Village @ Totem Lake from Totem Lake Park
Village @ Totem Lake from Totem Lake Park (Photo by author)

Yet designing for cars continues to be a problem in the city’s fastest growing neighborhood.

When cataloging development in Kirkland, it’s evident where the City has focused much of its development capacity: Totem Lake, a neighborhood defined by its strip malls, car dealerships, car services, light industry, and office buildings, is taking on the most growth of the city’s neighborhoods. The zoned capacity, and thereby scale of change, is peerless compared to Kirkland’s other neighborhoods. But is the City properly addressing all the neighborhood level planning needed to make sure the growth is livable for future residents? In this article, the first of a three-part series focused on Kirkland, we’ll explore the significant development plans for Totem Lake and what kind of new neighborhood they seemed poised to create.

A to-scale comparison of Totem Lake’s (center) scale of zoning compared to Moss Bay/Downtown (top left), Rose Hill (bottom left), and Juanita (bottom right) (Courtesy of the City of Kirkland and modified by author) Non beige or green areas generally allow for multifamily construction.

While tracking down recent, ongoing, and proposed development, it’s unmistakable why Totem Lake is the center of growth in Kirkland. There wasn’t a critical mass of single-family homeowners to push back against increases in density unlike in most other areas. Additionally, the industrial and commercial zoning mean there are larger lot sizes available for developers to purchase.

120th Ave N approaching Village @ Totem Lake.
A wide road, narrows as it approaches the Village @ Totem Lake (Courtesy of Google Street View)

But this history in built environment and infrastructure has lent tremendous challenges for an upcoming neighborhood. Walking around Totem Lake, I juggled feelings of urbanist euphoria, confusion, surprise, and terror. One moment, I was strolling in an awesome wetland park walkway. In the next, I was navigating a patchy sidewalk network set against wide stroads, which combine commercial activity with high speed traffic, like 120th Avenue NE.

I-405’s bisection of Totem Lake also had me crossing a wide maze of pedestrian/car conflict prone highway ramps to navigate the neighborhood. Both the vision and reality for Totem Lake can be seen on the ground. This story can also be told through the active evolution of the neighborhood.

Building up Totem Lake

Kirkland categorizes Totem Lake into four subareas, but I think it makes more sense to roughly go north to south starting near NE 132nd Street and ending around NE 112th Street. Within this area residential and mixed-use development is dominant, and one can get a better sense of the transportation infrastructure with that progression. We will start with the most developed and well-connected section of the neighborhood with the frequent Route 255 in a reasonable walkshed and the planned Sound Transit Bus Rapid Transit station. RapidRide K, the planning for which is currently on hold but will hopefully return once King County reallocates funding, will also serve this area of Totem Lake eventually.

  • A render of a senior living center
  • The Bower Apartments
  • Jade residence photo
  • 12700 116th Avenue NE – Ardea At Totem Lake
    • A 7-story, 170-unit affordable senior living apartment building with 36 parking stalls proposed as of its September 12th design review meeting.
    • This project is in design review.
  • 11811 NE 128th Street – The Bower Apartments
    • A 7-story, 339-unit apartment building with 6,000 square feet of commercial space and 479 parking stalls.
    • This project completed in 2019.
  • 11903 NE 128th Street – Jade Residences
    • A 6-story, 136-unit apartment building over a 3-level parking garage with 169 parking stalls.
    • This project completed in 2022
  • A rendering of Swyft Apartments
  • North Apartments from the north
  • Aspect Apartments photo
  • rendering of polaris at Totem Lake
  • 11919 NE 128th Street – Swyft Apartments
    • An 8-16 story, approximately 313-unit mixed-use tower structure with around 53,000 square feet of medical office space. 450 parking units were approximated in a January 2022 design review application.
    • This project is still in permitting, around the design review phase.
  • 12670 120th Avenue NE – North & Aspect Apartments & Cinemark Theater
    • Two 7-story mixed-use buildings that together have 650 units, 44,017 square feet of retail space, and 1,420 parking stalls.
    • This project completed in 2019
  • 12335 120th Avenue NE – Polaris at Totem Lake
    • Two 8-story mixed-use buildings that together are proposed to have 442 affordable units, 4,000 square feet of commercial space, and 566 parking stalls in a 1-story parking garage.
    • This project is in design review.

