The Sammamish City Council will discuss the prospect for a building moratorium tomorrow at its meeting beginning at 6:30 pm.
After the topic first came up a week ago, a reader of The Comment posted the following in response:
- We must come up with viable solutions to stop this madness! Once a property is developed, IT IS PERMANENT! Let’s promulgate zoning laws and rules that make sense in terms of safety, footprint, aesthetics, environmental and erosional impact, infrastructure funding such as for schools, roads, etc. After which, let’s have a qualified, committed, and properly-staffed government to enforce the wish of the PEOPLE! This should not become a race between property owners and developers cashing in, versus government’s unpreparedness to manage it, in accordance with the wish of the people!
In advance of the meeting tomorrow, a little review might be worthwhile as members of the public prepare to comment.
The current laws encompass everything the reader listed above.
The question then becomes the subjective plea, rules that “make sense.”
As The Comment wrote several times during the 2015 City Council election, the problem wasn’t that the city code was lax; it was the amount of variances that were being granted to these codes that enabled developers to have latitude in complying with the codes.
Some of these variances were made in the name of environmental protection, although on the face this seems counter-intuitive. For example, allowing narrower streets than code requires benefits the environment because it reduces impervious surfaces.
Granting an exception to connectivity (ie, connecting a new subdivision to an old one via a connecting road) can maintain safety for the old neighborhood by preventing cut-through traffic. There was a notorious effort by staff to force a connection that even the developer didn’t want to do that residents in the old subdivision appealed to the hearing examiner, and won. So granting an exception to the code for connectivity is an example of how exceptions to strictly enforcing code “makes sense.”
But, as The Comment wrote last year, Staff become known as “Variances-R-Us” for the large number of exceptions granted in the last few years. While there are undoubtedly code sections that need tightening or revising, it is this propensity to exercise discretion that may be the greater need.
The flip side to this, however, is that small property owner who finds himself facing an intransigent staff. Sammamish has code that imposes stricter requirements on the four-lot plat than it does on the large developer. The financial burden sometimes weighs more on the small property owner than on the large.
The question arose whether Sammamish should adopt a new building moratorium. The Comment doesn’t have an answer for this, because the specific issues weren’t discussed last week. At this point, it’s not known whether there is even legal standing to adopt a moratorium. This discussion should have taken place with the City Attorney in executive session before the City tipped its hand in public session. Raising the issue in public prematurely will start a gold rush of applications to become vested before any moratorium can be adopted. Any new rules and code adopted by the City won’t apply to vested applications, even if building is stopped under the moratorium.
None of the projects that have the blue billboards posted will be affected by any new code.
One reader wrote that Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama “had” to bring up the issue in public because the “fancy four” (Mayor Don Gerend and Members Kathy Huckabay, Bob Keller and Tom Odell) would otherwise block discussion. This is incorrect. Under new rules adopted after the 2015 election, and with the support of the mayor, now three Council members (instead of four) can put an item on the agenda for discussion. Thus, Valderrama, along with Members Christie Malchow and Tom Hornish, could have put this topic up for discussion in executive session. A public discussion would become necessary at the proper time, assuming legal standing exists.
Residents also need to understand that only 2.5% of the land in Sammamish remains for development. (This was revealed by then-Council Member Valderrama during the tree ordinance revisions.)
If legal standing exists for a moratorium, the support is probably on the Council to adopt one. Huckabay already is on record supporting one for the erosion areas. Whether she supports a broader one is open to question. The Council already adopted a moratorium (too late, as it turned out) for more development along Inglewood Hill Road while fixing drainage issues. Private conversation with one Council member indicates to The Comment a fourth vote is likely.
But citizens need to manage expectations.
A moratorium, as noted, won’t affect vested projects with new rules.
Only 2.5% of the land in Sammamish is undeveloped.
A moratorium will be too little, too late. It will be symbolic, yes. But citizens should not expect anything significant will change.