Friday, March 28, 2014

LETTER: Land Use Action for New Mosque on NE 51st Draws Neighborhood Reaction

If you drive by the northbound on-ramp to 520 on 51st street, you probably haven’t noticed the small yellow sign posted to a gate announcing plans to develop a 20,000-square foot religious facility and community center. My fellow residents of the adjacent neighborhood north of 51st and East of 520 didn’t notice it either.
 
But when we did find out, we were concerned. Our neighborhood is purely residential: 51st Street is the natural divider between our homes and Microsoft corporate campus to the South. The proposed 20,000 sq. ft. structure, is ten times the size of the average 2,000 sq. ft. single family homes in our subdivision. Not only would this be the first non-residential addition to our community, but it would also be really, really large.  Read More >>

 
While we struggled to understand how a 20,000 sq. ft. facility with 50 feet high minaret and with 36 parking stalls is even scaled to our neighborhood, we examined the applicant’s traffic study. Despite serving a projected 70 families – none of whom reside in our neighborhood- the study fails to describe how any of those families traveling from Bellevue, Kirkland, or either direction of 520 will ever arrive at the facility.
 
The site’s only access to a public roadway is between the Metro stop and 520 on 51st. Given the proximity to the 520 northbound onramp, WA-DOT will not allow a left turn into or out of the premises.  So how will mosque visitors coming from Bellevue, Kirkland or 520 heading east on 51st turn onto the premises if they cannot turn left – North – into the driveway? We see a handful of possibilities for cars to turn from East to West on 51st: illegal U-turns, use of Microsoft campus for turnabouts, or zipping through our winding subdivision.
 
Every one of those options sound bad to us. Neighborhood residents and Microsoft employees alike will attest that traffic on 51st is already busy on weekdays, and the intersection at 154th Ave is usually painful for anyone making a left turn. This facility, with its non-resident members, would compound those problems.
 
Even more troubling, the plans only include 36 parking spaces. To put that in perspective, there’s a 10,000 square foot mosque just East of Marymoor Park that offers over 100 parking spaces, and that’s in an industrial park with overflow parking readily available. This proposed facility is in a residential neighborhood whose street parking already serves Metro commuters and Microsoft overflow on weekdays, and we are talking about adding 20,000 sq. ft. building for congregation of over 70 families.
 
It is glaringly obvious that 36 parking stalls will not be enough. Although the project applicant offers workarounds such as valet parking on site or leasing a parking lot and providing shuttle service to it, we’re left wondering how such a plan fits a vision of “Sustainable Redmond.” If the project requires overflow parking mitigations from its outset, then what about the future growth?
 
So more than a dozen of us took our concerns to City Hall, where we learned the applicant has been working with city planners for the past three years to bring the facility’s plans up to code. While we’re still scratching our heads over how these plans meet code, we’re also wondering why we have only just heard about a project of this scale that has been planned for three years.
 
In residential zones like our neighborhood, residents, guests and area visitors are the priority customers. A facility that serves a congregation whose members are not local to our community – who will therefore increase through-traffic on winding streets where our children play and ride bikes home from school – will neither enhance our neighborhood nor increase our quality of life. This development brings us only nuisance – and yet the applicant appears to expect we will welcome it with open arms.
 
So from my neighborhood to yours, please consider how this strange development proposal may affect you: do you live or work in the area of 51st and 520? Are you concerned about Redmond’s sustainability? Do you believe large development projects should require more community notification or engagement? Please email city planner at tmjohnson@redmond.gov before the April 1st 5 PM deadline for public comments.
 
In addition, please attend the recently announced Information Session to be held April 14th at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers – recently organized in response to the “surprising” number of comments the city has received on this proposal. Anyone who cares about sustainable development of the city in general and the Overlake neighborhood in particular should attend.

Sincerely, 
Eugene Zakhareyev

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

If a neighborhood is zoned residential, how is a mosque or a church or a temple considered to be residential?

What prevents a group from purchasing 5 or 6 adjacent houses in the middle of MY neighborhood and then tearing the houses down and building a 20,000 square foot facility?

There are so many rules that the city imposes on residential neighborhoods - you can't cut down a big tree, your plants can't extend over the sidewalk, your roof can't be too tall, your driveway can't be too wide ... but anyone can build a 20,000 square foot non-residential building with 36 parking spaces and that's OK? Isn't there some rule in the city's long list of rules that prohibits this in residential neighborhoods?

To me, residential means residential. How is it that the Planning Department doesn't know the meaning of this word?

Ironically, the city probably wouldn't allow a 20,000 square foot apartment complex with 36 parking stalls on this site. That would be an actual residential use - but apartments at this site would be prohibited by code.

Damien said...

I find it curious your insistence that this facility couldn't possibly serve anyone in your neighborhood. If this were a church and not a mosque, would that make a difference to you? Likely the new mosque will attract new neighbors who seek to live close to their place of worship.

