Kirkland: the city of change

Kirkland has always been a city of change. Although Peter Kirk's dream of Kirkland becoming the Pittsburgh of the West never materialized, this community has consistently embraced his desire to make the changes necessary to be something special. After nearly 50 years of being around Kirkland, I have seen and been involved in some of those changes. Many changes, though controversial at the time, have now become some of the very things we value most about our great city.

Most changes in Kirkland are due to a couple of types of population growth, the Growth Management Act and City Council action.

One need only study the history of Kirkland to see how over our first century our population nearly doubled each decade to our present-day 48,000 residents. Initially, this was because of the construction of the first floating bridge across Lake Washington in 1940 that made it much easier for people to live on the Eastside and commute to Seattle. Today, with major work centers on the Eastside, Kirkland is centrally located.

History of growth through annexation

Kirkland has also grown its population by annexation. Throughout Kirkland's history, surrounding residential neighborhoods desired to become a part of Kirkland. This included areas from Houghton to Totem Lake and North and South Rose Hill to Juanita. Today these areas are an integral part of Kirkland while retaining their own unique personalities and character. This desire to become a part of Kirkland continues today. The city has just embarked on an in-depth feasibility study for annexing the areas directly north of Totem Lake, Juanita and up to and including Finn Hill. If completed, this could add another 38,000 residents to our population. Information about the proposed annexation area and opportunities for public input are available on the Kirkland Web site.

Our current population growth has also been influenced by the adoption and implementation of the Growth Management Act (GMA) of 1990. GMA mandates that population growth take place within urban growth boundaries. This means that greater densities of population along with required housing, business, educational and recreation needs have to fit within a much smaller defined area. Kirkland along with all urban cities must accept and make provisions for this growth. We have seen this manifested in our neighborhoods with the replacement of old homes with new and often much larger homes. GMA is also a reason why we have seen increased land and housing prices to levels that Peter Kirk and most longtime residents could never have imagined.

Trying to retain that small-town feel

The city council is constantly challenged to balance our desire to retain a small-town feel while also meeting the GMA goals of providing a diversity of housing, goods and services to meet the needs of our current and future residents. Our two recent innovative housing projects are an excellent example of the council's willingness to try something different and then evaluate the result to determine future policies. Certainly, as buildable land becomes scarce due to development along with changes to environmental laws, we will continue to see further changes in Kirkland.

Kirkland has already seen much change due to development and re-development. Many of our now cherished older buildings were controversial when they were built. These buildings are now a valued part of our city landscape with most residents having no idea the controversy they incited at the time.

Developments such as Carillon Point years ago spurred heated debate. After several contentious public meetings the project was approved. Upon completion the result was a superior use of the property that continues to provide tangible benefits for everyone. From the historic but severely dilapidated shipyard to the attractive complex we enjoy today -- the improvement is obvious.

World-class attractiveness

The redevelopment of that property gave us the Woodmark Hotel, restaurant and office complex that attracts famous (and not so famous) visitors from around the world as well as being home to several world-class companies. It is also the perfect setting for Kirkland to host the Concours d'Elegance this month, an event featuring the finest automobiles and boats from across the United States.

Today we see many re-development projects throughout Kirkland including the new Heathman Hotel and soon the remake of the Totem Lake Malls. The city council has also taken action to encourage re-development along the 85th Street corridor, the Parmac Industrial Area and other sites ready for new development.

Changes like these have and will continue to occur because of the long range vision of our city council with input from our residents. The core values and components of what Kirkland is today were established and nurtured by former city councils. The vision to make Kirkland a city that is truly livable, vibrant and a sustainable place for residents, visitors and businesses is one of those core values.

Besides deciding development policies, previous city councils have funded and endorsed the aggressive acquisition of park land along Lake Washington Boulevard and throughout the city. This is a lasting legacy of change that will be enjoyed for generations to come. Our current council continues this vision and vigilantly seeks opportunities to acquire open space when available and prudent.

Future changes in Kirkland will involve transportation. Replacement of the 520 bridge corridor, I-405 improvements and the downtown transit center are all before the city council.

I encourage all residents to be informed, get involved and become a part of the decision making process.

Bob Sternoff is a Kirkland City Council member.

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