Kirkland's downtown needs revitalization, but residents say a proposed mixed-use development at a key intersection could destroy the area's quaint atmosphere. More than 200 people...

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Kirkland’s downtown needs revitalization, but residents say a proposed mixed-use development at a key intersection could destroy the area’s quaint atmosphere.

More than 200 people packed council chambers and the City Hall’s foyer on Tuesday night, and many of them waited several hours for a turn to speak.

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The plan, proposed by Seattle-based Milliken Martin, calls for a four-story building with retail space on the ground floor and more than 80 condominiums on the floors above.

After listening to hours of testimony, City Council members said they were uneasy about the project, and they hesitated moving forward until their concerns were addressed. The council put the project on hold and asked city staffers to compile a list of issues raised during the meeting. In January the council will review the list and discuss what direction the city should take.

“It’s become clear to me that most of the people here are not in favor of the project, and we have somehow missed some [public] process here,” said Councilwoman Joan McBride. “I want to capture some of the things brought up here tonight, and I don’t want to lose this input. … But I am deeply, deeply concerned.”

The city has been working with the developer for two years on how best to use the land, which currently is a 58-space parking lot. A recent land appraisal valued the land at about $2 million, city officials said.

The city has long been working to encourage development that would stabilize the downtown through anchor retail stores, said City Manager David Ramsay.

“We are too weather-dependent,” Ramsay said. “On a beautiful August day, our town does well. In the middle of March in the middle of the week, we don’t do well. We would label our downtown as fragile, and it needs revitalization.”

However, the project is not in keeping with the city’s Downtown Strategic Plan, which calls for maintaining the quaint and historical feel of the downtown, said Jeff Leach, president of Citizens for a Vibrant Kirkland. Members of the group spoke at the meeting.

The strategic plan was put together several years ago by the city’s Downtown Action Team.

“The plan says buildings should be built to human scale,” Leach said. “The size and scale of this project is not in keeping with that. … We’re not against development. We’d like to slow the process down and encourage more citizen input.”

Other residents said the project would not have the village atmosphere they thought it would. Some said the city needs to proceed cautiously, because whatever is built on the property will be there for many years.

“I ask you to take time to explore options for this valuable piece of property,” said Elizabeth Johnson. “This plan is not the legacy we hoped for.”

The developer says the project complies with the city’s zoning and is in keeping with the strategic plan’s goal of strengthening the downtown. The strategic plan encourages a mixed-use residential and retail development, and the city’s zoning allows for buildings up to four stories high, said Larry Martin, chief operating officer for Milliken Martin.

“When the public says it’s too big, what they are saying is, ‘We don’t agree with the zoning,’ ” Martin said. “That is a much bigger issue. That’s telling the city we want you to change your plans and regulations.”

Martin said the building would be attractive and in keeping with the downtown’s atmosphere. Many of the residents’ concerns could be addressed through the design review, which he hopes will happen early next year. A citizen-advisory board would review the project details in a process open to public comment.

A few residents spoke in favor of the development.

“The downtown needs more people walking the streets,” said John Overleese, a longtime Kirkland resident. “There’s not enough vitality there to keep people in business.”

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com