After more than six years of working to revitalize Kirkland's downtown, Teddy Overleese said yesterday that she felt she couldn't look business...
After more than six years of working to revitalize Kirkland’s downtown, Teddy Overleese said yesterday that she felt she couldn’t look business owners in the eye and tell them the city supported them.
Overleese, Kirkland’s economic advocate, resigned Monday to protest last week’s City Council decision to reject a controversial condominium and retail project proposed downtown at Lake Street and Central Way.
Overleese’s resignation came less than a week after City Councilman Tom Dillon, who favored the project, resigned after the council’s 5-2 vote to kill it.
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Overleese worked for the Kirkland Economic Partnership, which was funded by the city but run by the Greater Kirkland Chamber of Commerce.
“I love what I do,” Overleese said. “But I felt I could no longer be positive about what I was doing. It’s hard to represent economic development if you feel the city’s actions prove otherwise.”
Overleese had been working as the city’s economic advocate for two years and is a former executive director of Kirkland Downtown on the Lake, a group that favored the project. She also worked on the city’s Downtown Strategic Plan, which set zoning and economic-development goals for how Kirkland’s core should grow.
The resignations come at a time when Kirkland is trying to focus on economic-development goals and launch other projects, said Dave Ramsay, Kirkland city manager. Overleese’s primary focus was on keeping businesses in the city and working with business owners and would-be developers on issues ranging from permits to parking.
“We’re sorry to see [Overleese] go,” Ramsay said. “She played an important role as the liaison between the city and the business community.”
The city has to figure out how to revitalize its downtown now that the Lake and Central project has been rejected, Ramsay said. Economic development is one of the key issues the council will discuss during an annual retreat later this month.
“I think the Lake and Central project exposed some fundamental conflicts in how various parts of our community look at economic development,” Ramsay said. “The downtown is the heart of the community, and people feel strongly about it. That’s an asset and a challenge.”
The proposed development, a four-story complex with underground parking, ground-floor retail and three stories of condos, incited strong feelings on both sides. The city held public hearings and several workshops; hundreds of people attended.
In the end, the majority of the council sided with residents who objected to the size of the development and worried about its effect on the downtown’s character.
Bill Vadino, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said it will be difficult to replace Overleese, who has agreed to stay until early April while the chamber looks for a replacement.
“People see the downtown as a jewel, and they are very passionate about it,” Vadino said. “But in order for us to stay where we are at, we have to move forward. We need to continue to be vigilant about how we make Kirkland’s downtown economically viable.”
Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or firstname.lastname@example.org