Council results repudiate “pave-it-over” Town Center ambitions

Two property owners in the Sammamish Town Center tried to frame this election as an up-or-down referendum of sorts on the Town Center Plan adopted by the City Council.

John Galvin and Mike Rutt, the former the most visible advocate for a pave-it-over approach to the Town Center, and both failed candidates for City Council in the past advocating for a massively up-scaled Town Center plan, clearly persuaded Jim Wasnick and Jesse Bornfreund to make a full review of the plan their top campaign priority.

Both candidates lost, and lost big.

Once again, the citizens have spoken. Time and time and time again since the Planning Advisory Board first proposed six commercial “villages” only to have massive opposition at a community meeting that drew an estimated 200 people, and from the 2001 election in which Nancy Whitten campaigned on an anti-village platform and came within a whisker of beating a complacent Ken Kilroy, citizens have said they prefer a modest Town Center plan to the huge ambitions proposed by Galvin and his fellow land-owners.

Wasnick and  Bornfreund both listed the Town Center review as top priorities. Both were being advised by Galvin and Rutt, however informally.

I talked with five of the six candidates (Tom Vance being the exception) and made it clear that the stalled development of our Town Center was due to the continued poor economy and the lack of development capital. Ramiro Valderrama and Kathy Richardson “got it.” Wasnick and Bornfreund didn’t. (Whitten was already “there,” as was Vance.)

Wasnick, to his credit, told me that he did not support the big box stores or large development (a position that would not have cheered Galvin and Rutt) but wanted to meet with developers.

The City, of course, did that throughout the Town Center process, and continues to have conversations with them, despite assertions to the contrary.

Throughout the decade of Town Center planning, Galvin advocated for building his Southeast Quadrant with an increasingly large square footage of commercial space. He first advocated for 25,000 sf (see a letter to the editor in April 2008 in the Sammamish Review), and he got 45,000. This wasn’t enough and then he was given 90,000 sf. This, too, wasn’t good enough and he wanted 300,000. The City Council said “no.” He also proposed a “general increase” in commercial-retail across the Town Center so the SE quadrant could have its “proportionate” share of 300,000 sf. The math meant that the Town Center would have a total of 1.9m sf, one third larger than Bellevue Sq and larger (at the time) than Redmond Town Center.

The traffic capacity of the roads around the Town Center would have been gridlocked without massive investments to widen the roads. There would have been massive investment needed in the new sewers. While Galvin repeatedly looked at the current Town Center plan and said the City didn’t have the $30m he estimated was needed for infrastructure for 600,000 sf of commercial space, he never broached the subject of how the City would pay for “Bellevue Square Plus 33%.”

It was an absurd idea and voters decisively rejected the issue he and Rutt tried to frame as the#1 issue of the campaign and voters decisively defeated the candidates who put the Town Center on the top of the list.

In fact, outside of the Town Center land owners, very few people give a hoot about the Town Center. During the years the Planning Commission, the Town Center Committee, the Special Study Area Task Force and two City Councils formulated and reviewed the plans, very few people who didn’t have direct interests attended the meetings-aside from the original PAB meeting revealing the plans where 200 attended and said “no,” and subsequent City Council races where candidates supporting moderation were elected and re-elected by comfortable margins.

The citizen committees listened, observed the results and made recommendations accordingly. Most of the City Councils did likewise, Mayor Gerend being the exception, who for reasons of his own also supported a pave-it-over approach.

Voters have spoken yet again. I certainly don’t expect Galvin or Rutt to accept the voters’ verdict. I hope the Mayor will, however. The repudiation of the pave-it-over ambitions is now complete.

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