Council begins Town Center regulations review

The City Council will begin reviewing the regulations recommended by the Planning Commission for the Town Center at its meeting Monday, March 15. This is a study session, so it will not be televised or recorded for subsequent posting on the City’s website. (The policy of not televising study sessions is a poor one, but this might be a topic for another time.)

The regulations include design guidelines, storm water control, setbacks, sign codes, building heights, parking requirements, permitted uses, buffer requirements, affordable housing and more. The Staff proposes an ambitious schedule to complete Council review by the end of June, after which applications can be accepted to begin development.

The regulations are fairly prescriptive and very detailed and some of them will generate controversy, such as the requirements for parking structures and affordable housing.

One of the issues that some landowners in the SE Quadrant and Mayor Don Gerend keep bringing up are proposed regulations that require setbacks from 228th and tree buffers so the 228th corridor doesn’t become solid buildings. These landowners believe this requirement to be unfair because two properties along 228th, the Liu A-4 zoning immediately north of City Hall and the A-5-zoned Arbor School immediately south of the City Hall and Library, are on 228th. The SE Quadrant commercial development is set back from 228th. Gerend also points to Arbor School and Liu in a critical manner.

The landowners’ spokesman has been especially critical in public comment and in emails to the City Council, essentially suggesting these properties received special treatment and characterizing these as “loopholes.”

The spokesman’s criticism can be expected; he has thrown tantrums about anything and everything that doesn’t conform to his thinking with respect to the Town Center, so his complaints about the Liu and Arbor School properties fall into the “so what else is new” category.

Gerend’s implied criticism, however, is far more disappointing. Gerend voted for the Town Center Plan in 2008 that set all the zoning and policies he now criticizes, and he certainly knows the rationale behind the Lui and Arbor School zonings, which is this:

City Hall, and the then-likelihood that the Library would be built where it now has been built, already established this stretch of 228th as a commercial (civic) area. The Arbor School is bordered by the Mary Queen of Peace Church, and the Library/City Hall site. Skyline High School is across the street. Any use other than a civic or mixed business/retail/residential use (in other words, only a residential use) would be spot-zoning and out-of-place with the surrounding uses. The 2008 City Council agreed, and allocated 20,000 sq ft of commercial space as part of the mixed use for this location. Gerend voted for this, and fully understood the rationale behind it. For him to now point to this property in a critical manner is highly puzzling.

As for the Lui property, similar rationale applied. This land is immediately next to City Hall, which already set the standard for commercial (civic) use along this stretch of 228th. In fact, by Town Center policy, the Liu development will be required to improve and share the SE 8th St. entrance to City Hall. Liu proposes shared parking from his development with City Hall. Skyline High School and the Lutheran Church are across the street. The Liu proposal is for mixed use and the City Council allocated 90,000 sq ft to the 13 acre site. (The SE Quadrant spokesman and one of the other landowners told the City Council on Feb. 16 that only two acres are buildable; this is a grievous misrepresentation of the facts– 8 1/2 acres are buildable.)

The SE Quadrant’s spokesman continues to whinge on about phantom loopholes. There were no loopholes for Arbor School and Liu; there were solid reasons and rationale for zoning these properties as they have been. It is very disappointing that Gerend is attempting to use these examples to promote his continued, and long-standing, effort to undermine the very Town Center Plan he voted for in 2008 and in which he fully participated in the decision-making and fully understood the rationale.

Arbor School and Liu will have to comply with any regulations for setbacks and buffers. There are no loopholes. In fact, Liu proposed sharing his parking with the City. It will be interesting to see if the City Council concurs with this idea and whether Gerend will agree as well.

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