No doubt, the facility is sited to be close to all of the technology companies nearby. With highly multi-national workforces, there are undoubtedly many muslims who work across the street at Microsoft and would like to have a Mosque within walking distance to their work in order to attend services. For people that may not own a car, taking the bus to a far-flung industrial district to worship is not practicable. I suspect the traffic problems you fear will not be as bad as you think.

There are a lot of people in Redmond and Bellevue who do not own cars and their segment of our population is growing every day. Please consider their concerns and do not force others to own cars and add to the traffic problems overall just because you are trouble by driving past the site of some minarets next to the freeway.

Anonymous said...

Damien,

Actually, the fact that this is a mosque rather than a church does not make any difference here. The facility scale is what bothers the residents, and the fact that the property has limited access and parking capacity.

You seem to imply that most members of congregation work across the street which is not true. Like it or not, majority of worshipers will be commuting over by car and that's what causes parking and traffic concerns.

And FYI, Redmond has two mosques in industrial district already, and that does not seem to deter congregations growth there.

Eugene

alissajoy8 said...

I believe we will get far more people to email city planners if we provide a form letter similar to what is offered by political action groups when they tell me to "write my representative."

I care a lot about this project and consider is a horrific nuisance, but am struggling to get my own letters out by the deadline.

This was well written and informative. Something similar in a format that is ready to speak to the city's planners would be divine!

alissajoy8 said...

Excellent points! You make our case well. I hope you can attend the upcoming meeting!

Anonymous said...

The tract of land is zoned for a single family home. On average, there are 1.92 automobiles per home (2009 stat: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/facts/2010_fotw618.html). The proposed facility will account for 36 vehicles; that’s a 1,875% increase in original design capacity. This will, of course, take a toll on the surrounding infrastructure. Due to the fact that the entrance to the facility is not a controlled intersection, there will be accidents there. And when the inevitable fatal accident(s) occurs, road improvements will made to accommodate the awkward entrance to the facility. The costs for the new infrastructure will fall on the WADOT which, of course, will be passed on to the citizens who will pay in the form of increased taxes.

Why should the state and it’s citizenry pay, both monetarily and in the form of increased traffic and traffic accidents, to place a facility of this size in an area that was not zoned for it? A facility of this size should be placed in a properly zoned area with an appropriate infrastructure to support it. Not force itself in to an area because the land is cheaper and make everyone else pay for new infrastructure. This is the very reason city planners zone property in the first place.
I am amazed that the City of Redmond has let this project get this far. You don’t need to be a civil engineer or city planner to know that this project is a bad idea for everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

I agree that what is there does not matter so much as the fact that it is presently zoned residential. A Bartell's or small gym or even a restaurant would be equally out of place and problematic from parking and driving perspectives (thinking similar size and parking spaces). The type of facility is irrelevant; the scale of it is the problem.

Anonymous said...

I would add that traffic safety could be a large problem as NE 51st Street is the main truck route from Redmond to Hwy 520

Sandra said...

To be honest, I started reading this post thinking that the true objection was to having a mosque nearby, but you've presented some very valid arguments here.

I wonder if perhaps you and your neighbors could work with the city to turn this to your advantage? As you said, turning out of 154th onto 51st is a nightmare, and there is simply no good way for mosque attendees coming from 520 to turn into that lot without an illegal u-turn or a detour through your neighborhood.

What if the city installed a traffic light and left turn lane on the corner of 51st and 154th? That would make things easier for you getting into and out of your neighborhood.

I'm not sure there is room to add a median "suicide lane" a bit further west to allow left turns into the proposed mosque site, but if not - and the mosque attendees have to go through your neighborhood to get there - I suspect that the mosque leaders would be very willing to remind their congregation on a regular basis to drive slowly and carefully. Mosques, churches and synagogues like to be on friendly terms with their neighbors. :)

There's still the parking situation, however. I don't see how that would work - the streets in that neighborhood would inevitably end up as "overflow parking" on a regular basis, and from what I've seen, that's already a problem there with Microsoft employees.

Anonymous said...

There was someone trying to build a mosque in Bellevue just south of the bellevue/redmond border on the east side of 173rd south of 24th around 2003-2004. Sounds very similar.... Neighbors fought it and it was never built. You may want to look into how they were able to stop it.

Anonymous said...

Redmond's newest church at 116/red wood rd is great example of how well overflow lots work. Cars all over sidewalk, straddling ditch and halfway in road. No parking signs were installed by city but completely ignored.

Anonymous said...

I want be clear that the objections stated her are unrelated to religious preference. We don't care if it is a church, mosque, apartment complex, gun shop, or a Walmart. This is a residential lot in our neighborhood zoned for homes. Our neighborhood cannot sustain the additional traffic, parking pressure, let alone potential noise and infrastructure issues. This is an initiative that hurts us all and benefits almost none of us. Please stay true to the existing zoning ordinances and rights, and reject this plan.

Anonymous said...

Have you discussed this with the folks at Anjuman-e-Burhani to find a working solution. Or is there something preventing you from doing so.

 
=