Kirkland Council approves emergency moratorium on Potala Village project

Kirkland Reporter Regional Editor
November 18, 2011 · 1:30 PM

Kirkland City Hall / Contributed

The Kirkland City Council voted 5-1, with one absent, Tuesday night during its regular meeting to place an emergency 60-day moratorium on both of the BN-zoned properties in the city. The issue with BN-zoned properties is that they are zoned to have unlimited density.

"This is a drastic action and I am fairly uncomfortable with it," said Councilwoman Jessica Greenway, who's sentiments were echoed by other council members prior to the vote. "But it is only for 60 days. I am concerned about what kind of message this sends to potential developers … This is an opportunity to have the right plan, a plan that everyone has the chance to comment on."

Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride was the only member to vote against the ordinance.

"This is not an easy vote for the Kirkland City Council," said McBride. "My own personal sense of fair play wont allow me to do this without the applicant. He or she does not even know this is happening tonight and that concerns me."

The Reporter attempted to contact Lobsang Dargey, the developer for the proposed Potala Village project on the Lake Street and 10th Avenue South property, but was told by an assistant that he is currently out of the country.

Kirkland residents brought the issue to the council's attention when Dargey proposed the Potala Village project for the BN-zoned property. The emergency moratorium puts a halt on all potential development on that property so the city can review the zoning code.

"We all want something built there," said Chuck Pilcher, who is one of the neighbors opposing the current plan. "But Lake Washington Boulevard is the signature experience that defines Kirkland."

Pilcher said that he respected McBride's decision and understands her concerns.

"All of the council members showed the depth of their emotions on it," said Pilcher.

The vote required a supermajority of the council since it was an emergency ordinance and went into effect immediately.

Councilwoman Amy Walen was absent from the meeting.

If the council would have only had four votes it would have taken five days for the ordinance to take effect. The 60-day moratorium is to be followed by a public hearing but can be repealed by the council at any time.

The other BN-zoned property is in the Bridle Trails neighborhood at N.E. 70th St. and 132nd Avenue N.E. That property does not have any proposed developments at this time.

The decision came as the council chambers were filled with neighbors in red shirts who are against the Potala Village project's size.

Many of them spoke to the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting. This was the second consecutive meeting the group has attended attempting to sway the council to take action.

"I really appreciate all the work that has gone into the research and the passion of the neighbors," said Councilman Bob Sternoff, who is a developer.

One of the biggest issues with this proposed development is the Comprehensive Plan, which seems to conflict with zoning codes on the property.

The Comprehensive Plan is what city officials and residents use to determine what is best for the different neighborhoods in the city but the zoning codes are law. The codes are supposed to be changed to match after the Plan is adopted.

The conflict between zoning laws and the Comprehensive Plan makes the Potala Village development highly controversial.

"We're building it within code," said Lobsang Dargey in an Oct. 7 issue of the Reporter. "We're not asking for a variance."

And he is right. The land is zoned BN or Neighborhood Business. That zoning code calls for the ground floor to have 75 percent commercial use, which Potala has planned for, with no restrictions to multifamily units above.

But the Comprehensive Plan, approved in 2004, for the area has greater restrictions.

The Comprehensive Plan states that the area is a "Residential Market" and is defined as having a "very small mixed use building."

Potala Village would have 116 residential units per acre. The largest zoned properties in the area are zoned for 12 units per acre.

The Potala Village project as it is currently proposed would have 116 units per square acre.

However, Eric Shields, Kirkland planning director, said the perceived conflicts between the Comprehensive Plan and zoning codes are ambiguous and "not as clear cut" as those opposed to the project say.

He said the moratorium will allow officials to take a pause, go through a public process and look at any potential changes that need to be made to the zoning code.

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