City council ready to prop up development of hundreds of new homes

By Miki Mullor
Deputy Editor

A day after staff revealed the last data on the new concurrency rules, a split Sammamish city council took action to save development of hundreds, potentially thousands, of new homes, from what looks like an inevitable shut down of growth in Sammamish due to lack of road capacity.

Jason Ritchie
Jason Ritchie

Led by Council member Jason Ritchie, the council voted 4-3 to prepare an ordinance to lift the moratorium off the Town Center, for the next council meeting on October 16. Lifting the moratorium in the next meeting will likely exempt the Town Center from the new concurrency rules that have not yet taken effect.  

New concurrency data reveal massive roads capacity failures

Concurrency is a state law requirement to prohibit development if transportation infrastructure falls behind the needs of residents.  Last year, this author revealed that city of Sammamish fudged its concurrency program for for over 12 years, ignoring congestion and allowing development.  For almost a year now, staff and council have been working to overhaul concurrency so it reflects the traffic conditions Sammamish commuters face every day.

Last Monday night, as the process nears it completion, staff shared with council the latest iteration and traffic data.  The data, shown in the table below, reveal several of the arterials carry more volume of cars than their capacity, a condition also known as “concurrency failures.”  This is the first time in the history of the city that official city data show concurrency failures on arterials.

According to this table, 6 of 10 listed arterials fail. 

(V/C columns represent the ratio of cars vs. capacity according to different methodologies. “Table T-8” is the old, currently in effect, concurrency.  “HCM” and “FDOT” are two alternative, more defensible methodologies.  The council indicated it will pick on those two for the new concurrency rules.

Any V/C ratio above 1.0 means failure: more cars than what the road can carry.)

latest data

The implication of concurrency failures is that development in the city must be stopped unless there is a funded plan to fix the failures within six years.

Ritchie moves to lift the moratorium

Just one day after massive failures in the new concurrency rules were revealed, Council member Jason Ritchie moved to prepare a moratorium repeal ordinance for the Town Center.

Citing an email the council received earlier that day from Matt Samwick, the Town Center developer, Ritchie contended that “my motion to is to answer their statement, their email, to respond.”  

The Comment obtained a copy of the email through a public record request. The email, produced in its entirety below, listed number of dwelling units in “phase I”. It is unclear, and Ritchie didn’t explain, how a single email from a developer can get him to take drastic action such as lifting a moratorium prematurely.

STCA email to council

Ritchie’s action was supported by Deputy Mayor Karen Moran and council members Ramiro Valderrama and Pam Stuart without a substantive discussion.

Lifting the moratorium now will likely allow the Town Center to apply for permits under the old concurrency rules.

Ritchie’s motion can be viewed here:

https://youtu.be/SO7_WGXTFuY?t=10110

A race to vest

Timing of a permit application plays a role in determining which rules apply to that application. It’s called “Doctrine of Vested Rights.”  Under this law, once a building permit has been applied for in completion, it is to be evaluated according to the city’s regulations that were in effect at that time.  

In Sammamish’s case, any building permits that are applied for before the new concurrency rules are adopted will be subject to the old concurrency system, the one that has been determined to be flawed to “always pass.”

The majority of the Town Center project, 2,200 homes and more than 400,000 sf of commercial, has not been applied for, and due to the year long moratorium, could not have. It’s estimated that the applications are ready to be filed as soon as the moratorium is lifted.

Vesting its rights under the old concurrency will likely ensure approval of the Town Center.  Vesting its rights under the new concurrency, that currently shows massive failures, will put the project at considerable risk to be hold for many years, until traffic is put under control.

Mysterious MOU or not?

In its September 18 meeting, the council lifted the moratorium of all development in the city, except for the Town Center, until such time that an “MOU” (memorandum of understanding) has been agreed to with the Town Center developer, STCA.  

No details have been provided to the public on the need, circumstances or goals of such MOU. No drafts of such MOU have been shared with the public. This is not the first time the city deals with STCA in secrecy (as we reported before).

However, internal emails reveal that drafts of such MOU indeed have been exchanging hands and discussed with council members.

Should the moratorium be lifted and the Town Center project applied to before the new concurrency is enacted, the Town Center will not be subject to it.

But In November 2017 the council adopted resolution “R2017-762 – Town Center Support”, supporting the Town Center with the specific intent that it would be subject to the new concurrency.  

The latest council actions seems to be in contradiction to the its course of action thus far.

What’s next?

Ritchie’s motion has set the table for removing the Town Center from the moratorium, allowing it to apply for permits and avoid the potential development shut down due to concurrency failures.

The action also may have undercut staff’s negotiation position against STCA, with the developer now knowing that city council will potentially act in his favor should an MOU not be reached by next meeting.  There is no incentive for the developer to provide any concessions, whatever those might be, now that city council publicly voted in his favor.

 

9 thoughts on “City council ready to prop up development of hundreds of new homes”

  1. An excellent well documented article! I want to offer two additional thoughts. First, the vested rights doctrine was overturned by the State Supreme Court, so vesting is more narrow than it was before. The City needs to revise its code to reflect this and limit vesting as much as it can under current law. Given the political composition of the Council, this will be difficult. Second, discussion among Councilmembers of the MOU could constitute a violation of the Open Pubic Meetings Act, and could be the basis for recall and a lawsuit.

    1. While you’re correct the supreme court limited the doctrine, it’s a minimum. Municipalities can expand, and indeed Sammamish, in last few council actions, de facto expanded vested rights to applications much earlier in the pipe line.

  2. The floodgate for more homes already opened with the release of everything but the Town Center. Mou is certainly mysterious process but it is not specific to any developer, it’s for any developer within the Town Center. Remember there are over 200 acres allocated. The mou is pointless and I agree (shocker) that it was discussed outside of public view during executive session. The council may think it falls under the so called “emergency” moratorium umbrella, I believe they are incorrect. I’ve asked repeatedly where is the documented process and Malchow directed me to submit a request for information. The Council did not vote to lift the moratorium. This will be discussed at a future meeting. While the City is tied up in this mess, revenue continues to fall, staff vacancies go unfilled, etc. The development that is being blocked is commercial. Mou wasn’t the only thing thing this council discussed during executive session. They’ve made some major changes that have significant impact to residents have acreage outside of the Town Center. Folks will be surprised to find out that Council has impacted property values.

    1. The MOU was specific to stca per Ritchies comments during the meeting.

      What changes were discussed in the executive session that you refer to ?

  3. Thanks for detailed article! Do you have an idea on what the motivation is behind allowing the town center to progress before the concurrency updates are made? Will the city be able to fund repairs if they dont approve of new growth? Is there a plan in place to fund improvements to the arterials in order to meet the standards required or to increase capacity to be in line with the addition of the town center? Both Ritchie and Moran ran on campaign promises to focus on concurrency, and it seems as though they are moving away from those stances

    1. You’re going to have to ask them. There were no explanations made in public. For now, there are no plans to increase capacity. It is not even known what the real cost is at this point. The Town Center plan was based on the old concurrency so its impact was understated. Only projects that came out of it is SE 4th and Duthie hill road.

  4. It’s even worse than it looks. The proposal would allow town center to proceed, but it would also base any required mitigation on the current badly flawed traffic analysis. So the developer would not even be required to correctly address traffic impacts.

    1. Of course, the whole point of jamming it through now is to bypass the more correct concurrency requirements.

      Now, we all know that, while some on the council may be making judgment calls many citizens disagree with, they can’t possibly be “on the take” from real estate developers like STCA. But (just as a thought experiment, mind you) assume some of them were … in what way would their behavior be different?

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