Stuart’s faux environmentalism

Editorial

Sammamish City Council Member Pam Stuart ran for office in 2017 vowing to protect the environment.

Council Member Pam Stuart
Council Member Pam Stuart

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.

Current Zoning

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.

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16 thoughts on “Stuart’s faux environmentalism”

  1. Miki Mullor’s article is full of misinformation. Anyone who posts a challenge to his presentations is blocked from this discussion. This reply is unlikely to be posted. I will therefore make it part of the public record by submitting a copy to the city council and the planning commission.

    Matters that are complex and that require careful deliberation in order to be fair and legally sustainable are being reduced to “ideology.” For example, STCA purchased TDR from King County. King County and the City of Sammamish entered into a TDR agreement a number of years ago that provided the city with “cash” and the potential to establish a “green necklace” around the city. This agreement requires Sammamish to first expedite purchase of the King County TDR before putting land within Sammamish up as sending sits for TDRs. STCA’s purchase of TDRs facilitates the green necklace, an environmental benefit to the city of Sammamish. Now, the city can move forward on developing a TDR program of its own. Big problem, land in Sammamish is so expensive and a TDR program in Sammamish is financially a challenge. Market forces are at plan.

    Also, if one examines the STCA plan, the plan provides for a green spine within the town center. STCA has engaged nationally known mixed use development experts to assist with town center planning that is aimed at implementing the town center plan. Stormwater experts have also been hired.

    Mr. Mullor, as Mr Hamilton can tell you, I know the history of town center development from the PAB upto the present. I remember when the city council and city hall was located adjacent the departed Ace Hardware. I remember when the city council used the Sewer and Water district meeting hall for council meetings. I have files on the town center process that stretch wide and run deep. A point I have stressed in recent emails to the city council is that many years of planning involving citizen surveys, citizen committees, staff, expert consultants, public hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council, lengthy Planning Commission and City Council study sessions and debates, numerous other diverse activities, all of this work produced a town center plan and code. The town center is a community effort. Throughout this process anti-growth factions have played a huge role. Their voices have been heard and they have had a hand in the outcome.

    So, lets see if this is posted. Reading Edmund Burke’s observations on the French Revolution. Mr. Mullor, you would have eagerly joined the ranks of the Jacobins. Do you remember Robespierre and his fate?

    1. John, John, John. Your posts always have appeared unless you became personally abusive–and that’s only happened once or twice. Your opening paragraph is poppycock.

      I’ve also offered three times to provide you the opportunity to write an Op-Ed outlining your arguments in a reasoned manner. You’ve ignored each invitation. It’s still open, so this is offer #4.

      Hamilton

      1. Scot, I doubt I have at any time been as abusive as your co-editor. I did directly state that the co-editor was a purveyor of misinformation. I am ready to provide an op-ed if this blog truly opens up to a diversity of perspectives. Have any of your readers considered the information I provided on TDR and then made the effort to examine the topic. Other issues, such as downsizing, as presented in the above article, requires some balance of opinions and information. The legal issues are significant. Outside of the town center, has there been any upzoning? Do your readers understand that as part of the urban growth area. base zoning is R4 unless there are ecological reasons to maintain a lower density. This and previous city councils have worked hard to find ecological and other ways of limiting development, less than R4. Compared to comparable cities, Sammamish is low density. Contrary to what some believe, Council member Hornish for example, R4 is low density suburban sprawl. Do readers of this blog realize that Sammamish has more park land than Manhattan, NY.? How many anti-growth advocates live in large suburban homes, low to zero walk scores, auto dependent, two or three cars, decentralized, (no walking to the store). How many anti-town center voices advocate for public transportation, lobby for removal of high school parking lots – turn them into sports fields, get teens out of their cars onto buses? Why has the city council exempted all development except town center? Short and long plats are much less environmentally friendly and do not address any of the diverse needs of the city. Let me end this comment with this observation: Concurrency does not solve any problem. We know where our problems exist. The City has initiated a transportation master plan. All of the tedious debate about concurrency has distracted the council, staff, consultants and citizens from addressing traffic issues.

      2. John, your record of abusive and intimidating behavior goes back years. We can go off-line if you’d like reminders of this.

