Kenmore wants to bring a new mix-used development to the shores of Lake Washington and eventually replace the cement and asphalt plants.
Credit: Lizz Giordano

Home to one of the last remaining industrial ports on Lake Washington, the city of Kenmore longs to shed its manufacturing past and cultivate a new identity. Nestled at the top of the lake, the bedroom community wants to give passers-by a reason to stop.

“Rather than just fixing potholes and writing traffic tickets, we wanted to be about building community and getting people connected to each other,” said Rob Karlinsey, Kenmore’s city manager.

To do that, the city became a developer. Several years after incorporating, Kenmore bought a dilapidated 10-acre lot and resold the land after placing certain conditions on the parcels. A couple of economic cycles later, Kenmore’s new town square is taking shape — a year-round community space, 300 units of multi-family housing, and a medical clinic replaced an abandoned park-and-ride lot and a run-down grocery store.

“The new town square area is giving Kenmore something residents never had before, which is a place for people to gather,” said Mark Abersold, a current resident who moved to the city six years ago.

“We are hoping for a ripple effect that will be a catalyst for more redevelopment,” Karlinsey said, proudly showing off the new town square to the STB.

Inside of Kenmore’s year-round Town Square, The Hangar, which hosts the coffee shop Diva Espresso Credit: Lizz Giordano

The city also began investing in non-motorized improvements, mainly adding and widening sidewalks throughout the city. In 2014, after both a cyclist and a pedestrian were killed in marked crosswalks in a span of four days, the city and the community pushed for even more street safety improvements. That same year, the city council adopted the goals of Vision Zero to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2025.

To make progress toward Vision Zero, the city installed rectangular rapid flash beacons at 18 intersections and gave a major arterial a road diet. Since then, the city has achieved bronze-level recognition from Walk Friendly Communities and the League of American Bicyclists.

Residents showed their support for the additional pedestrian and bike safety improvements, approving the city’s first bond measure last year. Passing with 64% of the vote, the “Walkways & Waterways Improvements” measure authorized almost $20 million in funding. Roughly half of that will go toward pedestrian and bicycle safety projects, while the rest of the bond is earmarked for waterfront park improvements.

“Every city wants to build more sidewalks and many talk about making improvements, but Kenmore actually made the improvements,” Abersold said.

David Baker, Kenmore’s mayor for over a decade, hopes development will soon reach all the way to Kenmore’s lakeshore, replacing the remaining industry.

For decades, the city has been cultivating a plan for a mixed-use development, Lakepointe, on over 50 acres of lakefront property adjacent to cement and asphalt plants. The land, which was used by WSDOT as a landfill when Interstate 5 was under construction, needs to be stabilized before the site can be developed. The extraordinary upfront cost needed, estimated at over $100M just for stabilization, has caused the site to languish undeveloped.

“The cement plants were great when we were rural, but it doesn’t fit anymore,” Baker said.

Karlinsey said while many interested developers have come and gone over the years, he sees real potential with the Kirkland-based developer, Weidner Apartment Homes. The company, which has also begun acquiring additional property surrounding the Lakepointe site, has been very engaged on the project for the last three years, Karlinsey said. Though still many years out, the city is expecting the Lakepointe development to create at least 1,200 housing units and over 600,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

At the top of Lake Washington, Baker’s grand vision for his city expands beyond the city’s lakeshore to Seattle, where Baker is optimistic a new ferry route will eventually run. He said the city is number one on King County’s list for a new passenger ferry route.

“You can’t force things to happen,” Baker said. “But what you can do is plan, and you can put the policy framework into place to allow it to happen. That’s what we have been trying to do for the last 19 years.”

18 Replies to “Kenmore: Casting off an Industrial Past”

  1. Kenmore has already changed a lot in the six years since I’ve moved here. Walking to the library or the bus stop is a lot more pleasant than it was when I moved in. I always like to point out that Kenmore is one of the few cities in the region that has no interstate or limited-access highway running through it. Yes, it does have 522, but that’s something that’s easier to change, at least in theory.

    There has been some grumbling by a few citizens here about new development, but that grumbling hasn’t translated into votes: STB-endorsed city council member Nigel Herbig handily won re-election last year, for example.

    Going forward, I’d like to see the city take advantage of one of our best resource, the Burke-Gilman Trail, by putting more mixed-use development along it that is easily accessible from the trail.

  2. This sounds similar (yet less dramatic) to Emeryville CA, which saw an old steel mill and other industrial areas turned into higher-end, mixed-use developments and corporate campuses (like Pixar) about 10-25 years ago. This very small city also funds free shuttles (through a TMA) to go to a nearby BART station (even though it is also in the AC Transit district) which I could see happening in our region as Link expands outward. Interestingly, they also structurally made locating there easier for developers by reducing parking and traffic impact requirements.

  3. My Mom lives in Kenmore, and when I recently called the City Council to point out broken sidewalks that were an issue to elderly people, they were on it immediately. The new developments are great and the new coffee shop, community space, new library, and doctors offices are really appreciated by my Mom and the community she lives in. Kudos to Kenmore for doing things right.

