess what he's telling his investors he can build these units for. The prospectus (we have a copy) reads like something out of Fantasyland.
GO October 06, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Mr. Pilcher, thank you for the additional information. My opinion is that the total traffic volume along Lake St/LWB is the relevant statistic, since the concern is traffic and time to get from 520 to Central. If the only vehicles using Lake St/LWB were those of residents from Carillon Pt to 3rd Ave S, then I'd concur with your opinion. I'd bet they are a small proportion of the total daily volume. The financial details aren't relevant to anyone but the developer and his investors. Let's leave it up to them to rent or sell the units they build. I appreciate your replies. I hope that means that my supportive opinion IS valid after all, even if you disagree with it.


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