KIRKLAND - There was something about downtown Kirkland that instantly drew Sandi Hart there. The former Federal Way resident moved to the Eastside last April and has been in love with the community ever since. But now, she worries a new neighbor could jeopardize the way of life she has come to enjoy so much.
"The worst part of it is the behemoth building in the middle of the cute downtown with small shops where people like to walk," she said.
Hart is referring to a new five-story, mixed-use development, known as Lake Street Place, which was recently approved by the city's Design Review Board.
Longtime Kirkland resident and developer Stuart McLeod owns the property that sits on 112 and 150 Lake St. S. McLeod, with help from Bellevue-based Chesmore/Buck Architecture, has plans to expand both of the two-story buildings currently on the property, one which houses the historic Hector's Restaurant. The plans include more office, retail, and parking space in Kirkland's central business district. (Rendering below shows front of development along Lake St. S., courtesy Chesmore/Buck Architect.)
Just this month, the city received two appeals opposing the downtown development: one by Hart and several of her Portsmith Condo neighbors, the other submitted by residents of Merrill Gardens, a nearby retirement community. Both appeals cite safety, traffic and density concerns with the Lake Street Place project.
"It's the height that is too much and the massiveness of it," Hart said. "I think building something in that spot is a good thing, and I would support a three-story building with underground parking."
But according to city planners, designs for Lake Street Place fall within the 55-foot maximum height zoning requirement for the downtown corridor. And when looking at what was originally approved by the city on the same site in 2008, the latest development plans have been dramatically scaled down, according to Jon Regala, senior planner for Kirkland.
"Previously it was a lot larger office development with underground parking and more parking stalls," Regala said. "The current proposal is definitely smaller, with a courtyard plaza and there is a lot less office space with a parking garage above grade."
Despite the concerns some residents may have, Rick Chesmore, with Chesmore/Buck Architecture, said he believes the plans the Design Review Board recently approved fit in line with the size of other developments in the neighborhood, including Merrill Gardens, the Bank of America building and the Portsmith Condominiums.
"The design has changed a lot," Chesmore said. "The project is nearly half of what was proposed before."
According to Chesmore, the 2008 proposal totaled 417,000 square feet, with an underground parking garage, restaurant, retail and office space. The original development plans approved by the Design Review Board made it through an environmental review, and a building permit was issued. But when the economy turned, the project was put on hold. Under the revised plans, Chesmore says the project equals a total of 189,550 square feet.
While Hart and her neighbors don't take issue with developing downtown Kirkland, they are concerned with the proximity this project has to some of the residential condo units in Portsmith, saying in some cases the building would sit just 14 feet from private residential decks.
They also note concerns over an increase in traffic a new five-story commercial development would bring downtown and how it would impact the safety of elderly residents living in Merrill Gardens.
"The structure is very unusual for the site," said Brian Rohrback, a resident of the Portsmith Condos, whose mother also lives in Merrill Gardens. "All the traffic flows right by the only outdoor spot the retirement home has."
In a statement included in their appeal, Hart and Rohrback wrote: "There have been some close calls as is; it is hard to imagine the impact of hundreds of ingresses and egresses in a focused time period mornings and evenings."
A hearing examiner is currently reviewing both of the appeals.
Chesmore says in the meantime they are moving forward with applying for a building permit from the city and hope to begin phase one of the project - the two-story, 14,000-square-foot addition on top of the Kirkland Waterfront Building - within the next few months.