  4. Kenmore has been doing some great things, trying to be more than a (not so) slow spot on 522. The progression of projects along 522 – adding sidewalks, consolidating driveways, improved landscaping – are working to change the appearance of the city as you go through. The Town Square project is paying off too.

  5. Lizz, I want to thank you for this posting. And for two images that’ll inderly my every succeeding comment to Seattle Transit Blog. First one (great pic, incidentally): perfect take on what I’m fighting to have transit build and serve.

    Second one: please put the cafe it in a Kenmore LINK station, with view of your first pick . Where the jet boats and the real sea-planes share a terminal. Anyplace that thinks its manufacturing is dog-fur to he wire-brushed off the sofa, I want an even longer distance between their new identity and anything wheeled I either ride or fight for.

    In a nutshell (advisable to know how to put on a bolt-shell) we built these in America:

    And when they arrived from Sicily, we had to ride these for twenty years:

    Word or two to Mayor Baker: Up to date well-running machinery isn’t loud. And dust and fumes owe mainly to management too cheap to control them . But our Republic’s Clearest Present danger is the permanent loss of the jobs that let a sixteen year old start a family with their first paycheck. Instead of a lifetime of debt.

    If that doesn’t fit, we need to find another tailor.

    And by the way, Lizz: Every time I suggest that Sound Transit get into land development, to transit-orient new communities before they’re built, I hear all the reasons it’s illegal. Are we afraid of getting a ticket?

    Mark Dublin

  6. I love the Burke-Gilman, mass transit, and all that, but do you mind if we address the elephant in the room? What do the cement companies have to say about all these grand plans? Are they not a vital part of Kenmore’s economy, providing jobs, industry, tax revenue, etc.? Yes, the factories are an eyesore…but I’m a little amused by throwaway comments like “The cement plants were great when we were rural, but it doesn’t fit anymore.” So, where do we propose to ship ’em off to? And do we really want to ship them off? I’m hardly a corporate/big business apologist (I’m a frequent BG cyclist and practically live half my life on Metro buses)…but seriously, maybe we should be talking to CEMEX and whoever else about all this? Just sayin’, for heaven’s sake.

    1. I assumed the cement plants were abandoned. I’m reluctant to rezone industrial land in Seattle where there are still active manufacturers and trade businesses and warehouses attractive to new startups. But in some places the industries are obsolete and the structures are unsuitable for new industries, like the former oil refineries in Kirkland and Edmonds and Gasworks Park, or the underused and relocatable distribution centers in Bel-Red. The Ballard Fred Meyer was an empty lot for ten years because there were no buyers, until Fred Meyer came along.

      1. The reason why industries chose the waterfront to begin with is a relic of a bygone era where the only way to get supplies in and out was either a boat or a horse-drawn cart. When dealing with large volumes, boats are much more efficient than horses (they did have steam power in the 1800’s to run the boats), hence industries like cement mixers chose to locate along the waterfront.

        In the modern world, however, where supplies come in and out by truck, there is no reason for a cement plant to pay a huge premium for waterfront land, when much cheaper land is available further inland. In effect, the conversion to residential uses is the classic example of how Adam Smith says a free market is supposed to work – in general, the most profitable uses of scarce, urban waterfront land is condos, not factories.

        There are, of course, a few types of industrial uses that need to be on the water. Ship building is an obvious one, and some data centers like to use seawater as coolant. But, even there, these uses can go out somewhere far away, where land is cheap – they don’t need *urban* waterfront land. Yes, factories do provide jobs, and there is some interest in having them not too far away for people to commute to. But, at the same time, most factories have far fewer employees per square foot than an office building does (even a one-story suburban office building), a trend that is only going to get exaggerated as more and more factory tasks get automated.

        Considering the housing crisis of the greater Seattle area, any replacement of an old factory that used to employ 50 people with condos for 500 people should be welcomed.

      2. Even in the modern world, barges can still be more efficient than trucks, particularly when shipping dry bulk items, such as gravel, dirt, and so forth. For example, most of the spoils from the 99 tunnel were removed from Seattle by barge, not truck.

        I have no idea how that plant works, but it’s certainly possible some of the raw materials for cement come in by barge.

      3. “Considering the housing crisis of the greater Seattle area, any replacement of an old factory that used to employ 50 people with condos for 500 people should be welcomed.”

        Yes and no. We should also maintain a diversity of jobs and production capacity. Otherwise we’re putting all our eggs into a few boom-and-bust sectors, eliminating an employment path for industrial-inclined youth, and eliminating local-manufacturing capacity that we may need in the future if routine long-distance shipping gets cut off. We have to balance these against the need for housing, and against the particular site’s current use and potential future industrial uses, and whether it claims a uniquely inappropriate space (e.g., waterfront).

