October 15 is Your Opportunity to Shape Growth on Finn Hill

October 15 is Your Opportunity to Shape Growth on Finn Hill

On October 15 from 5:00 to 7:30 pm at Finn Hill Middle School, students from the Green Future’s Lab out of the University of Washington will be conducting a neighborhood plan listening session and open house.  At this meeting the students will be using surveys, interactive mapping, instant polling and other methods to get your input on what the future of Finn Hill should be.

Development is everywhere.  Whether you are on the east side of the hill near Simonds Rd., on Holmes Point, near the schools or Juanita Heights Park, you can’t escape it.  Signs are going up, trees are coming down, land is being changed, new homes are being constructed… with or without our input it isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

We can agree on a couple of things about that.  First, new homes will bring in new families and individuals who will add to the diversity and character of our neighborhood.  Some of these folks may even help shape Finn Hill’s future.  Second, whether you are supportive or not of development, not having a plan in place only makes things worse.

Do we have the right infrastructure in place?  How does construction impact environmentally sensitive areas in our neighborhood?  What is the impact on more established surrounding homes?  What about the impact on traffic, parks, or public services?  These are all questions that we need to have in place before more development occurs.

The process of developing a neighborhood plan will give us as neighbors the power to shape development and growth and October 15 at 7:00 PM is your opportunity to get involved in the early stages of the process.

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The neighborhood plan will be a comprehensive, in-depth plan for the future of Finn Hill.  The plan will focus on meeting public service needs, accommodating new development, maintaining the character of Finn Hill, and protecting our open spaces, waterways, and parks.

The plan is only as good as your involvement.  Your engagement is vital in order to ensure a positive future for the community we all love.  If you don’t speak up someone else will.

The City of Kirkland contracted with the Green Futures Lab (GFL) out of the University of Washington to develop the neighborhood plan.  GFL uses graduate students in planning, architecture and related disciplines to collaborate with local communities such as the cities of Burlington, Edmonds, Lake Forest Park, and Seattle, and promote the application and development of green infrastructure.

GFL has toured our community with FHNA board members and used a 3D model of Finn Hill to gather input from neighbors who attended Denny Fest in September.  Other than the October 15, there will be a community workshop and other meetings in the future.

FHNA needs help from those who are interested in facilitating small group discussions and help with other tasks. We would also like to enlist volunteers to spread news about the Finn Hill planning process to friends and neighbors and maybe host a coffees or receptions in their home so that we can talk informally to local residents about the plan and get their candid views.

11 Responses to “October 15 is Your Opportunity to Shape Growth on Finn Hill”

  1. Scott Morris says:

    I’m writing to throw out some personal observations as Finn Hill kicks off the neighborhood planning process. I am not a planner, a developer, or a transportation engineer. I have no expertise – just subjective opinions. Consequently, I hope you will respond with additional observations, questions, or criticisms. Let’s start a conversation about the future of our neighborhood. We can change the future only if we dig into the issues and work together on solutions.

    Observation one — Finn Hill faces inevitable growth. Our neighborhood consists today of about 6000 dwelling units, predominantly single family homes. According to a preliminary analysis by the City’s Planning Department, the zoning plan for Finn Hill – which was created by King County some years ago – would allow around 900 more units to be added, mostly on vacant land and lots that can be shortplatted or subdivided. The majority of these additional units would be single family homes built in the southwestern half of the neighborhood – east of the Juanita Woodlands, along the eastern side of Juanita Drive between the Woodlands and 132nd, and west of Juanita Drive. We may not want to see this amount of growth on Finn Hill, but we need to recognize that the City is required by law to accommodate roughly 8600 new dwelling units within the next 20 years, and we cannot avoid accepting our fair share of that number.

    Observation two – Zoning controls the future of our neighborhood. Right now, most of Finn Hill is zoned for residential housing at densities between 4 homes per acre (RSA 4) to 6 homes per acre (RSA 6) – with pockets of zoning for 8 homes per acre (RSA 8) dotted across the zoning map. Zoning determines the look and feel of our neighborhoods, and so long as a developer is building in accordance with the City’s zoning rules, there’s not much a neighbor can do to affect construction plans. If you want to change the fate of the neighborhood, you have to change the zoning – before a building permit or even a subdivision application is filed.
    Observation three – We need to look at downzoning some areas of Finn Hill. Downzoning is like the third rail of city planning. It goes to the heart of private property rights and raises hot political, economic, and legal issues. Still, my personal view is that Finn Hill’s zoning needs fundamental revision – including downzoning.
    First, many of the RSA 8 zones in Finn Hill make no sense. If developed, the small townhome developments that RSA 8 zoning allows will stick out like sore thumbs against the less densely developed homes around them. Many of the RSA 8 “spot zones” on Finn Hill should be downzoned to RSA 6 or less.

