LETTER | Uber-high housing density at Council meeting w/o NOTICE or Study

Dear Editor:

In Kirkland there is a process for NOTICING the public of proposed zoning changes, soliciting (and hopefully considering) their input and then moving to a City Council meeting wherein a decision is made by officials we elect to represent us.

Tomorrow night (with an early start at 6pm), a proposal arrives for a very unique type of Uber-high density residential.  There has been no public outreach and no NOTICE of surrounding properties or the city at large.  The proposal, if passed, will create brand new very unique residential zoning never allowed in Kirkland.  For this reason, it has citywide impact. It is called SRO or Single Residency Occupancy and is the newest form of Ultra-high density residential.  The uniqueness is that for the first time your “unit” will not have its own kitchen (etc) spaces.  It will allow up to 8 bedroom type units to share kitchen and similar facilities much like many of us may have done during college years.  The most I ever remember sharing was between 4 adults and these were folks that we’d carefully consider for being compatible “roommates” vs SRO which would usually assign someone new to unknown “roomies.”

If you go online and research SROs or Single Resident Occupancy you will likely find, as I did, generally they are in big very urban cities and often are quite problematic with many undesirable characteristics. Some Kirkland Council Members have suggested trying one of these as an experiment.  I’d suggest for several reasons that downtown is not a good area for such “experiments” and that even experiments have substantial homework done in advance.

Mr Pantley excitedly touts that he has experience.  His new Redmond SRO seems to be the extent.  It seems pretty small scale and that “experience” may be tucking just about one year under the belt.  As one planning commissioner noted, the Redmond development is also in a less hilly, more bicycle friendly area than the CBD properties proposed for Kirkland.

The additional part of the zoning amendment change is a vastly reduced parking requirement.  Did you notice this is proposed for DOWNTOWN Kirkland?  Did anyone listen to a stitch of the very sharp debate on parking and parking problems that already are occurring in our CBD?  Has anyone been listening to the complaints of those from nearby Moss Bay and the difficulties with spillover parking there?  Are we willing to trust a “new fangled” unproven, parking management system placed right in the middle of where we already have a parking problem?  Traffic/Parking experts have cited that this parking management idea may not be successful.

I heard the Council Members, at an earlier meeting, say that they were interested in “STUDYING” the concept of SROs both in parking and in new definition of residential units.  I look forward to actually seeing them study this.  Let’s hash out the pros and the cons.  Let’s look at the experience of other cities.  Let’s provide broad public NOTICE and get public input – as is appropriate and required.

Moreover, let’s follow our processes and the requirements that do not allow for a fast-track, unstudied change to move forward.  Kirkland Zoning Code establishes that where zoning changes are likely to be studied within two years, a citizen requested amendment is not appropriate to be handled separately.  We are about to embark on Citywide Comprehensive Plan study in 2013.  It would seem appropriate to have citizen outreach and input gathered at that time rather than having this very unique SRO sneak in at the end of the 2012 Zoning Amendment cycle.  Even the Planning Commissioners all commented on the abrupt and sudden addition.  Are we as a city providing preferential treatment to some developers while others go through the process and wait?

Karen Levenson