Just how cozy is the city with STCA?

Editorial

Kellie-Stickney-cropped-221x300

Kellie Stickney Communications Manager

Just how cozy is Town Center developer STCA with the Sammamish city administration?

Sammamish Comment has been reporting aspects of the relationship between the developer, administration and certain members of the city council for more than a year.

Now, The Comment discovered that the city administration collaborated with STCA to promote their project using taxpayer money at the same time the new concurrency model was being developed by the city.

This casts an appearance of a conflict of interest because a realistic concurrency system may block new development under certain circumstances, including the Town Center. STCA is the largest developer of the Town Center.  

The council included the Town Center in the moratorium so it will be subject to the new concurrency.

It is our view that it is improper for city staff to collaborate with STCA and at the same time develop a concurrency model that may block it.  

Indeed, on February 28, Kendra Breiland, the city’s concurrency consultant, met in Bellevue with STCA for “coordination.”  

Printing a press release or supporting a PR campaign?

In the April / May 2018 issue of the city’s newsletter that was mailed to residents throughout the city, there was a one page story regarding “Updates on Town Center project.”  Unsuspecting residents might have thought the story was written by city staff based on facts sourced from the city. The newsletter may be found here: April_May_Samm_2018

Recent emails obtained through a Public Records Request reveal that the story was almost entirely written by STCA, the largest developer in the Town Center area, and published at its request at the same time STCA was promoting the Town Center through other media outlets and the Chamber of Commerce.

On March 13, Kellie Stickney, the city’s communication manager, emailed Natalie Price, STCA’s PR person: “I’m currently in a meeting with Matthew [Samwick, owner of STCA] and it sounds like we should chat about a potential press release prior to the Chamber meeting on Thursday. I’m available by phone tomorrow at 11am or after 3pm.”

Two days later, Price emailed Stickney a copy of a press release describing the Town Center’s project’s progress.  

The press release may be found here.

On March 22, a week later, Stickney emailed the city’s newsletter publisher, a shorter version of the STCA press release.  The shorter version is missing a few sections from the original but the sections that were not cut are an exact copy of STCA’s press release.

The story in the press release was published on page 5 of the city’s newsletter.  The web link goes not to a city website about the Town Center but to STCA’s Innovation Realty website.

Throughout the last year, the city staff has taken a clear position in favor a developer, while this developer’s applications for permits are being discussed behind closed doors with staff.  

“We normally would not write about a development project, and if we did, it would likely be to inform people about an upcoming public engagement opportunity. However, because the council has an adopted vision for the project, making it more like a public-private partnership, there seems to be a need for some level of collaboration,” stated Stickney in response to inquiries by The Comment, highlighting the special treatment the administration is giving STCA.  

The Town Center is not a public private partnership and the council has not directed staff to collaborate with STCA beyond the standard permitting process.

The administration’s special treatment of STCA calls into question its ability to process permit applications to the largest development project in Sammamish history with impartiality and integrity.

Relying on the press release

Malchow

Mayor Malchow

In response to an email inquiry from Mayor Christie Malchow, Stickney wrote, “The newsletter article was written by me, and the press release was written by STCA and provided to the City.

“I took their press release, chose the information that I believed would be most relevant to the community, and created the newsletter article.”

This is not an unusual practice, provided proper attribution is included. Stickney did not. This left the reader with the impression this was a city statement.

The facts and the image in story was supplied by the developer and not verified for accuracy.

“The article is obviously heavily reliant on the information included in the press release…because our source of information regarding the project is STCA/Innovation Realty”, states Stickney in an email to Mayor Malchow.  The city could have relied on information in STCA’s permit applications, but chose to rely on a press release and a 3D sketch, that may or may not be reflecting the actual plans for the Town Center.

Not good practice

Malchow, Deputy Mayor Karen Moran and council members Tom Hornish and Chris Ross were not aware of the origin of the newsletter statements.

“This does lack the transparency that the newsletter’s article was not an independent voice of the City’s,” Malchow wrote The Comment in an email. “[T]here is likely an expectation from our residents that our newsletter articles are the City’s own. I suspect Council would have weighed in on the content if we’d been made aware that it was mainly an outside organization’s work.”

“I believe our city newsletter should offer to our citizens an independent view of our city’s plans, and not be influenced by the positioning or posturing of others,” Hornish wrote The Comment.

None of the “V-3” council members, Ramiro Valderrama, Pam Stuart or Jason Ritchie, responded to a request for comment or to answer if they were aware the article largely originated with STCA’s PR firm.

The V-3, led by Valderrama, have become cheerleaders for STCA on the council.

The evolving relationship between the city and STCA appears to have moved well beyond that of an applicant and a reviewing agency. This is cause for concern at all levels of public policy, good government and for the citizens of Sammamish. Preferential treatment should alarm not only the entire city council and the citizens. Other developers and the “moms and pops” have good reason to be concerned about the preferential treatment being afforded STCA.

The lack of concern, and indeed advocacy, by the V-3 is especially troubling. These council members are supposed to be looking out for and representing the interests of Sammamish citizens. Instead, their overt cheerleading for STCA is puzzling.

 

11 thoughts on “Just how cozy is the city with STCA?

      • John, you know perfectly well your personalized tirade in one of your well known tantrums is what got your comment edited. That’s the truth. You’d been warned before that crossing that line would get you edited. As long as you are civil, you can and have said whatever you want.

  1. I would like a better understanding of what Kellie Stickney calls “adopted vision.” It does smack of a public-private partnership when the city dictates or limits what a developer might otherwise choose. Since it sounds like this deal was made in 2008, does that tie our hands now; was the moratorium to study concurrency ever going to affect the Town Center? Let’s hear from the city’s legal counsel. What did the city agree to with STCA 10 years ago?