Growing inadequacy

As we move farther south and east the transportation infrastructure worsens, as projects are now well outside of a reasonable walkshed of the 255 and the planned BRT station. This next batch only has access to the Cross Kirkland Corridor (Kirkland’s section of the Eastrail) and very infrequent bus routes that run once or twice an hour. In a few spots, sidewalk infrastructure is nonexistent. This part of Totem Lake still mostly contains car dealerships, strip malls, and other car-centric services that defines Totem Lake’s present and recent history. Here we start seeing mobility of future residents restricted in the direction of car dependency.

  • Lake House apartments rendering
  • Shoring and grading for Grata Totem Lake
  • Grata Totem Lake rendering
  • Kinetic Mixed Use rendering
  • Slater mixed use construction
  • Slater Mixed Use rendering
  • 12233 NE Totem Lake Way – Lake Housing Apartments
    • As there is a Right-of-Way that bisects the existing parcel, a subdivision is in permitting and two separate projects are proposed. Both are very early in permitting.
    • South of NE Totem Lake Way, an 8-story, 197-unit mixed use building with 2,262 square feet of commercial space and 256 parking stalls is proposed.
    • North of NE Totem Lake Way, a 4-story, 6-unit apartment building with 6 parking stalls is proposed.
  • 12410 NE Totem Lake Way – Grata Totem Lake
    • A 7-story, 125-unit affordable apartment building with 82 parking stalls.
    • This project is under construction.
  • 12439 NE Totem Lake Way – LPC Totem Lake Way
    • An 8-story, 154-unit apartment building with 216 parking stalls.
    • This project is early in permitting.
  • 12700 NE 124th Street – Kinetic Mixed Use
    • A 7-story, 484-unit mixed-use building with 11,257 square feet of commercial space. 852 parking stalls were mentioned in an older 3/16/2022 SEPA permit.
    • This project is in design review.
  • 12055 Slater Avenue NE – Slater Mixed Use
    • Three 7-story mixed-use buildings that together will have 486 units, 15,883 square feet of retail space, and 758 parking stalls.
    • This project is under construction.

Outside of the typically midrise apartments, there are some wildcards thrown into Totem Lake’s development mix. Here we also see completely untouched section of Kirkland that one could see as sprawl. That Grata Totem Way site was also untouched greenery before its recent grading work.

Existing condition for the self storage facility site and Senderos Townhomes site
Existing condition for the self-storage facility site and Senderos Townhomes site @ 13220 NE 126th Place. (Courtesy of Google Street View)
  • 12217 NE 116th Street – Mainstreet Office
    • A 2-story, 18,620 square feet office building.
    • This project might be a pandemic victim, it has only come in for one pre-submittal meeting in 2019.
  • 132nd Ave NE & NE 126th Place
    • A 6-story, 97,000 square feet self-storage facility with 26 parking stalls.
    • This project is in very early permitting.
  • 13220 NE 126th Place – Senderos Townhomes
    • A 60-unit townhouse complex.
    • This project is in permitting.
  • 11605/11613 132nd Avenue NE – Lake Washington Institute of Technology Early Learning Center/Center for Design
    • A respective 8,000 institutional square feet and 49,645 institutional square feet addition to the Lake Washington Institute of Technology campus.
    • These projects are in permitting.

Troubling growth

As we continue farther south and west, we reach a segment of Totem Lake that has an unreasonable walking distance to any existing transit facilities. The only piece of transportation infrastructure here is the Cross Kirkland Corridor. The sidewalk network is the spottiest here. The transportation infrastructure here has actually worsened with loss of Route 236, which served NE 116th Street, in the North Eastside Bus Restructure in 2020. The large developments here have no choice to be car dependent, which is especially concerning given the scale of development planned and built.