    Second, I think we should take a hard look at whether some of the predominant RSA 4 and 6 zoning should be reconsidered. The zoning map right now slaps RSA 4 and RSA 6 designations across the hill, condemning the whole area to the homogenous look of 20th century subdivisions, all dependent on the car to access amenities. Suburban subdivisions aren’t inherently bad – but they don’t work when other forms of housing are excluded.

    Topography (steep slopes and watersheds), the need to preserve tree canopy, and the character of established neighborhoods argue against further development at RSA 6 or even RSA 4 densities. Some lots simply shouldn’t be carved up into little parcels. Property owners who are willing to accept downzoning should get a break on property taxes (there’s an economic issue for you) or perhaps they should be able to sell their former development rights to builders who need them in other areas to support higher density projects.

    In that regard, I would like to see more density around our principal commercial area (QFC shopping center), where multi-storey and multi-family housing might be clustered to create a village center that features more shops and restaurants and might even serve as transportation hub. If we adopted a philosophy of concentrating development around a commercial center, expanding our supply of apartments, condos and townhouses around (and on top) of commercial amenities, we could diversify the types of housing choice available on Finn Hill, expand the diversity of the community itself, and allow for more variation in our sub-neighborhoods.

    Observation four – Our zoning has to be tied to our traffic and transportation capacities. Finn Hill can be accessed by only a few arterial streets. Juanita Drive is clogged in the mornings and evenings. It’s logical to assume that further development will only add to the congestion. Does the zoning plan recognize this problem? Can we foresee public transit or shared transit solutions (car pooling, dial-a ride services) that will ease the pain? Or are traffic patterns changing (due to evolving work patterns or shifting demographics) so that we can accommodate more housing without making things worse? I don’t know the answers. I hope we will get them during this planning process and I certainly hope that our neighborhood’s zoning is closely linked with our neighborhood’s capacity to handle traffic.

    Observation five – We need to think very boldly about preserving our woodlands and open spaces. This final point is critical. Finn Hill is topographically and ecologically unique in Kirkland. We have ravines and creeks, and we still have large swathes of woodlands. Much of our forest canopy is preserved in parks on the west side of the hill, although that is precisely the portion of the neighborhood most in danger of development. We still have a lot of woodlands on the southern and eastern flanks of Finn Hill. Our green spaces define our neighborhood.

    Finn Hill’s neighborhood plan must stress that we have to save these areas as natural preserves for future generations. And it’s not enough just to state that aspiration. We need to formulate policies that will encourage the City and private landowners to contribute to the achievement of this goal. Ultimately, we need to think in terms of connecting many of these natural areas so that they form a single unit of woodlands that encircles Finn Hill. We have many fingers of open space that are publicly owned on the east side of the hill. We should make a plan to stitch them together so that they will be a natural resource for walkers, hikers, and cyclists to connect to other parts of the hill (and to adjacent neighborhoods) away from city traffic. It’s a vision that might take a century to achieve, but we should start now while we still have the natural resources to create the framework.

    That sums up what’s on my mind. What do you think?

    Scott Morris

    • Laura Robinson says:

      I like a lot of the points Scott raises, especially the need to change zoning, the idea of offering tax relief not to develop land, and creating a plan to buy open space that is privately owned in a comprehensive manner. I also like the idea of concentrating higher density development near shopping centers (and bus routes). I do think we are up against some fundamental road limitations.Juanita Dr. is already dangerous for bikes and pedestrians. There’s not much we can do to widen it. Having more cars on it will only make things worse. Unless we make things more conducive to bikers and walkers and maximize mass transportation we will only get more cars. My husband braves Juanita Dr. on his bike commute to work in Seattle, but I find it kind of scary, especially when I see where drivers have smashed into things. I’d love to reduce congestion on Juanita by biking more but I won’t until I feel safer.

  2. Jeanette L says:

    Observation 6: Finn Hill has an amazing number of acres of park, most of it densely wooded contributing to the unique character of this neighborhood. In addition to maintaining these areas as thriving healthy woodlands, I’d like to see every home on the hill be within a 1/4 mile of a park. These additions need not be big parks, but a place to somersault on the grass, chase a ball or sit and have a picnic. A large stretch of the Kirkland portion of the hill is shown by Kirkland Park’s gap analysis to be more than 1/4 mile from a park.