    • Joanne, STCA was not in the picture 10 years ago, 2008, when the Planning Commission (which I was on, as was now-council member Karen Moran) created the Town Center plan. The council approved it in 2009 and the enabling ordinances in 2010. Not sure when STCA showed up but it was well after that.

  2. I sent an email to City staff about that article in the April / May 2018 issue of the city’s newsletter (“all hail the developers & and the Chamber of Commerce, who know more about what we want than we do, and let’s cheer Retail USA 2.0”), because it was apparent to me that either the city was being an overt shill for the Developer’s interests or that the developer had written the story itself. I never heard back from anyone with the city. I guess I now know why….. We have been railroaded for years to “accept” all of the inconveniences and burdens that this unneeded and unwanted development has forced upon us long term residents. (Anyone who doubts this, please just take a trip along Southeast 4th and see the devastation and repeated inconvenience wreaked upon us.) With no real vision for what Sammamish is supposed to look like after all this development is thrown up and no check on the Developers, we now have soviet-style concrete and tin block housing and Highway 99 ticky tacky retail, with all of the traffic and detriments that go along with rampant & unbridled money grabs. The developers skip town and we’re left with increased taxes, increased crime and increased traffic, with the next recession just around the corner. What a mess…….

  3. I keep reading about the Developer having secured a commitment from Ace Hardware to return to Sammamish, and find this marketing method potentially misleading. It is even more troubling when our City staff are involved in publicizing it.

    Citizens like me are hopeful for a hardware store, that provides personal service, to return to Sammamish; however, the reality is that the previous Ace owner/investor closed the store because the economics (especially rent) made it prohibitive.

    To say that the Developer has secured a Letter Of Intent is misleading. Ace Hardware is a Co-op that finds proprietors to invest in stores. Their LOI is somewhat meaningless (because they do not sign the lease).

    Unless the Developer can offer a heavily discounted long-term rent and triple-plus, in addition to incentives such as outdoor space, etc. Ace Hardware will not bring an investor/proprietor in. In addition, Rents have risen substantially since the last Ace owner left Sammamish.

    We should all make our own assessments.

  4. This is one of the lamest articles I’ve read in a long time. Here’s why I have this opinion. Any development whether housing or commercial proceeds with input from City. Does anyone actually think that Amazon didn’t meet with Seattle govt or Microsoft has never met with Redmond. Of course not. The City of Sammamish has a comprehensive plan designed to keep the highest density within a certain area, aka Town Center. It is supposed to prevent urban sprawl. Housing growth is on the rise as technology companies continue to attract companies and investment. Shouldnt all Council Members meet and review the development proposal for the Town Center? I believe so. Unfortunately, Sammamish’ not all Council members bothered to do so. That’s pitiful. Instead the M4 prefer to drag out concurrency discussions. Heck, one of the Council members is employed in San Diego – why has he not resigned? His business interests appear to have been in Southern CA for years. Makes a person wonder why he doesn’t run for City Council in San Diego. Another Council member talks about concerns about stormwater but is perfectly content to put that issue on the back burner. One can’t seem to lead, constantly reprimends a couple of council members and Staff while ignoring the behavior of others. One hardly speaks but assures citizens that “he’s his own person” when asked about his position on concurrency. He also says he’s concerned about revenue and mass transit but is content to put both issues on the back burner. Yes, there is dysfunction in this Council and it is evident by the continued stall tactics and the overt exclusion of some Council members from certain discussions. This type of behavior is wrong. Without following through with the Town Center, Sammamish will be destined to urban sprawl. Keep density where it should be, improve walking/bike trails, preserve open spaces, etc. Slamming development doesn’t further these objectives. Most recognize that development can bring improvements. The lack of insight displayed in the Mullor article is stunning.

    • Catherine –

      Do you realize the Town Center plan has not prevented development through out the city as promised initially?

      To truly achieve that, the city had to either implement an effective TDR program or down zone. It never down zoned and the 1000 units within-city TDR program has not been implemented. Instead, the city entered into an agreement with King County that mandated the first 75 (?) TDRs to come from King County from outside the city, before any TDRs can be used from within the city.

      Not only that, but each TDR is worth 5x in the Town Center. The first deal was TDRs from Patterson Creek, an RA-5 area with bluffs, creeks and steep sloped that couldn’t be developed and was owned by King County. One could argue that area is de-facto preserved.

      So to summarize, because the city never down zoned any area and because the TDR program is ineffective in the city, we end up with net more growth because of the Town Center than before.

      One must really understand the details to get beyond the slogans and the talking points. Your comment on my “lack of insight” is misplaced.

    • Catherine –

      It’s absolutely not council’s role to review development proposals. That’s only city staff’s role. The development agreement quoted is not a development proposal. Negotiating a development agreement is done by city staff AFTER city council authorized such negotiations in public. The council may also authorize a council member to negotiate. None of that happened here. In fact, most council members didn’t know of this discussions with STCA and city manager took steps to conceal this meeting by designating an email to his assistant as “attorney client privileged” – clearly he knew an email to his assistant cannot be considered a request for legal advice…

      To your point on urban sprawl: (which contradiction in term) The Town Center doesn’t prevent development density in the city. All it did is added more housing capacity by dramatically increasing density in the middle of the city without decreasing density anywhere else.

      I understand the pain some landowners in the TC area feel, but there is also real pain for 65,000 living in an over developed city – adding thousands more units will only make a bad situation a lot worse.

  5. Pingback: How the STCA 419 homes development passed concurrency – after failing it for 9 months – Sammamish Comment

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