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Thursday, June 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:18 AM

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Big homes on small lots crowd Kirkland neighbors

Seattle Times Eastside Bureau

A $3 million home under construction on the corner of Fourth Street West and Seventh Avenue West in Kirkland boasts a chef's kitchen, a wine cellar, a wraparound covered deck and a "spectacular view of Lake Washington" to the southwest.

But neighbors worry the 4,400-square-foot home, which sits on a smaller-than-average 5,700-square-foot lot, is so close to the house next door that the view to the northeast could be their neighbor's kitchen.

"If you go and take a look, you can read the lettering on the canned vegetables in the house next door," said Loren Spurgeon, chair of the city's Market Neighborhood Association, who lives nearby. "It's virtually 4 feet away from the house next to it. There's a half-dozen of those [in the neighborhood]."

As Kirkland becomes a destination for new luxury homes — many taking maximum advantage of the lot space — residents worry that the new houses are changing the feel of their communities.

The concerns have led the city to take a hard look at the rules for determining how large homes can get. Proposed changes will be presented at a public hearing tonight.

The issue is not unique to Kirkland. Across Puget Sound, communities are seeing small homes on modest lots being replaced by much bigger homes that often seem out of scale and overwhelming to neighbors.

Public hearing today


Property talks: A public hearing before the Kirkland Planning Commission will be held today at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers at 123 Fifth Ave. in Kirkland. A courtesy public hearing on this issue will also be held in City Council Chambers by the Houghton Community Council on June 27 at 7 p.m.

Of particular concern in Kirkland are older neighborhoods such as Market and Norkirk, which were platted in the early 1900s with smaller lots. These neighborhoods in particular have faced much redevelopment as smaller homes are torn down and replaced by bigger ones, said City Manager Dave Ramsay.

Currently, the city requires that homes on 5,000-square-foot lots not exceed 60 percent of lot size, which means they cannot be larger than 3,000 square feet.

One proposed change would reduce that ratio to 50 percent, making the maximum house size just 2,500 square feet, said Paul Stewart, deputy director for Planning and Community Development.

That same 50-percent ratio already applies to the most common lot zones in the city — 7,200 or 8,500 square feet. In the largest lot zones — 35,000-square-foot lots — homes cannot exceed 35 percent of the lot size.

In Seattle and Snohomish County, the 35-percent ratio applies to the majority of homes and lots.

Based on its lot size, the home on Seventh Avenue West should not exceed 3,600 square feet. But in calculating the allowable house size, the city doesn't count certain areas, such as the deck and a partially below-ground level that includes two bedrooms, a bathroom, the wine cellar and a media room, said broker Laura Westlund.

The result: The 4,400-square-foot home is legal. Its impact is compounded because the neighboring 1939 home was built closer to the lot boundary than would now be allowed.

To Spurgeon, more out-of-scale homes mean fewer people can afford to live in Kirkland, making the city less diverse.

"It's improving the value of the homes, but the blowback from it is that retired folks are unable to continue to live here," Spurgeon said.

Others have mixed feelings. Russel Smith has lived in his home on Seventh Avenue West since 1967 and, while he's not happy that his taxes have increased, he said the new homes improve Kirkland's appeal.

"It is changing the quality of life," he said. "I've lived here since 1967, and back then it was a town of little bungalows that were thrown up quickly for the ship workers. I didn't think it looked too nice."

The debate highlights the changes taking place in Kirkland, said Eric Campbell, who lives in the Market neighborhood and owns Cam West Development, which has built several homes in the city.

"You have the struggle of a lot of people moving into Kirkland having higher income levels, and their needs and wants are very different than what the people that were here previously want," Campbell said. "Trying to balance both people's needs, it's a tough job for the planning commission or City Council to do."

Campbell said he is against the proposed reduction in the home-to-lot size ratio for 5,000-square-foot lots. A ratio at 60 percent for such a lot usually means he can build a four-bedroom home. If it goes down to 50 percent, he can only build a three-bedroom home, he said.

Barbara Loomis has lived on Eighth Avenue since 1974 and calls the home under construction next to her a "megahome."

"It's out of scale with the neighborhood," Loomis said. "It's the feeling of mass and scale that is bothering people."

She recalls a conversation she had with a developer who said he chose to build garages in front of the home rather than the back-alley garage common in the neighborhood because the front garages could be built lower into the ground and not counted as part of the home's size, allowing him to build bigger houses.

"When you put garages in the front [of the home], it messes up the architecture and the feeling of community and neighborliness," Loomis said. "There's too many loopholes that the developers have used in order to build bigger houses."

Loomis lives in a historic home and said the same developer told her that he wished he could buy her lot.

"He didn't say my 'house,' he said my 'lot,' " Loomis said. "My house is one of [city founder] Peter Kirk's improvement houses, there's no way I would allow it to be torn down."

The Planning Commission will consider other changes to the current provisions, including whether vaulted ceilings and detached structures, such as garages, should be included in the home size. It will also consider adding provisions regarding house placement on a lot to minimize the feeling of crowding.

Times staff reporters Keith Ervin and Christopher Schwarzen contributed to this report.

Lisa Chiu: 206-464-3347 or lchiu@seattletimes.com

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