Proposed “Minimum Density” state law would upzone 76% of Sammamish to 6 units per acre and convert 44% of it to high density development

By Miki Mullor

  • The bill would require high density development within ¼ mile from schools, parks and commercial areas.
  • The bill also limits parking spaces to one space per four high density housing units.
  • Sammamish Council Members Jason Ritchie and Pam Stuart opposes the bill’s mandate to upzone; Ramiro Valderrama is silent.

Forced Massive Upzone

State Senator
Guy Palumbo

A state senate bill proposed by Democrat Guy Palumbo would require Sammamish to upzone 76% of the city to R-6 and even higher density in those areas in proximity to schools, parks and commercial centers.

Palumbo, of Maltby north of Redmond in the First Legislative District, proposes all cities within the Urban Growth Boundary line (which includes Sammamish) be subject to the upzoning. The bill does not address any infrastructure needs.

Effect on Sammamish

During Sammamish City Council Legislative Committee discussion Palumbo’s pending Senate bill, staff revealed the impact it will have on the city:

  1. 76% of the city, currently zoned R-1 and R-4, would be upzoned to R-6.
  2. 44% of the land which is within ¼ mile from parks, schools and commercial centers would be upzoned to high density development, such as cottage housing, courtyard, apartments, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhouses, manufactured homes and single room occupancies.
  3. The bill also requires no more than one parking spot for each 4 high density units.

Staff prepared an estimated map of areas that would be affected by the required high density:

Brown areas: forced high density areas


What this means

With the exception of the greater commercial areas of Sammamish, which has high density zoning (about 3% of the City), and some key areas zoned R-6 more recently developed, most established residential neighborhoods are zoned R-4, or four units per acre.

Areas in Western Sammamish, including Rock Meadows, Loree Estates and the plateau of down-slopes overlooking East Lake Sammamish Parkway, are currently zoned R-1 for environmental reasons, principally being erosion hazard, landslide and steep slope areas.

Upzoning Sammamish would mean:

  • Potential harm to the environment.
  • Dramatically increased population.
  • Dramatically increased traffic.
  • Requirements to expand and widen roads to accommodate traffic, at a large cost.
  • Increased real estate taxes on all properties upzoned to a “higher” use.

Staff recommends to push back

Staff recommended that the city push back on mandating upzoning, but rather “incentivize” upzoning.  Among the reasons staff gave were Sammamish’s backlog of updating the rural infrastructure the city inherited from King County in 1999 and Sammamish’s unique, environmentally sensitive areas (such as wetlands, landslide hazard and erosion areas).

King County zoned these areas R-1 before Sammamish was incorporated. The city retained this zoning after incorporation.  

According to staff, upzoning large portions of Sammamish could exacerbate the infrastructure deficiencies and blanket upzoning can potentially harm the sensitive areas.

Some cities oppose, some secretly support

The city’s lobbyist shared with the committee that some cities oppose this bill while a few unidentified  cities secretly support it. Those cities purportedly would like to upzone to higher densities, but facing a negative public opinion, they would prefer the state to “impose” it on them.

In a recording of the meeting, (at 29:00) Council Member Pam Stuart said she opposes the bill. Council Member Jason Ritchie said he is on Palumbo’s side but also supports the city’s feedback. He acknowledged that upzoning to R6, will alter the character of the city but at the same time Sammamish needs to take its share of growth.

Only three council members are on the legislative committee – the rest of the council has yet had a chance to weigh in on the subject.

Palumbo thinks Sammamish is a bad actor

Council Member Ramiro Valderrama shared that in discussions he had with Palumbo he heard that this bill is being proposed because there are number of cities who aren’t doing what they should be doing and he doesn’t believe that local authorities are going to move, hence why he wants the heavy hammer.

Valderrama added that he heard from Palumbo that Sammamish is fallen into this  “bad actor categories” for him.

Reached for comments, Palumbo had none to make.

Contacts for reader comments:

This is Senate Bill 5769.

Sammamish Comment created the following email to send your comments to the nine legislators who represent Sammamish: :

State representative for the 5th, 41st and 45th legislative districts covering Sammamish. The 5th is the greater Klahanie area. The 41st is the southern half of the city, roughly along SE 8th St. The 45th is the northern half of the city along SE 8th. :

The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Guy Palumbo.
Palumbo is a former Snohomish County Planning Commissioner who is on record wanting the UGBs to accept growth in lieu of rural areas.