  • Upland Kirkland West
  • Upland Kirkland East (Photo by Author)
  • Vareze Residential
  • The Bridges
  • Juanita Grove
  • 11729 NE 118th Street – Morning Star of Kirkland
    • A 5-story, 152-unit senior housing apartment with 105 parking stalls.
    • This project completed in 2020.
  • 11723 NE 117th Court – Upland Kirkland 1/2
    • A 6-story, 205-unit apartment building with 298 parking stalls.
    • This project completed in 2019.
  • 11721 NE 117th Court – Upland Kirkland 2/2
    • A 6-story, 204-unit apartment building with 303 parking stalls.
    • This project completed in 2019.
  • 11801 NE 116th Street – Vareze Residential
    • A 16-building townhouse complex with 82 3-story units.
    • This project completed in 2020.
  • 11431 NE 116th Street – The Bridges
    • Twenty-seven single-family homes.
    • This project is under construction and partially complete, with some units finishing in 2020.
    • This is technically in Juanita, but it is much closer to Totem Lake’s center of gravity.
  • 11229 NE 116th Street – Juanita Grove
    • Six single-family homes.
    • This project completed in 2020.
  • 11837 NE 112th Street – Hagerty Garage and Social Club
    • A 27,633 square feet commercial expansion.
    • This project is in permitting.
  • 10930 116th Avenue NE – The Pine Apartments
    • A 7-story, 140-unit apartment building with 191 parking stalls.
    • This project is under construction.
  • 10801 & 10809 120th Avenue NE – Toll Brothers Kirkland CKC
    • A 121-townhouse development with 242 parking stalls and 1,600 square feet of commercial space proposed.
    • This project is in design review.

Outside of Totem Lake proper, there are projects that are well within Totem Lake’s orbit. Scattered throughout and below are projects that technically fall in neighborhoods like Juanita, Rose Hill, and Kingsgate, but could be considered more aligned with Totem Lake.

Kirkland Heights existing condition
Kirkland Heights existing condition @ 13228 NE 133rd Street (Courtesy of Google Street View)
  • 10839 Slater Avenue NE – Rivendell Subdivision
    • Nine single-family homes.
    • This project completed in 2019
  • 13228 NE 133rd Street – Kirkland Heights Apartments renovations, additions, and new buildings
    • An expansion of an existing apartment complex with additional 92 affordable units.
    • This project is very early in permitting.
  • 13030 136th Avenue NE – Marinwood Subdivision
    • Fourty-eight single-family homes.
    • This project completed between 2018 and 2019.

A reflection of Kirkland

Totem Lake was built to be car-centric in the past. Without changing that base structure, this new development is being forced to take on that legacy in its design. Much of the neighborhood is simply not served by public transit. The sidewalk network is inconsistent throughout the neighborhood. Totem Lake is also completely bisected by I-405, weakening intra-neighborhood connections. 

A Ford car dealership
One of a handful of car dealerships in Totem Lake. (Photo by Author)

As a result of this reality and the code, much new development in Totem Lake remains car dependent. It’s just getting taller with apartment buildings, a trend that is clearly reflected in the numbers. 

Since 2019, there have been around 1,848 units built with 3,128 parking stalls. Tens of thousands of square feet of commercial space do help balance the parking ratio, but the one-plus parking to unit ratio is known to encourage driving. Including what’s being planned and constructed, 4,648 units, 6,939 parking stalls, and nearly 340,000 square feet of commercial/institutional space have been built in Totem Lake since 2019 or are potentially or confirmed to be on the way in Totem Lake.

While the parking is a problem, one bright spot in all this development is that roughly 1,200 affordable units will be included in that 4,648 figure. This comes from the 829 units in completely affordable buildings, and the 10% inclusionary housing requirement that Kirkland has. More of these affordable units could be delivered with affordable housing programs like the Multifamily Tax Exemption Program.

Totem Lake’s existing and diverse conditions gives us a sample of the character of development happening throughout the rest of Kirkland. North Totem Hill resembles Downtown’s transit rich environment, while South Totem Hill is just like all the other transit deserts in the city. Increasingly dense areas in Kirkland without transit like South Totem Hill are consequential regarding congestion, climate, and accessibility. Especially with Totem Lake not ever near reaching zoned capacity, resolving the lack of transit is critical if the Kirkland has any appetite to reduce the neighborhood’s car dependency. Though with the thousands of new, and incoming parking stalls, in Totem Lake, the neighborhood and city will have a difficult time to course correct.

Article Author

Shaun Kuo is a junior editor at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW Tacoma Master of Arts in Community Planning. He is a urban planner at the Puget Sound Regional Council and a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.