‘Lake View Drive’ no more?

Kenmore's Tom Hyde floats balloons up to 60 feet to show that buildings that height will block his view of Lake Washington.
— image credit: File photo

Building heights are a hot topic

Resident Bob Greene noted some historical or colorful names have been added to street signs in the heart of Kenmore. For example, better known as Northeast 182nd Street, the road where his home sits was tagged “Lake View Drive.”

For Greene, that nickname points directly to why many residents have banned together objecting to the possibility of commercial buildings rising to 60 feet along Northeast 181st Street.

That street sits between Lake Washington and Greene’s home along with many others. In Greene’s opinion, any 60-foot-high development on 181st means “Lake View Drive” would need a new name as the current view of the waterfront largely would disappear.

Greene is president of a group of residents calling themselves the Northlake Neighborhood Association, which for more than a year has been fighting to set height restrictions along 181st at 35 feet.

“It would just be a big wall of buildings,” Northlake member Cindy Hobbs said regarding the possibility of 60-foot structures.

The properties in question sit on 181st between 61st Avenue Northeast and 66th Avenue Northeast. Zoning put in place by King County before Kenmore became a city allows buildings in that stretch to reach the controversial 60 feet in height. Roughly two years ago, landowners on 181st applied to Kenmore to make use of commercial business zoning on the street, as well as take advantage of the King County height allowances.

Apparently partly in response to resident complaints, Kenmore City Council turned the issue over to the city’s Downtown Task Force. In turn, the task force put in place a moratorium on construction reaching 60 feet. That moratorium expires at the end of November, a circumstance that has sparked renewed debate on the height issue. City Council held a packed public hearing on the question Oct. 27. Councilman Randy Eastwood described that session as “one of the best public hearings we’ve had.”

“I felt like council was receiving our input in a positive frame of mind,” Greene said.

Eastwood added past discussions on the height issue became “rather animated.”

Insisting he hasn’t made up his mind on the question, Eastwood nevertheless has come under direct attack from the Northlake group, which asked him to abstain from voting on the height restrictions because of an alleged conflict of interest, a conflict Eastwood flatly denies.

Eastwood owns a Kenmore real-estate firm. He said one of his agents has a listing for a condominium on 181st, but he insists that listing comes no where near to preventing him from having a say on the height issue.

For Eastwood, the overall question could come down to one of property rights.

“There’s some extremely compelling arguments on both sides,” he said.

Hobbs said about 40 residents, many of them members of the Northlake group, showed up at the Oct. 27 council session to speak in favor of lower height restrictions. Carl Michelman of the Michelman Insurance Group was one of about three in the crowd who favor the more generous height limits.

Michelman owns two properties on 181st but said he has no plans to further develop either. To him, a key point is that the 60-foot limit already is in place.

“We are talking about property rights here,” Michelman said, echoing some of Eastwood’s comments. Michelman also argued that many of the Northlake homeowners bought their properties after the county raised the height restrictions and could have or should have known what the zoning was in the surrounding areas.

“The rest of the city knows what’s going on and they aren’t bothered by it,” Michelman further contended.

Greene said the downtown task force came up with some compromise recommendations, including mandating so-called view corridors between higher buildings. According to Greene, the task force passed those recommendations in an 8-3 vote last month.

Because the Oct. 27 public hearing lasted late into the evening, there was no chance for council to discuss the height issue. Eastwood said the next step for legislators is to hold some discussions, which should have at least begun at council’s Nov. 3 meeting, which took place after the Reporter’s deadline. It isn’t clear when officials might make a final decision, though it could come as early as Nov. 10.

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