        But that aside, I’ve made the offer many times to produce an OpEd. You have statistics, research, data and I’ve said before you are welcome to create an OpEd to make your points. Paul Stickney and Jason Ritchie have taken advantage of this policy. Put something together and send it to cityhamilton@gmail.com so I can process it into format and post it. If you have illustrations, these need to be in JPGs or PNGs. PDFs can only be entered as downloads.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t consider the Manhattan comparison valid. This isn’t New York City. I think if you want to make a comparison like this, you might compare with Mercer Island (which Sammamish is often compared with) or other cities of similar size and demographics.

        Hamilton

      3. I’m sure Mr. Galvin has his eyes on all those green “necklaces” and “spines” to which he refers, if for no other reason than as a place to walk his dog to do the business that dogs do. You know the dog I’m talking about, right, the big one that Mr. Galvin has in this fight.

        In all seriousness, an honest “Op-Ed” needs to be carefully distinguished from arguing for a position that represents a clear financial interest for its author. Given Mr. Galvin’s property holdings and the financial benefits he stands to accrue should the Town Center development come to reality, perhaps he should be paying advertising rates for the opportunity to present his “position” under the guise of an editorial.

  2. Thank you for refreshing our memories on the history of this. This was helpful for the context of her comment last week.

  3. Mr Hamilton, that’s not entirely true. Not all posts are approved for publication and that’s not because they are abusive, they just express a different perspective. Redevelopment of land occupied by homes, many that were built prior to 1980 with old septic systems to provide commercial and some multifamily is significantly better than clear cutting undeveloped land. Getting rid of the old septic systems is also beneficial.
    Didn’t you move to Bainbridge Island? Do you enjoy the shops, restaurants, hardware store, etc. Or would you have preferred the island have no amenities and you could drive to Poulsbo or Silverdale whenever you needed a can of paint. Mr Mullor has publicly stated that people who are selling must be leaving, so they are not entitled to have an opinion about Town Center. While I think that opiniin is preposterous, should you continue to comment on a community when you live elsewhere?

    1. Catherine, the only Reader Comments that have been edited or banned that I am aware of are those that are abusive in some way. I am not aware of any that were not posted because they presented a contrary viewpoint, and I’m the one who makes that call.

      I’ll remind you that I was on the Planning Commission that developed the Town Center Plan and I still support it. What I do not support is manipulating concurrency so all development is approved, regardless of the impact on roads. What I do not support are council members who deliberately misrepresent, offer outright falsehoods and distortions to advance their agenda. What I do not support are council members who put development interests ahead of the environment and citizen interests.

      Yes, I moved to Bainbridge–after 21 years of public service and involvement in Sammamish, which is more than anyone on the council other than Karen Moran and most others in government at any level in Sammamish. I still care about what goes on there.

      By your question about commenting when one lives elsewhere, then the Seattle Times could not comment on or write about Sammamish. It has written on-and-off about Sammamish for more than two decades that I know of, endorsed in council races, it endorsed this election cycle in the state Legislative races and the 8th Congressional race. But it’s a business headquartered in Seattle.

      When it existed, the Sammamish Review–whose editor lived in Issaquah–wrote about and editorialized about Sammamish. The Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter should cover Sammamish but doesn’t, so the only news and comment open to residents comes from social media, the city newsletter and Sammamish Comment. That I moved from Sammamish doesn’t preclude me from following events there any more than the newspapers cited above are precluded.

      Hamilton

      1. Mr Hamilton, I understand your perspective; however your co-editor has publicly stated otherwise. Seems to be a contradiction.

      2. In an email, Catherine clarified that she’s talking about Sammamish Watch, not Sammamish Comment.

        Hamilton

      3. Catherine Freudenberg is NOT a member of Sammamish Watch. I looked at the admin history can’t find any record she has ever been.

  4. HUGE thank you for this update!

    She earned my vote as an environmentalist who understood growth was galloping away!

    No anymore!

    How did the other members vote?

    Sarah

    1. Stuart, Ritchie and Valderrama voted to lift the moratorium prematurely.

      Ross, Moran, Malchow and Hornish voted to keep it

  5. Scott & Miki,

    Thanks for all the hard work you do to keep our Sammamish citizens informed about traffic, development and what’s happening on the city council. We would be so uninformed without “Sammamish Comment”.

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