The Sammamish City Council may be reached here:

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26 thoughts on “Proposed “Minimum Density” state law would upzone 76% of Sammamish to 6 units per acre and convert 44% of it to high density development

  1. I am OPPOSED to the high density housing.
    It will destroy Sammamish.
    If there is a need for more housing, limit home sales to people who actually work in the area. Many homes are purchased by people who don’t work in the area or live in them. The investors purchasing real estate in the area are raising home prices.
    To keep prices down, the planning commission could limit sizes of homes being built.
    There are many other options besides increasing density.
    I’ve lived in the same home for over 30 years and am appalled with the current development and am opposed to increase in density.

  2. This is the sort of thing that happens when cities try to stop growth. Far better to manage growth, have a plan to designate growth areas and mitigate impact. It’s been clear over the past year that Mayor Malchow and Council member Hornish have worked hard to impede smart growth. Moran and Ross have followed their lead. Stuart and Ritchie have been consistent in supporting smart growth and maintaining the character of the City. I haven’t heard Valderrama say anything to indictate he supports unfettered growth either. When Cities don’t follow through on commitments, they end up with mandates from government, courts, etc.

    • This bill is two years old. It’s a result of MasterBuilders lobbying and highlights the importance of accurate honest concurrency.

    • do you honestly believe that (1) our schools and library could handle the influx of new students that would result, when they’re already in portables and there are no extra seats in the library (what, more taxes and school levies??), (2) our roads, our schedules, and sanity could handle all of the thousands of new cars, when we are already jammed up at every new light and the busses are fully loaded and construction blocks nearly every route, (3) that anyone who presently lives here will want to stay in such an overcrowded, noisy, depressingly soulless wasteland full of Soviet-style bunkered apartments such as those being thrown up now? If that truly is the type of living that you crave, then move to Seattlw or Redmond or Ballard and live in the new urban canyons — please leave us the few remaining small enclaves of woods and streams and family-friendly neighborhoods that we moved here to enjoy so many decades ago. Sammamish has already taken on its fair share of the burden, without any resulting benefit; we certainly are not out of compliance and there is no objective evidence to back up your claims.

      Everyone else: I urge you to use the email addresses above (Thanks, Miki) to tell your reps to stop this latest push by developers and career politicians to line their pockets at our financial and societal expense. Thanks very much.

    • “Smart growth” means supportive infrastructure. We are woefully behind with the last major capacity project in Sammamish having been done in 2010 when 244th was connected.
      I hate being pinned as being “anti growth”. That’s not what I stand for. I have always & will continue to advocate for the companion for growth: infrastructure. That means roads, schools (I have supported every levy & bond in the LWSD & ISD), and water & sewer capacity. We cannot grow without the accompaniments, less we degrade the very quality of life that brought our residents here in the first place. That is something I won’t stand silently by on. Don’t mistake my advocacy for infrastructure for being anti-growth.

      • King County has been neglectful of Sammamish as shown from the recent Light Rail plans and other infrastructure plans. Given that, our real estate and other taxes will continue to rise without equal representation. As a city of 60,000, our strongest long term recourse as well as political leverage is to opt for ‘Home Rule’, in order to free from State mandates without proper representation. To do so, we should strive for self sufficiency in terms of support infrastructure such as police, fire, legal and general staffing expertise.

        We also do not seem to have much influence over Olympia, vis-a-vis Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, etc. we have to strategically work to increase our influence.

        I believe we should do both.

      • Thank you for sharing your information. It’s so nice to see it coming from you instead of others who stir the pot by misrepresenting what you stand for.