  3. Mike Hayes says:

    Those are shrewd and well-said observations, Scott. I agree that if we must increase density, it makes the most sense for that density to be organized around QFC. Modern city-planning encourages “walkability” / reducing congestion by mixing residential and commercial together in a pleasant environment. Strip malls: no; urban villages: yes.

    The fundamental issue, I think, is traffic. Finn Hill is functionally an island, with only three “bridges”: Juanita Drive, 90th Ave, and Simonds Rd. Until/unless those bridges are widened or new bridges are somehow built, it is irresponsible for the City to add density to Finn Hill.

    I think that should be our message: we will do our part, but only if the City does it’s part too, and either increases capacity on those key roads or focuses attention on the area between 90th Ave and 100th Ave, which at least is well-drained by surface streets.

  4. Joe Kates says:

    Scott has raised a very important issue regarding the need to reconsider with a community-minded outlook the existing zoning, some of which does not make sense, in select parts of our community. The goal for our Neighborhood Plan should be the best possible outcome for the area and not one that is saddled with zoning flaws that are hurdles in achieving our goals. For example, we reside in a neighborhood off of Juanita Drive and 112th St in Finn Hill and have interacted with Scott and the FHNA regarding what we see as a major and urgent problem that is threatening our neighborhood and other parts of Finn Hill. While the FHNA is working with the City to develop a long term plan, patches of RSA-8 zoning, some in very sensitive lakeside neighborhoods and ecosystems are being rapidly developed with inappropriate housing density resulting in major deforestation. These RSA-8 patches were accepted without detailed review during the Annexation from King County by the City of Kirkland even though the designation for some of these is currently irrational or obsolete, out of character (by multiple criteria) with the existing neighborhoods and very threatening to the ecosystems and other environmental and community considerations.

    We have worked hard this year meeting with the City Planning Office and our neighbors to explore constructively how to prevent such detrimental development. Based on recent decisions it appears that the RSA-8 zoning designation trumps other important considerations on the part of the Planning Office with respect to approval decisions. This is a very undesirable situation that need to be urgently addressed. We submitted an appeal to a recent decision by the City Planning Office that affects our immediate neighborhood for a hearing on October 15. Yesterday the appeal was dismissed, meaning that our case will not even be heard. Our immediate neighborhood is a good test case or model for the more general problem for the broader Finn Hill Community. We reiterate that while Finn Hill is moving deliberately to arrive at a suitable master-plan, there appears to be a rush by some property owners and developers to exploit this obsolete zoning to develop properties in a manner that will damage our neighborhood environment, wildlife and quality of life irreversibly.

  5. Thank you, Scott & responders, for the predominately new-to-me information & development input. I sure do pray while riding my bike on Juanita Dr. as well as 100th in particular.

  6. Fran says:

    People are quick to criticize developers, but as mentioned above, it’s really the building and planning codes that dictate what subdivisions and housing plans look like.

    This meeting has happened not a moment too soon! Development of all kinds has been moving so quickly during the last year that it’s given residents little time to respond and reflect on whether or not these are, in fact, good for our neighborhood. I think there needs to be more transparency in the process. By the time development applications are up for public review, nearly everything about them has been decided in advance.

    It’s enjoyable to read these comments about development on Finn Hill. For a good sense of what people have been thinking about for some time, take a look at some random comments posted a year or more ago. Lots of neighbors weighed in when the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance asked for people’s thoughts and feelings, asking them to “Send a Valentine” to our neighborhood.

    Many of these little essays are worth re-reading for a taste of what Finn Hillmans say they want [and don’t want]:

    http://finnhillalliance.org/2014/02/your-valentine-questionnaire/

    They say they like: the parks, nature, mature trees, wildlife; they worry about population density and traffic. And they have great ideas for the future. Bring on the brainstorms!

  7. Fran says:

    Private land may be private but if it has valuable forests, those are important for the environment. We need to protect our rainforests, too!

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/16/rainforests-hold-key-to-taming-el-ninos-destruction

  8. Ryan Brodniak says:

    Some observations of my own after reviewing the materials on both websites (this one & City of Kirkland):

    Long range plan intends to spend millions on the Juanita Dr corridor, much of which will do little to alleviate traffic as a lot of the spending is targeted at walking / biking right of ways. There are simply too many cars that rely on this arterial and I think we need to get more creative on how these funds get used. Yes, let’s address the stretches of Juanita Dr that are critical safety issues for cyclists and pedestrians, but let’s not spend millions on roundabouts that will likely make traffic worse – not better. I don’t know the ultimate answer; perhaps funds need to be diverted into creating / enhancing a separate arterial off the hill? I just think from a long range planning perspective we need to put forth some ‘outside of the box’ thinking on this.

