Kirkland looks into growing up by adding density to neighborhoods

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- The growth spurt that's being felt across the region has sparked conversations about development and the best way to handle growth by either sprawling out or adding density to existing areas.

The city of Kirkland's target numbers for 2035 show a population of 99,000 and more than 20,000 new jobs coming to the area. The city is now looking into the potential of rezoning a part of the Houghton and Everest neighborhoods. The proposal has sparked debate on both sides.

The quaint neighborhood of Houghton above Lake Washington is the kind of place where birds chirp, newspapers can be spotted on sidewalks and people take morning walks along picturesque tree-lined streets.

"Kirkland has its own beautiful character," said Beth McCaslin, a longtime resident of Kirkland's Houghton neighborhood, where she has lived with her husband, John, for 16 years.

McCaslin's emotions come through as she described her neighborhood.

"They can walk to downtown Kirkland, they can get to the beach, we have a performance center here now, we have good schools."

Tears well up in her eyes as her husband pats her for support. "I’m sorry. Too much density," she adds.

The potential of more development in the Houghton neighborhood hits close to home for the McCaslins, who say they want to preserve this area for future generations.

Less than a quarter-mile away from their home at the intersection of Northeast 68th Street, and 108th Avenue Northeast, the city is looking into the future of this area.

The city's deputy planning director, Paul Stewart, said there is a public process underway to look at zoning and the comprehensive plan for the neighborhood city center. The city is currently evaluating a number of options.

"I think the whole region is facing growth and development. This is not unique to Kirkland. Many communities are facing the same issues in terms of transportation, additional development and so forth. It’s really a reflection of what’s happening around the region," said Stewart.

Three scenarios are being presented at a public hearing Thursday at 7 p.m. at Kirkland City Hall. The city will hold an open house an hour prior to the meeting to allow the public to come in, ask questions, and get oriented with options.

The scenarios include the "Preservation Plan," which keeps current zoning to one of two stories.

The second, "Modest Change" scenario raises building height to three stories.

The biggest impact would be the "Greater Change" option that would allow development of up to five stories, which could accommodate housing, office and retail space. The city is looking into an area that contains 25 properties around two supermarkets.

The McCaslins are against major development.

“We don’t like it. The traffic is currently unacceptable and with the new zoning it would be a disaster, frankly," said John McCaslin.

"We want to preserve this area for future generations," added Beth McCaslin.

Among those in the future generation are Kyle Braun and his friends who live and work in the area; they are for rezoning and more density.

"I’ve seen the traffic grow in the last five years and it’s ridiculous," said Braun.

He added that he understands why the older generation may not want development and rezoning, but that, "The younger generation is going to be the people that are going to be using this infrastructure and these facilities."

Braun said that more housing equals more walk-ability and that people who live and work in the area won't rely on driving, which would reduce traffic.

“It’s either we go out or we go up and I think going up is the way to solve our problems," said Braun.

The building block of growing pains are a balancing act the city will have to stack up one step at a time.

"People seem to enjoy living here and they're attracted to living here and that causes concern with new growth and development. That’s part of the fabric of this whole region where there is increased jobs and increased interest in living and moving to this area," said Stewart.

He added the city will weigh a number of factors and are currently looking into the long term and trying to determine how these proposals fit into the broader scheme of the comprehensive plan and growth for Kirkland.

"We still want to maintain our vibrancy. We're a great community to live and work in. We have great character and we want to make sure it stays that way," said Stewart.

After the public hearing Thursday, the next steps come sometime in April when the Houghton Community Council and the planning commission will make the recommendations to the city of Kirkland.

The Houghton neighborhood has the Houghton Community Council, which adds an added layer into the decision-making process of these proposals. The Houghton Community Council has jurisdiction over land-use decisions within the boundaries of Houghton. They could veto any decision over land use the city makes.

The Houghton Community Council and the city of Kirkland say they are working closely together, early on in the process so that a veto scenario can be avoided should two parties disagree on the best options to handle growth in the area.

In 1967, a new state law, the Community Council Law, allowed for the smaller of two merging cities to form their own community council. This council would have veto power over land-use decisions that affected their community. Houghton and Kirkland voted to consolidate in 1968. Houghton became the first community in the state of Washington to have their own neighborhood council.