This page answers questions related to the Comprehensive Plan, Zoning, and one proposed project on one BN Zone on Lake Street (Potala Village) in particular.

Q: What is the Comprehensive Plan?
A. The Comp Plan is the overall vision that the City has established for its various neighborhoods. It contains development guidelines, land use maps, and references to various types of uses that are allowed and prohibited in different parts of the City. It also provides input into the Zoning Code. A key point throughout City documents is the phrase “Whenever provisions are in conflict, the most restrictive provision shall apply.

Q: What is the Zoning Code?
A: The Zoning Code establishes in much more detail what types of construction are permitted on various areas of the City.

Q: What is Neighborhood Business (BN) Zoning?
A: This is a designation for small scale retail uses that serve a single neighborhood. Examples are the existing dry cleaner on Lake Street and 10th Avenue South.

Q: What is “Residential Market”?
A: This is a “land use” designation and a form of commercial development allowed in certain neighborhoods. In general, BN Zoning is appropriate for Residential Market land uses. Residential Market is a small area meant for local neighborhoods. It is smaller than a “Neighborhood Center.” (A Neighborhood Center would be like Bridle Trails or Houghton Market) The mini-mart on NE 64th and Lake Washington Boulevard is on land designated “Residential Market.” Curiously, this parcel is actually zoned “Residential” at a density of RM 3.6 (12 dwelling units per acre.

Q: What is Potala Village? (Comments below apply to project as of 2012. The current building permit is for 98 units, still 6-8 times what the Comprehensive Plan intended.)
A: A project to build 143 rental apartments on 1.2 acres at 10th Avenue and Lake Street in Kirkland. The project is 3 1/2 stories high, with office space sunk below ground level on Lake Street. Citizen input appears to be marginally effective thus far at shrinking the project. (Building Permit application as of August, 2013, is for 98 units.) The name “Potala” comes from the palace of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet.

Q: How big are the apartments?
A: Do the math. After setbacks, there is about 40,000 sf per floor, or 120,000 sf for 143 apartments. That’s 839 gross sf per apartment. Subtract for elevators, hallways, stairwells, lobbies, storage, other common areas, etc., and each apartment is likely to average under 600 sf. Many will likely be “efficiency” units, i.e., zero bedroom units.

Q: Who is the developer?
A: Dargey Enterprises of Everett, Washington. According to the company’s website they have completed few (1 or ?2) projects. A proposed West Seattle project appears to have been cancelled in July, 2011. Potala Village Everett was completed in 2010 and is similar to that planned for Kirkland. Click here for online reviews by residents of that project.

Q: Who owns the property?
A: The property consists of 3 parcels totaling 1.2 acres. The developer paid $4 million for 2 of the parcels (40%) in 2011. The south 60% of the property is owned by Luella O’Connor, a former Kirkland resident, and has been leased to Mr. Dargey or one of his approximately 13 different companies for 99 years.

Q: What/who is “Path America?”
A: “Path America” is a vendor of EB-5 visas. The developer of Potala, Lobsang Dargey, is the founder/CEO. Foreigners who invest $500,000 or more in a “qualified project” receive an expedited “green card” allowing them 2 years (renewable) legal residence in the US. Mr. Dargey’s projects in Everett have been classified as “qualified projects.” The Kirkland project is not, although it is highlighted on the Path America website.

Q: What will this do to traffic on Lake Washington Boulevard?
A: The Potala design calls for parking for 316 cars in a 2 story underground garage that will have to be dug to a depth below the level of Lake Washington. All vehicles will use a single lane exit from, and a single lane entrance into, the 2 story underground garage off Lake Street. STOP believes that the often gridlocked traffic on Lake Washington Boulevard will become intolerable. For example, there are currently only 12 residential driveways serving about 130 total dwelling units on the east side of the street between Carillon Point and downtown Kirkland. We have been told by Kirkland’s traffic engineer that during peak commute times nearly two cars per minute would be entering and exiting this location.Traffic on a summer Friday afternoon already stretches almost to Carillon Point. Traffic will have to use residential neighborhood streets, especially 10th Avenue, for access.

Q: How does BN Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan relate to this property?
A: This is the major issue: The basic zoning map calls it “BN” for “Neighborhood Business.” That is defined in the Comprehensive Plan as one would expect: Small service businesses, shops, restaurants, etc. that serve the local neighborhood. The category appears to allow for residences also. One word in the Zoning Code stating “None” for “Minimum Lot Size” is contrary to the Comp Plan which says density should be limited to 12 dwelling units per acre.

  • The removal of a density cap most likely happened at a time when an ordinance was passed with numerous clerical errors… (a later ordinance attempted to correct the oversights).
  • Other City and State documents, maps, codes and ordinances refer to the property as “Commercial,” “Urban Mixed” or “Residential Market.” The latter is used similar to “Neighborhood Business.” The lack of consistent terminology has added to the confusion.
  • In 1977 Kirkland down-zoned the parcels between 7th Ave S and NE 63rd Street from 24 units per acre to 12 units per acre, resulting in a lawsuit by neighbors. A settlement was reached in 1979. Properties like Pleasant Bay Apartments, a currently non-conforming property, could only be rebuilt at 12 units per acre today

Q: What is the surrounding residential density?
A: Nothing from 2nd Avenue South to Yarrow Bay is more dense than 12 units per acre. Many parcels are single family lots at 5 units per acre. Check out the Zoning Map in the “Resources” tab. Click here to see an aerial view of the neighborhood with density overlaid.

Q: How did this situation arise?
A: No one, including City officials, have been able to document how this situation arose, despite repeated requests from citizens, the City Council and the Planning Commission. And initial approvals failed to ask questions about a project that would allow 10 times the residential density than the surrounding neighborhood, especially when conflicts in codes and plans seem obvious.

Q: What is STOP’s goal with regard to the development of BN Zones?
A: We hope to bring this zoning, and especially any project on proposed for the Lake Street parcels, back into compliance with the Ordinances and Plans of the City of Kirkland, as well as the stated intentions of both the City Council and Planning Department. We are doing this by helping the City establish in the Zoning Code the parameters stated in the Comprehensive Plan. STOP wants to see sensible development of this property, consistent with the scale, density and character of the neighborhood.

Environmental Impacts:

Q: What’s the history of the Lake Street BN Zone?
A: Currently, the property is occupied by a dry cleaning establishment. It was formerly the site of an either an auto service station and/or an auto tire shop.

Q: Do we know what contaminants might be present?
A: Not yet. This may become a significant issue. The Muckleshoot Tribe, through the Shorelines Management Plan, is evaluating impacts on their Lake Washington fishery, and an Environmental Impact Statement is required. That will have to address potential contamination.

Construction Impacts:

Q: How can you build on the Lake Street BN Zone and not disrupt traffic on Lake Washington Boulevard?
A: Good question. One thing we have calculated is that just digging the hole for the parking garage will require the removal of over 3000 dump truck loads of dirt. That itself will take nearly 2 months. How traffic on Lake Washington Boulevard will share the road with 3000 dump trucks has yet to be determined.

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