The Kirkland City Council voted unanimously to extend the development moratorium on BN-zoned (Business Neighborhood) properties for six more months on Tuesday night. But the 6-0 vote was accompanied with apprehension from a few council members.
“I continue to be concerned that emergency moratoriums reflect poorly on the city. They decrease the willingness of people to invest here because of the perception of risk they create,” said Councilman Toby Nixon, who was not on the council when the original moratorium was imposed on Nov. 15. “Moratoriums should never be necessary.”
Nixon ultimately voted for the moratorium to “give the Planning Commission and the council time to finish the work we have started.”
Mayor Joan McBride, who voted against the original moratorium, echoed his sentiment: “I believe that we are close to a solution … With the belief that this will not take six months, I will vote in favor of extending the moratorium.”
Not all council members commented or explained their votes during the meeting.
“I think it has been well stated by the citizens here tonight,” said Councilman Dave Asher.
Councilwoman Penny Sweet did not attend the meeting.
There are only two BN-zoned properties in the city – one in the Bridle Trails neighborhood and one on Lake Washington Boulevard. Many contend that the city’s Master Plan and zoning code for the properties are in direct conflict. The proposed Potala Village project on the waterfront riled neighbors and caused the council and Planning Commission to revisit the unlimited-density issue with the BN zoning code.
The council held a public hearing just prior to the vote, although McBride emphasized that the hearing has to do with the zoning code and not a specific project. But Kirkland residents made it clear what they were trying to stop and why.
“Living on the boulevard we experience what traffic has become with daily difficulty getting in and out of our driveway. At times there is a virtual standstill and we have even walked to town faster than the cars can drive. Now we have the potential to have a high rise (Potala Village) right next to us,” said Kirkland resident and real estate broker Sharon Nelson, who also talked about how Potala Village would devalue homes in the area.
Twenty-four people, all Kirkland residents, signed in to voice their approval of extending the moratorium but not all spoke during the hearing. Most showed up in a red shirt, something that has become a symbol in the fight against the development. Brian Lawler, a Seattle attorney that some of the residents hired, spoke in favor of the moratorium, asking the council “not to be bullied by this developer.”
He was one of just a few people in the audience not wearing red.
Two more people in attendance were not wearing red and noticeably sitting alone.
“The vast majority of public comments are not with respect to the BN zoning code or how that zoning code works. They are in opposition to the Potala Village project as proposed,” said attorney Duana Kolouskova, new council for the Potala Village project. “There is no crush of applications that the city is under that is causing some sort of emergency or threat to public health that would warrant a moratorium.”
She went on to assert that the current conditions go against Washington State law for imposing a moratorium.
“The zoning code has been in place for years and is not a surprise to anyone,” said Kolouskova.
The council originally imposed a 60-day moratorium and then extended it to six months on Jan. 3. That moratorium was set to expire May 15. The Planning Commission is still working on the issue, said the city’s Planning Director, Eric Shields.
Shields said with the moratorium extended, the city hopes to have a public hearing on changes to the BN-zone properties on June 28 and to have council consider those changes by Aug. 7. But that will be nearly a year since the Potala Village project was proposed.
Litigation has also not been ruled out and was even threatened by project owner Lobsang Dargey. The council has the power to rescind the moratorium at any time.