A few weeks ago I received a letter to attend a "Special Council Meeting" for the Market Neighborhood. I have not attended many Kirkland City Council meetings, so I thought I would show up, snap a few pics, and see what happens at these things. I also wanted to get a sense of how the city makes decisions and how it decides to spend our $278 million budget each year. Seems like a lot of money, no? The meeting was held on March 15, 2006 at the Heritage Hall. Mayor James Lauinger was the master of ceremonies and the goal of the event was to give residents the chance to be heard and to meet/greet the City Council members. The agenda focused on the following topics:
- Traffic update
- Trees (how can we save them)
- Size of houses relative to lot size (too many mega homes)
- Cell phone towers (no one likes the T-mobile one on Market St.)
- Parking (it sucks downtown)
Before the meeting dug into the topics above the Mayor asked if there were any other issues that the audience wanted to add to the list. Here is where things started to get good. Several folks brought up the topic of builders buying up lots, cutting down all the trees, building homes that are more like track homes (e.g cookie cutter homes), and in essence stealing the soul of our neighborhood. At least three of the most vocal critics on this subject mentioned Lux Homes by name and used such terms as "...the Luxification of Kirkland" and "Luxville". It wasn't pretty.
Along those same lines folks are generally tired of all the builders and on-going construction in our neighborhood. Points were made that it's impacting the quality of life in Kirkland and that builders/contractors just don't care about the folks living around their projects. They drive too fast, park anywhere they want, work during non-approved hours, and compromise safety on our streets.
After the initial barrage we got back on track and focused on the agenda items. We went through each one and various City Council members would interject updates on each topic. Mostly I would say the Council talked much more than the residents. Overall I was pleased to see a good set of Council members who were passionate about Kirkland and have been working hard to make it a better place. That said, every one of the 40 or so residents who attended have differing opinions on just about every topic. The key takeaway for me is that the squeaky wheel gets the most attention. For this reason the council encourages residents to get involved if they want to influence the long term direction of the city. They will listen.
Here are some other interesting notes I took during the meeting:
- They offered coffee, but only had decaf (major mistake or strategic decision?). Cookies were marginal.
- 405 Expansion--it's only just begun. Expect years of construction and slow, slow, slow traffic. During this time traffic will continue to spill on to the city streets. The Council feels once it's done all of our traffic woes will be gone and the side streets in Kirkland will empty out. Hmmm...can a study really predict the future? I hope they are right, but I am a little suspect.
- Market Street traffic--we did a study that costs 15k and put together an eight person committee to reach some consensus on solutions for how to achieve "Traffic Calming". What the heck is traffic calming? They are going to present a "draft" in May that will focus on "reducing and slowing" the traffic. Slowing? I can't remember the last time I could drive faster than 5 mph on Market at rush hour. After all this they better have some damn good solutions!
- 116th is getting an overhaul to ease the traffic jams getting on to the 405 during rush hour. The Council was pretty proud of this one. Apparently they fought hard to get funding to make this happen. Oh, BTW the new intersection (116th/405) will take two years before complete.
- Lot's of discussion on building codes. Some folks want higher average elevations, some folks want larger setbacks, some folks don't like the FAR codes. The City did concede that the ADU (alternate dwelling unit, otherwise known as mother-in-law apartments above a garage) was a bit of a mistake. Did you know that these ADUs don't count toward the square footage (FAR codes)? Yup, it's true. The Council is working on re-evaluating FAR/lot coverage, etc.
- Lot's of talk about the parking situation downtown. I didn't get a sense of any brilliant strategies here. I actually asked them how parking impacts local small businesses and if they met with the business owners to make sure their input was heard. This spawned a 15 minute response from the Mayor himself. He was defensive about the question. I came away thinking the City isn't very pro business. I plan to do a separate story on this issue in a later post. I wonder if the Mayor will give me an interview? I can tell you that local business owners will talk to me about this all day long if given the opportunity. I will say the Mayor did have a good suggestion for local businesses...."stay open at night when the city is packed full of people". This made total sense to me.
- Cell phone tower on Market--T-mobile has been dragging their feet to change out the tower. Should we start a Kirkland boycott?
Overall it was a good meeting and very informative. If you care about what is going on in the city you should get involved and try to make a difference. I plan to attend more of these...I will let y'all know when I do...Steve