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November 3, 2022

6,000 Google workers slated to occupy Lee Johnson's 10 acres in Kirkland

  • Architects for five possible buildings include SHoP, ZGF and SERA.
    Real Estate Editor

    Rendering by SHoP Architects [enlarge]
    Mass timber and habitat restoration are very much part of the overall plan.

    Since the fall of 2020, it's been said that Google has acquired the 10-acre Lee Johnson Chevrolet property in Kirkland's Rose Hill neighborhood, just east of Interstate 405. No sale has been recorded, only a deed of trust, but a purchase agreement is in place, and money will eventually change hands. However, there's been no sign of an architect or city design review for the past two years.

    Yet over the past summer, Kirkland City Council began drafting a master development agreement with Google. That and its SEPA materials are now going by 8236 118th Ave. N.E. (118th runs parallel to the freeway). The 10 acres also lie within the city's planned upzone of what it calls the Northeast 85th Street Station area. Said station is Sound Transit's planned future bus rapid transit stop (BRT), which also involves a major new freeway interchange. Closest to 405, the upzone would allow Google to build up to 250 feet.

    As part of that upzone, which the City Council will likely approve in a scheduled January meeting, the Google development agreement would allow up to around 1.5 million square feet of offices. Those would come in a possible five buildings, in five phases, some with shared podiums. Some 6,000 “Googlers” might eventually occupy the campus, the company estimates, plus another 1,000 support staff. There would also be ample underground parking, and some smaller pavilions for what's now dubbed Google @ NE 85th Station.

    Map by SHoP Architects [enlarge]
    The odd-shaped property is east of the freeway, and south of 85th.

    In exchange for that, Google would contribute at least $12.4 million upfront for the creation of public space, affordable housing and other community benefits. So the implied schedule seems to be: first the upzone, then the development agreement, then the land sale and finally a series of design reviews.

    Working on the Google project are SHoP Architects (also the master planner), ZGF Architects and SERA Architects; the latter will design one building each. The team also includes Coughlin Porter Lundeen, civil engineer; CKC Structural Engineers; ARUP, energy modeling, MEP, acoustics and logistics; Site Workshop, landscape architect; Integral/Elementa, sustainability consultant and design analytics; and Openbox, consultant.

    Google cites a possible schedule spanning 2027 to 2032 for the project, which the city calls a “catalyst” for the entire 85th Street corridor, where it hopes to encourage more apartments, offices and density.

    City records, and the included Google presentation materials, strongly imply that the Lee Johnson land sale, or sales, are contingent on the development agreement — which the council hasn't yet approved. It relies on two separate ordinances, one dealing more with the project phasing. A full environmental impact statement will later be required.

    City briefing materials state, “One of Kirkland's long-time businesses and largest sales tax producers, Lee Johnson, is planning to sell its property, and the city is encouraged by the fact that Lee Johnson has entered into options for other properties to remain in business within Kirkland. In order for Lee Johnson to decide whether to exercise these options, Google must make a decision by mid-2022 on whether to purchase the Lee Johnson site and develop it as a catalyst project.”

    Mid-2022 is but a goal for a municipal process that is slow, but still faster than Seattle's. Assuming the agreement is inked and the land sells, phasing would proceed in a hopscotch fashion: middle, north, then south. Each of the five buildings would require individual design review.

    Google's architect writes, “It is the goal of Google to endeavor to use commercial mass timber construction on top of a podium,” with the latter made of concrete. The city says all five buildings will be mass timber. LEED Platinum certification will be sought. The goal for the campus is to be carbon-free by 2030, with only electric power for the campus. The city also says the development will address the “habitat gap” between the freeway and 120th, with its landscape architecture.

    New pedestrian connectors are planned, along with some skybridges above. New bike and pedestrian paths are also proposed (on the west side of the campus, leading to the BRT station), as are new turn lanes and traffic improvements to the east along 120th Avenue Northeast. (That's the frontage for Lee Johnson's various dealerships now.) The main campus entry would be on 120th.

    The campus is broken up into zones to help navigate: The Cascades, The North Pass, The Trail, The Prairie, etc.

    SHoP Architects appears to be new to our market, where ZGF is well established. SERA Architects is co-designing Google's fourth building at Kirkland Urban, where mass timber is very prominent. That's now apparently passed through design review, with no announced start date.

    Back at 85th Street, the number of parking stalls isn't specified. Some of it is indicated as automated parking. Using city requirements, and possible parking-code reductions in the upzone area, about 3,000 stalls seems likely for Phases I through III. By the time Phases IV and V roll around, BRT service should be well established.

    Google estimates that 54% of its workers now drive to work at its other two Kirkland locations: Kirkland Urban and Feriton. The goal for 85th Street, by 2032, is to have 43% percent using BRT and Google's own private bus fleet. Single-car commuters would in theory drop to 15% of all Googlers. Separately, Sound Transit and WSDOT are targeting 2026 for completing their project.

    Meanwhile, Lee Johnson has been busy filing plans and buying up land on both sides of the lake. Those include new developments of varying scale, for various automotive brands, in Seattle's Roosevelt and Maple Leaf neighborhoods and in Totem Lake, back in Kirkland. The latter will be a substantial new project, designed by Freiheit. Lee Johnson has recently paid over $13 million to assemble over 7 acres there — near the existing Lee Johnson Nissan dealership.

    (Update: City of Kirkland said after deadline that the two necessary ordinances have been adopted. The final master development plan approval is still pending.)

    Brian Miller can be reached by email at brian.miller@djc.com or by phone at (206) 219-6517.

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