    Another observation on development – agree with the points above that more can be done to promote density in areas that are already commercially zoned. I like the idea of a smaller scale Juanita Village where QFC is, preferably with transit options – there is no convenient P&R on Finn Hill, exacerbating the traffic issues as people who do use transit still have to drive off the hill to get to a P&R.

    On residential infill & tree canopy retention: I love this uniquely wooded area, but am perplexed at how a developer seems to get free range to practically clear cut a heavily wooded lot, while a homeowner cannot so much as remove a single tree (Holmes Point) in order to maintain / enhance their view, even if they already have a dozen or more ‘substantial trees’ on their property. To me this is not a realistic approach to how a tree canopy gets maintained, as it seems to invite ‘illegal’ removal of trees when you have a policy that is so heavy handed on the individual front but allows developers so much leeway – it needs to be more balanced for both.

    Another observation about Kirkland building codes – there seems to be an arbitrary height restriction in Kirkland that has (unintentionally?) resulted in new construction with limited or no roof slope (necessary in order to build a three story or two story w/ daylight basement structure). While this may have worked okay in the DT areas of Kirkland, the character and topography of Finn Hill are different and I think they should have a code that is more customized to these unique characteristics. For instance maybe it should be okay to have a taller structure, if a larger lot size is maintained.

    Unfortunately I was unable to make it to the plan meeting that occurred last week. I hope those who attended found it useful, and I hope that it allows the voice of Finn Hill to be heard by the city!

    • Connie Winter says:

      You can still come to the Nov 14th workshop from 10-2pm, even though you missed this past weeknight meeting.

  9. Janice Gerrish says:

    Finn Hill Neighborhood and the Year 2035 Plan

    Banking for the Future

    Year 2035 is a complex issue. I firmly believe that all of Kirkland is being given a case of “hard sell” by the Feds, State, County. There are alternatives to our future as a community rather than being defined by more roads and taller buildings. I dislike this type of future being crammed down my throat. You would think that the developers and city engineers are creating a design to keep themselves employed for the next twenty years.   I believe the statistics and density projection for the City of Kirkland is being interpreted with the intention to qualify for more government grants and have the community believe that city growing pains can be solved by creating lenient codes for more buildings and more roads. Why not improve what we have now, reduce the number of roads crisscrossing through neighborhoods, work on public transportation with any new funding and alleviate water runoff and road pollution. That would be a good start. Instead of approaching an influx of more citizens as a housing problem best served by cookie cutter fashioned expensive condos, think of how we can solve part of the problem by creating a community that will serve citizens who are handicapped, aged, working poor, large families and of various ethnic backgrounds.

     I am very bias in favor of creating what I call comfortable neighborhoods. Where kids can walk to their school, people can attend a local church or pick up groceries nearby, enjoy the local parks and safely play in their neighborhood. I am also interested in slowing down Juanita Drive traffic, installing more lighted crossings and keeping it as part of the community rather than a fast drive between two freeways.

    I don’t want to live in the past, or talk about the movie “Back to the Future” – I want to Bank for the Future. I would like to have a sustainable, green future for our community. There are community assets that need to be further developed and protected. I always promote the preservation of our green spaces and streams.

    One of my favorite subjects is Trees. Trees can’t talk for themselves; in a city they need somebody to protect them. It takes about twenty years to grow a mature tree. It takes about a half hour to delimb and cut down a tree.

    According to “Growing Greener Cities”, a book published in 1992 by the American Forestry Association, trees have significant monetary benefits. They have found that a single tree provides $73 worth of air conditioning, $75 worth of erosion control, $75 worth of wildlife shelter, and $50 worth of air pollution reduction. Compounding this total of $273 for fifty years at 5% interest results in a tree value of $57,151. Think again, is removing a tree just to improve the look of your landscaping worth it?

    It is easier to protect the great stuff we have in our neighborhood and build/create from that as a starting place, rather than to build from scratch. And much cheaper. When we “ Bank for the Future” we should include on that list all the stuff we want to keep in our neighborhood and the stuff, both tangible and nontangible, we want for our grandchildren, and for the community.

    Part of my list includes 1. preserve as many big trees as possible, in all parts of our community 2. Alleviate pollution from water runoff from roads, and 3. Keep Juanita Drive as part of our neighborhood, as a Drive not a freeway. What is on your list? What would you like to put into the “Bank for the Future”?

    I suggest you attend one or more Neighborhood plans for Finn Hill and let everyone know what you want for the Future of Finn Hill.

    Janice Gerrish.