The surprise move Tuesday by the Sammamish City Council to adopt an emergency building moratorium was about more than creating a pause to understand how traffic concurrency became an enabler of development rather than a control mechanism.
It was a rebuke to a staff and consultants that, years in the making, had ignored Council policy and the City’s own codes and Comprehensive Plan.
City Hall will not be the same
“When I published my first Sammamish traffic report, the goal was a moratorium and a redo of our concurrency system. We achieved that and more,” said Miki Mullor, whose controversial study last June led to upending the concurrency model and development in the City.
“City Hall will not be the same. The days that City staff called the agenda in Sammamish are over. The residents of Sammamish are very fortunate to have this Council. This is the beginning of the change we were all hoping for.”
The six-month moratorium, introduced by Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow, was carefully crafted to minimize disruption to the “moms and pops” who planned to develop their properties for retirement funding or realizing the value of their land.
All permit applications already filed with City Hall, whether deemed “complete” (a legal term) or not, are exempt from the moratorium. Repairing and rebuilding homes damage by fire or natural disasters or some other event are exempt. Affordable housing construction is exempt. So are public works projects, schools and other government projects.
Further development applications of the Town Center are halted, as are any new developments or applications.
City Manager Lyman Howard, upon adoption of the moratorium (on a 6-0 vote), was careful to tell the public to “manage expectations.” There is already a two-year backlog of applications in the pipeline. Citizens can’t expect to see any halt to construction underway or within this two years.
There will be a pause after that.
But the visual evidence will depend on how long the moratorium is in place now.
Council Member Tom Hornish noted his reluctant, but necessary, backing of the ordinance, saying it is needed to examine the traffic issues facing Sammamish. These are the “No. 1 issue” facing the residents and it’s become the No. 1 issue for the City Council.
But, Hornish said, he takes comfort in knowing the moratorium may be modified or even repealed before the six months is up.
The moratorium can also be extended, however. Mayor Bob Keller noted that when Sammamish became a City and a six month moratorium was adopted, it was repeatedly extended (for seven years, as it turned out). Only after the City was sued by the Master Builders Association was an agreement reached to lift the moratorium.
The new Council may face moratorium decisions
Keller hopes for quick action to resolve the traffic issues but acknowledged these, and the moratorium, could fall to the new City Council that will be seated in January.
Four seats turn over, enough to lift the moratorium if they wanted.
One candidate for Council, Mark Baughman, went on record early in his candidacy opposing a moratorium.
In his Candidates Questionnaire published by Sammamish Comment on Monday, the day before the Council’s vote, Baughman wrote, “A building moratorium would not be defensible, is unfair to residents who are property owners, and only pushes the problem into the future. The City should emphasize earlier and faster Town Center construction, properly enforce current ordinances related to development, properly measure traffic and apply these more appropriate measures to concurrency and non-concurrency traffic improvements, and implement some basic design standards to maintain community character. Right now, the City is attempting to react to growth instead of planning ahead and proactively managing it.”
The Comment emailed all eight candidates for City Council for their reaction to the moratorium.
Baughman reversed his position opposing a moratorium.
Mark Baughman: I remain opposed to a general moratorium enacted on the basis of the prior question which was, “How would you balance development, property rights and the environment?” Unless and until it becomes clear that the City is making or has made some substantive error in application of State law or county/city ordinance related to property rights or the environment, a building moratorium is not justified.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the City has made errors in it’s application of the concurrency ordinance and rules, or at the very least is functioning in the blind with information that might or might not be accurate or even logical. My support of this decision to impose a short term pause is based upon the need to fix a broken City process that could have significant implications for new development in the city. I would also reiterate my caution that this process not be allowed to drag out. Council and staff need to push to definitively fix the problem and lift the moratorium quickly to allow normal and reliable city business to continue in the best interest of the citizens of Sammamish
I share concerns expressed by several Council members, particularly Mayor Keller, that this pause not be allowed to stretch out longer than necessary. Town Center is a keystone component of the future of Sammamish. This moratorium must be managed to insure progress on the Town Center is not unduly hindered by moratorium resolution delays in combination with changing economic conditions.
Jason Ritchie: As I’ve spoken with voters this year, I’ve heard two things repeatedly: more trees and less traffic. If a short term, temporary pause in building helps the Council create better concurrency calculations which then will alleviate our horrendous traffic problems, then this is a good move by the Council. It is now time for the Council to act. Partisanship must be put aside in order to improve our local roads now. Our growing community demands it.
Karen Howe: The moratorium will provide meaningful relief and a plan for the future if City Council members complete their work developing a revised traffic concurrency policy and traffic modeling program within a 6-month period. Ideally these plans would also include regional coordination of Levels of Service.
Questions we need more clarity on over the next 60 days:
- What exactly is the desired outcome and by-when?