      • If Sammamish wants improved infrastructure, it’s going to need to find ways to fund it. The days of waiting for funding from other government sources are over. Cities need to be more self sufficient and that means funding infrastructure improvements. Taxes and fees are only part of the equation. Sammamish faces the same issues as any other city. Some cities have been able to fund infrastructure by leveraging public assets, public/private partnerships, “green” funding for transit and so on. If you wanted to see infrastructure improvements, you would have focused more effort on solving the infrastructure deficiencies and less on the concurrency boondoggle that tied up City resources, drove away business and spent a million on consultants and studies only to come full circle to where you started. What has the City done or changes implented that will generate revenue to fund infrastructure? If I recall, a decision was made to not increase taxes; how does that benefit infrastructure? Ms Malchow & Ross, what has the City done to support and encourage its business community? Do you think Met Market, Sky Apartments, etc.feel supported and encouraged. PetSmart certainly didn’t. Would these businesses have invested in Sammamish if they knew that the City’s own Mayor and 3 council members would try to derail the TC? I’m not a fan of unfettered growth nor do I think that the proposal will pass but the uproar resulting from the discussion illustrates just how little the new concurrency model did for Sammamish. Last year it was concurrency, this year it looks like it will be the City’s IT and security.

      • Ms. Freudenberg – you do realize that all the impact fees collected from developers over the hyper growth years only cover 21% of the projected costs to build roads? do you realize that the apartments and townhomes get a further 50% reduction of their impact fees (by law), making the town center double the impact on roads costs? do you understand that B&O taxes in other cities are generated largely by car dealerships and hotels, which we won’t have here? we haven’t even touched the schools. You keep advocating to accelerate the “more of the same” that brought this city to its knees, deliberately caused by previous councils (proven with evidence). For whatever reason, you want the town center built but ignore the impact on 65,000 residents. to make your points you keep stating disinformation and unsubstantiated claims – not once backing it with data or evidence.

        As a business-owner and founder of 3 companies I can tell you I don’t blame my government if things don’t go well. Opening a third pet store within 0.5 miles of two other pet stores just doesn’t seem like a smart move. Same for opening an over priced grocery store within 1 mile of 3 other grocery stores. That has nothing to do with city council. Sammamish has 65,000 residents. adding 4000 more in the town center should not be the make or break for business success. What we’re seeing now is the unraveling of poor and amateurish planning 10 years ago, based on manufactured consultant studies, fraudulent traffic studies and ignoring the realities on the ground. Time to get our head out of the sand and treat the issues created here by previous councils like adults.

  3. Thanks for getting the word out with this article. Here are some additional points to make about why this bill should be kept in committee and voted against: 1) Rural “cities” are “urban”, but their land use patterns and infrastructure are not suitable for high density. 2) Urban growth areas are often very large, and allowing lower density zoning gives cities a “phasing” tool to ensure that development occurs in well served areas first. 3) Schools are often sited in less developed areas of cities because of lower land costs and the availability of large parcels. Upzoning these areas prematurely would distort development patterns and reduce the availability of land for schools. 4) Many areas of the State are experiencing rapid reductions in housing prices, and the recent building boom has created an oversupply situation in many markets. A bubble has been created, most experts agree. 5) Many cities have codes that do not adequately protect critical areas, and have lax enforcement, so increasing zoning will damage the environment. 6) Many cities “rubber stamp” developments and shortchange concurrency regulations, so zoning is one of the few powers that are accessible to the public and have more thorough processes.

  4. Well stated by Mayor Malchow. The only group we are following are the citizens who define what is important to them. Giving up and not defending the character and quality of life we enjoy in Sammamish is irresponsible.

  5. I am confused, I have been reading for two years that the GMA that was dictating a minimum of 4 units per acre was not ‘binding’ on Sammamish and was being used as an excuse by current and former council members for approving growth. Now this new push to increase density even more by the State is being presented, that if passed, Sammamish would be obligated ‘legally’ to abide by it. Which is it?

    • let me explain Gary.

      In the common law system (like the US system), law is made of:

      1. Legislation (like the GMA)
      2. Interpretation of the law by the courts (called “case law”), with highest courts’ interpretation being binding on lower courts.

      The GMA currently doesn’t have minimum density for urban areas. The growth management boards, which are quasi judicial bodies, applied a “brightline” interpretation that urban is R4 at minimum.

      In 2005 the WA supreme court, the highest court in the state, in an en-banc decision (which means a full panel of judges), decided there is no minimum density, abolished the “R4” minimum and highlighted that local government have exclusive jurisdiction over zoning. it’s called the “viking” case.

      What is proposed now is to amend the GMA by legislation to include minimum density and over turn the WA supreme court.

