Planning Commission looks at zoning change for parcels on Juanita Drive

Planning Commission looks at zoning change for parcels on Juanita Drive

 

On Thursday, October 25, at 7pm, the Kirkland Planning Commission will hold its second study session on a potential zoning amendment for 4 properties located on the western side of Juanita Drive at the intersections with Holmes Point Drive and 122nd (Finn Hill Shell service station and the retail shops including Plaza Garcia).

 

Summary: The Planning Commission is considering a recommendation to replace BNA zoning (retail/multi-family housing) on 3 of the properties, and RMA zoning (multi-family) on the 4th property, with PRA zoning (professional/multi-family) zoning. In essence, the zoning change would relieve property owners of the obligation to build retail space on the ground floor of any development and allow them to construct projects that may or may not include retail or professional space in conjunction with multi-family housing. The planning staff has set out this recommendation in a background memo and accompanying maps.

 

Another option would be to leave the BNA zoning in place but to give owners of these parcels relief from the existing requirement that retail space by constructed in any new project. That suggestion is highlighted in a staff memo that can be seen here.

 

The Planning Commission study session will be held in the City Council meeting room tomorrow night, and brief public testimony will be accepted at the beginning of the meeting. The commissioners are likely to make a preliminary decision at the study session and then finalize it next month in a regular meeting at which a full public hearing will occur. The Planning Commission will then forward their recommendation to the City Council.

 

Properties affected: The proposed zoning amendment will potentially affect 4 lots, located on the west side of Juanita Drive, at the points where it intersects with the southern loop of Holmes Point Drive and with 122nd Street. The properties consist of a one-storey office building (the old Northshore Utilities District HQ) immediately north of the Juanita Woodlands, Fire Station 25, and two vacant lots north of the fire station. The most northerly parcel, is zoned RMA 2.4, which permits up to 18 housing units per acre and building coverage of up to 60% of the property. The other properties — the office building, Fire Station 25, and a small vacant lot between the fire station and the other vacant lot to the north, are all zoned BNA. This zoning allows for building coverage of up to 80% of each parcel and unlimited housing density, subject to height limitations (although the city has proposed to establish an 18 unit/acre maximum for these parcels in a separate zoning amendment proceeding). Most significantly, BNA zoning requires that any development consist of retail space on the ground floor.

 

The zoning proposal: A developer, Howard LLC, owns the two vacant lots ot the north of Fire Station 25. Howard has asked for a zoning amendment that would permit the two vacant lots to be developed as one project. Because access to the lots, particularly the small parcel just north of the fire station, is difficult from Juanita Drive, Howard contends that it is impractical to develop the property with retail space on the ground floor. The Kirkland planning staff appears to agree and has suggested, among other options, that the two properties owned by Howard be re-zoned as PRA 2.4. This zoning designation allows but does not require a project to include professional office and retail space on the ground floor of a multi-family development. The maximum housing density allowed by PRA 2.4 is 18 units per acre – this is the same ceiling that applies under RMA 2.4 zoning for one of the lots that Howard owns. The building footprint allowed by PRA zoning is 70% of the lot size; by comparison, RMA 2.4 zoning holds coverage to 60%, while BNA zoning allows up to 80% coverage.

 

The city’s planning staff has also recommended that the BNA zoning for the office building (just north of the Woodlands) and for the Fire Station also be changed to PRA 2.4.The staff’s rationale is that these properties, which front on Holmes Point Drive are not suitable for retail shops.

 

Another option presented by the planning staff is to leave the BNA zoning in place but to remove the requirement for retail space with respect to these properties on the west side of Juanita Drive.

 

What it means: The proposed zoning changes do not represent an upzoning. Housing densities will not be increased. However, by removing the retail space requirement – which Howard and city planners believe is impracticable for the 4 properties under consideration – the rezoning does appear to make it more likely that multi-family housing will be constructed in the foreseeable future, at least on the Howard properties.

 

Issues: The rezoning proposal raises a variety of issues. Can Juanita Drive accommodate the additional traffic that multi-family housing will generate? Does the potential for traffic impact matter with respect to the proposed rezoning, given that it doesn’t increase potential housing densities above what current zoning permits? Should the property owners be required to fund improvements to the Juanita Drive/Holmes Point Drive/122nd Street intersections so that retail development might be commercially feasible – or would such development be inappropriate and economically unfeasible? Should zoning changes be restricted to the Howard parcels, rather than be applied to all 4 properties at this time?

 

More fundamentally, should the city consider a moratorium on any zoning changes (even those that are not upzones) until the County’s zoning decisions have been subjected to a thorough review as part of a comprehensive neighborhood plan? Significantly, the Planning Commission originally recommended to the City Council that any consideration of zoning changes be deferred until such a plan is developed. The City Council disagreed, presumably because the city does not have sufficient resources to prepare a Finn Hill neighborhood plan in the near future. It directed the Planning Commission to consider Howard’s request for a zoning change. The Planning Commission and the planning staff are now responding the City Council’s directive.

 

The FHNA board has not taken a position on the specific zoning recommendations that the Planning Commission is reviewing. FHNA will consider submitting comments to the Planning Commission at next month’s public hearing and ultimately to the City Council urging that a neighborhood zoning plan be initiated immediately. We would appreciate hearing your views on the proposed rezoning and on the need to start a comprehensive review of Finn Hill’s zoning designations. In the meantime, if you have views or questions regarding the rezoning, we recommend that you address them to the Planning Commission at Thursday evening’s study session or in emails to the Commissioners in advance of the hearing. You can email the Planning Commissioners at planningcommissioners@kirklandwa.gov.

 

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