- What is the measurable impact?
- What is the impact on those residents looking to sell?
- Is there an opportunity cost?
- How do we effectively communicate realistic expectations to residents about the moratorium? Since projects can proceed if they’re already underway or have filed development applications, residents may be understandably confused when they see development activity.
Unintended consequences of extending development moratoriums include making homes even less affordable and legal actions by developers.
Karen Moran: Roads/traffic are our #1 problem for the residents of our City. Our Council has stated that they need a ‘pause” so that they can “get their arms around” what is happening on our roads.
I fully support this and I am excited that the Council is working together and listening to the needs of our residents.
Sammamish has been under a moratorium for almost a third of its existence. What didn’t happen, during that time, was that we didn’t build or plan for the ROADS. I am hopeful that those remaining Councilmembers, along with the newly elected, will have the knowledge needed to use this time wisely and use the moratorium for what is being called out for “TRAFFIC/ROADS.”
This is the time to elect those with the experience and knowledge to work our traffic/roads forward in the direction called for by our residents!!!
We do not have the time for long learning curve. My experience from chairing the Sammamish Transportation Committee and my experience from being an elected Water Commissioner means I can hit the ground running and help tackle these issues for our residents.
Rituja Indapure: In voting unanimously to impose a development moratorium, the Sammamish City Council sent a strong message to the City and to its residents that addressing traffic concerns is a priority to this Council. The desire to seek a moratorium is to ensure that the City staff updates calculations and data which depict the current traffic conditions in the City. It also allows the Councilmembers to study and evaluate models which will guide the policy hereafter.
Although the decision does not impact current projects, we must ensure transparency and expediency in ensuring that the concurrency models, calculations and the data are accurate and up-to-date. The moratorium will have an impact on our residents and economy, but having this pause will help collect the data necessary to make corrections. It will also ensure that the policy enacted by the Council is carried out in its true spirit and we as a City continue to be in compliance with the concurrency requirement of the Growth Management Act.
Chris Ross: I support this decision because there are identified deficiencies in our concurrency process, we aren’t positively addressing congestion, and the character of Sammamish is being eroded. We must take the time to address these issues first before we add more housing without effective processes and controls in place.
A building moratorium is not intended to be a tool to manage growth and should only be utilized in an emergency when our existing processes are not generating the desired results. As many Council members suggested, this decision should not be taken lightly. The seriousness of Sammamish’s process deficiencies was punctuated by the 6-0 vote in favor of a moratorium.
This “pause” is especially important with the Town Center being developed. We must find the right balance and quantity of housing and business. This is an opportunity to provide a meaningful retail location reducing our reliance on property taxes for funding and offer lower cost housing alternatives. The assumptions for the Town Center need to be carefully examined. For example, are trip reduction assumptions valid? We also need to understand with improved processes and strategies, how much additional capacity can the City absorb.
The City needs to stay focused in the months ahead and make decisions and changes to responsibly manage growth in Sammamish.
John Robinson: “City Council’s adoption of a building moratorium is the proper decision at this time and demonstrates the Council leadership our City deserves. The Council’s decision is a result of the examination between Council policy and City staff adherence to policy, City government transparency and accountability and how a citizen activist can positively affect how our government operates. The moratorium will allow a validation process to proceed to provide the accurate data required to make the important decisions on how our City is planned and developed.”
Pam Stuart: At the first candidate forum, I said in my introduction, “… we need a sustainable growth management plan – balancing infrastructure projects and the environment with growth–a plan that paces growth with what the infrastructure can handle–and nothing more.”
Given that we have no such plan now, and a two-year backlog of building already approved or in process, a temporary moratorium ensures we do not dig ourselves deeper into a hole until we have a better plan in place. The City Council must develop and implement such a plan.
And while we need to ensure our traffic model uses correct assumptions, and we should have common sense concurrency calculations-we need to know, regardless of the Growth Management Act or King County growth targets, how much growth Sammamish can withstand while sustaining our quality of life and our environment. If we determine that we cannot hit the growth targets provided by King County, for whatever reason, we must stand up and push back on the county and state. Our children are in schools that are massively overcrowded, in portables all day with no plumbing. It is irresponsible that we continue to build family homes that feed into those schools.
Let us develop a truly comprehensive plan that addresses these issues, with the details, not just the goals, to achieve a sustainable community for all Sammamish residents.
Citizen reaction, at least from those without skin in the development game, is as you might expect. Facebook groups (Save Sammamish, Sammamish, WA) were alight with delight over the moratorium. The general view is that a moratorium is overdue, and in some cases, too late.
When the moratorium came up in advance of previous, recent Council meetings, landowners and developers turned out in droves in opposition. With no advance notice this time, there was no opposition.