        The Seattle industrial districts seem fine: none of them is directly on the Sound with a waterfront view. (Except Harbor Island, and it’s artificial.) While SODO is conveniently close to downtown, the idea of converting it to housing shows just shows the failure to upzone the rest of the city in a meaningful way. Kenmore’s industrial area is different because it is on the waterfront. But Kenmore’s waterfront is not a prime location: it’s on Lake Washington rather than the Sound, and it’s way off in the north end and doesn’t have the views that Kirkland, Bellevue, Laurelhurst, and Madison Park do. And the need is for housing period, not specifically waterfront housing so that rich people can have their views. The argument for converting Kenmore industrial land has more to do with its proximity to downtown Kenmore and the possibility of a downtown lakefront park than it has to do with waterfront land per se.

    2. I really am surprised to find myself in not completely hostile company. Where I should be, not for what I expressed, but a tone completely undeserved by Mayor Baker. Doubt the Mayor of Kenmore was ever ben caught in a Ted Talk, falling into a volcano while talking about OPTIMISM!

      Over the amount of time and the quality of the development he’s seen, he’s earned the right to what he said. Especially for an older man with a life of civic responsibility. Including the right to call Kenmore’s future development as he sees it.

      Believe me, he didn’t need any lectures on how and where to handle manufacturing. And probably has hated the cult of low-bid-lower-competence a lot longer than I have. To tell the truth, my temper’s leash should slip only on people in their twenties and thirties saying we don’t have to do, or worse, know some serious design-build ourselves.S

      Or have the murder-justifying gall to say how much we save on wages and benefits for the obsolesced out. Somebody has to have personally cut some metal not just to internalize the information they’re putting into the cutter. But also the physical feel of it. Old Natural Selection: what you can’t hear, smell, or feel…does not exist in Nature. Depend on daylight alone, and you won’t either.

      Reason I’d suggest the Mayor put a trade school campus on the Waterfront: Very attractive presence. And also really good instruction setting for the public. . And the nurses who’ll learn first-hand how to deal with the rewards of fast, sharp industry.

      The images I’m linking aren’t just pictures. Rendering is for clients. But every file carries the information to tell the cutters to deliver each part with nobody having to read a paper drawing. CNC: Computer Numeric Control.

      But most important, I really think that, comfortable as they are with computers, from sixth grade to twelfth should be able to handle everything here to factory spec. Getting taught the math by the work itself. Software is programmed to deliver measurements you can’t see, though can cut your hand off. Industry’s industry.

      I imagine being the Mayor of anyplace like Kent wears you out with artillery barrages of Innovativity. Every Ted Talk subject should have its repair manual major part of the discussion. And pics of average results. But main thing here is to de-restrict the term “industry”. Would’ve loved to be there when Boeing finally convinced West Seattle that airplane plants weren’t same as for steam locomotives.


      1. “Reason I’d suggest the Mayor put a trade school campus on the Waterfront: Very attractive presence. And also really good instruction setting for the public. . And the nurses who’ll learn first-hand how to deal with the rewards of fast, sharp industry.”

        Now that’s a good idea. It would be right between the UWs, with the 372 connecting them all, “the education bus”. Because the two sectors aren’t fully separate, and it would be fruitful to restore the overlap. And it would be within walking distance of downtown Kenmore. South Seattle College is so isolated and car-dependent, and the same for many of the suburban technical schools. And people who do those jobs tend to live in Kenmore, Bothell, and Snohomish County because housing is more affordable there than in Seattle and the Eastside.

  7. So, the waterfront of Kenmore near Log Boom Park is walkable enough – it has the Burke-Gilman trail, after all. But, as soon as you start going inland, you can see that Kenmore has a lot of work cut out for it.

    More sidewalks is definitely a place to start. But, they also need to add a lot of pedestrian paths to connect dead-end residential streets, as the current street grid not only artificially increases walking distances, but forces pedestrians to walk long distances along arterials with heavy and high-speed car traffic, in order to get almost anywhere.

    Juanita Drive is still missing sidewalks in a lot of places, and you still can’t walk from the Burke Gilman to St. Edwards St. Park without taking a long detour, nearly twice as long as the car/bike/bus route (which *still* has no sidewalks for much of it, but much less car traffic).

    They also need to figure out a way to make crossing SR-522 easier. The lights take forever to change, and every intersection has beg buttons. And because the street is so wide, crossing itself takes a fair bit of time. I realize that narrowing the street would come in direct conflict with the desire for fast bus service, and I don’t think it’s worth giving up the bus lanes. Maybe a couple of pedestrian tunnels or overpassses?

    1. Juanita Drive has a shared bike/sidewalk shoulder lane on its west side. It’s not great, but my partner and I have walked up it a number of times (sometimes with friends) and haven’t had any issues. It’s far better than the risk-your-life skinny shoulder of 10 years ago.

  8. Not everyone thinks the cement plant is an eyesore. Some think with me that they represent real work and like the industrial look. I would much rather look at the machines and towers than the poster over it.

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