Sammamish City Council Member Pam Stuart ran for office in 2017 vowing to protect the environment.
Instead, she is using a claim of environmental protection to support her vote for lifting the building moratorium on the Town Center and as a proponent for higher density.
At the Oct. 16 council meeting, Stuart argued that lifting the moratorium is environmentally friendly because concentrating growth in one area protects other areas in Sammamish from building.
This shows an appalling ignorance of Sammamish’s land use zoning, the history of the development of the Comprehensive Planning to limit growth, political realities and impacts on property owners.
Either that, or Stuart just is using “environmental protection” as a faux excuse to open the development door to STCA, the principal developer waiting to get the green light to file permit applications to build the Town Center.
Or it could well be both.
In the abstract
In the abstract, Stuart is not wrong. Concentrating development into a high density area can mean protecting other areas environmentally—provided little or no development occurs in these other areas.
The only two ways putting this theory into practice in Sammamish is downzoning everything outside the Town Center and redirecting this growth to the Town Center or transferring development rights from around the city into the Town Center
Stuart made no mention of this reality in her advocacy last week.
The reality is, and always has been, that the Town Center creation was an upzoning of the city’s overall land use planning adding net new growth
If Stuart thinks people are upset now because the moratorium stopped mom-and-pop development or sale of their properties, which are often part of their retirement plan and accumulated wealth (as well as having paid taxes all these years based on the highest and best use of their zoning), Stuart should just try to downzone their properties and see what happens.
The recent revised setback regulations reduced net buildable opportunities and the city council got an earful from some landowners over losing a few building lot opportunities. Just wait for the tsunami of complaints, Council Member Stuart, should you downzone everywhere but the Town Center in the faux-name of environmental protection.
Most would argue this is a “taking” under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution and under the Washington Constitution. (Whether it would be or not has been subject to litigation, with contrary decisions.)
Transfer Development Rights, also known as “TDR”, is a program that allows landowners sell their rights to develop their land in return to effectively agreeing to a permanent downzone of their property.
When the Town Center plan was conceived, the residents were told that rights for up to 1,000 future homes will be transferred into the Town Center.
In reality, that never happened. Not a single lot anywhere in the city has been designated eligible to sell TDRs to the Town Center. Even worse, in 2011 the city committed to King County to not sell a TDR from within the city before the Town Center bought up to 75 TDRs from the county.
Not a single dwelling unit in the Town Center will come at the expense of a house anywhere in Sammamish.
Just as Stuart did not propose a general downzoning, neither did she speak about the unviability of TDRs from within the city.
No understanding of planning
Stuart obviously has zero understanding of the history of the land use planning and zoning of Sammamish.
Although she has lived here for nearly 18 years, she clearly was in her own world for 15 of them. Until she ran for election in 2017, she had not voted in a single city election in 15 years. When challenged on this point by Sammamish Comment, Stuart said she simply had not been aware of the elections—an excuse that strains credulity given the political sign pollution every two years, articles in the city newsletters and (at the time) the local newspapers. The Comment, of course, also actively covered the elections.
The reality is that Stuart simply wasn’t interested in city development and political events for the first 15 years she lived here.
Here’s the history of the current land use planning, Council Member Stuart.
When the Planning Advisory Board wrote the city’s first Comprehensive Plan (2001-2003), it started with the zoning put into place by King County before incorporation.
(Disclosure: Sammamish Comment editor Scott Hamilton was on the PAB.)
One of the issues the PAB had to consider is what was then called the “bright line test.” This was a ruling from the Growth Management Board that the minimum zoning in a city had to be R-4 (four units per acre) unless there were environmental reasons (steep slopes, wetlands, other sensitive areas) or other circumstances (pre-existing homeowners association covenants, such as exists in Sammamish neighborhood Rock Meadows).
These areas were zoned R-1 (one unit per acre) by King County.
There were areas zoned R-18 (the area behind the self-storage behind Safeway and a parcel at the far south end of the city) down to R-6 (Conner-Jarvis is one example).
Given the bright line test and the realities of the political and “taking” considerations, the PAB elected not to recommend any zoning changes as a way to control growth. No “takings” were made by downzoning. No upzoning was recommended.
The area that became known as the Town Center was punted at City Council direction in order to get the Comp Plan adopted in record time (18 months). (This probably proved, in hindsight, to be a bad call.)
(In 2005, the Washington Supreme Court in its Viking decision, struck down the “bright line R4” rule and decided that zoning decisions are exclusive to the local government, even excluding the Growth Management Boards and the State from forcing zoning decision. The city never leveraged “Viking” to revisit zoning).
No urban sprawl
When Stuart decries “urban sprawl” in Sammamish under current zoning, she simply doesn’t know what she is talking about.
The zoning is fundamentally what King County gave Sammamish. Even this zoning (pre-Klahanie annexation and pre-Town Center planning) was calculated to give Sammamish a population of 72,000 at maximum build out.
Increasing density (as the Town Center does) only adds to this figure, Member Stuart, unless you as a council member advocates downzoning the rest of the city.
Given Stuart’s clear pro-development history in her first 10 months in office, this certainly is not going to happen.
But beware of Stuart’s faux environmentalism when she advocates for STCA’s Town Center plan. It’s not this at all.
It’s a pro-development position, pure and simple. In this, she follows the lead of Council Member Ramiro Valderrama, who in his first term sought environmental protection but has done a 180 flip in his second term. They are joined by Council Member Jason Ritchie; he made the motion last Tuesday to lift the moratorium.
It is not coincidental that Stuart was endorsed by the Master Builders Association (MBA), the developer’s lobbying group, who also contributed significant independent expenditure to her campaign.
Ritchie coined the term that he, Stuart and Valderrama were the new “V-3.” In reality, they are the “D-3,” for Developers-3.
This is not what Sammamish residents want. Or what they voted for when they elected what is now the D-3 on what they were told by the candidates would be a control-the-growth approach to government.
This is an editorial by Scott Hamilton and Miki Mullor, editor and deputy editor of Sammamish Comment.