  6. No, this sort of thing doesn’t happen “when cities try to stop growth.” It’s what happens when a nominally democratic form of government is corroded by unchecked greed. Following years of a largely successful effort to trade quality of life for everyone in favor of profit for a few, the current Council seems to be hanging on to sanity by a very thin thread. Our betters in the state legislature are apparently planning to cut that thread.

    These “mandates” are coming from the developer business community outbidding citizens’ interests with campaign contributions. Now they’re expecting their well-earned dividends to be paid.

  7. Could the email listed in the article be corrected? bounces since Sammamish is misspelled.

  8. infrastructure needs are met with”Responsible Growth”. Transit Hubs and Employment hubs are taken into account with “Responsible Growth”. access to highways is looked at in “Responsible Growth”, zoning for wetlands, steep slopes, land slide areas, CARAs, etc.. is looked at for “Responsible Growth”, stream protections and fish & wildlife habitats are looked at for “Responsible Growth”. According to some, this is a no-growth stance. I would hate to live in an area that these things are considered as such.

  9. From the text of the bill I understood that the bill would set up a minimum zoning around rapid transit station. Why here it is said that the bill would require high density development within ¼ mile from schools, parks and commercial areas. Can someone explain what I misread in the bill?

    • without knowing what you read and which version, the language from the bill when this story was written reads:

      “Cities and counties planning under RCW 36.70A.040 must
      17 implement the following requirements in areas designated for
      18 residential use and located within one-quarter mile of either a
      19 school, park, rail station, hospital, community center, or area
      20 designated for commercial use, mixed use, or multifamily housing:”

  10. Mr Mullor, businesses do fail for a variety of reasons but clearly the first businesses to invest in Sammamish Town Center didn’t anticipate the city’s change of position. Instead of containing growth, the citizens have been saddled with sprawling single family neighborhoods, which are incredibly detrimental to the environment. As my post stated, fees and taxes won’t be enough to address the infrastructure deficiencies in Sammamish. It’s incredibly short sighted to think that it could. Ms Moran, there is nothing environmentally responsible about clear cutting for more subdivisions or adding road capacity. On its current path, Sammamish is destined to remain the bedroom community for the surrounding cities and a thoroughfare for people to reach their tech jobs in neighboring communities. Sammamish will feel the burden and reap none of the rewards. Protecting groundwater, caring for stormwater, etc are all admirable objectives but concurrency was all about halting growth and not about the environment.

    • so legally speaking concurrency is about phasing growth until infrastructure can be provided. As you stated, we’re in a terrible infrastructure deficit courtesy of previous council who manipulated concurrency to always pass (in exchange to a deal with MasterBuilders to agree to the impact fees). Those impact fees were not nearly enough and it looks like the city sold our quality of life for $14K per new home. Now you argue we should continue that but with townhomes and apartments that by law pay 50% of the impact fees.

  11. The dysfunction of the council at last night’s meeting was a sight to behold…

    Malchow seems to relish in pointing out the weaknesses of her political opponents.
    Stuart defends staff even when they have no clue what they are doing.
    Ritchie talks a lot but never really says anything worthwhile.
    It was nice of Hornish not to “phone it in” for once but it’s clear that he is a one-term councilman.
    Ramiro still seems sore over the fact that Malchow beat him out for Mayor. On the other hand, he’s a serial complainer – he relishes attacking the majority but never actually wants to be the one making the decisions.
    Moran and Ross frankly seem lost. They’re not petty like Christie is but they are not nearly as well versed on the issues.

    I don’t care if these people hate each other’s guts but they have to get along. That’s what they were elected to do.

    You would think that the ransomware attack would take up the vast majority of the meeting given the halt to city activities but instead they’re bickering back and forth about petty nonsense – Christie complaining about Stuart missing her first legislative committee meeting and Pam complaining that she had just 1 hour’s notice. WHO CARES?

    If I were a candidate for city manager, and I watched these meetings, I would run away, VERY FAR away. Read the city manager reports in the meeting agenda packets from Larry Patterson… given his interim nature he can “call it like he sees it” and it’s rather scathing in my view.

    I have no idea how they are going to recruit someone with this council. All seven of them are way out of their league.

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