Critical vote on development tonight, with the Town Center looming above

By Miki Mullor
Editor

  • New concurrency rules block new development due to inadequate infrastructure
  • The new rules were temporary and will effectively expire tonight unless council acts
  • Phase I of the Town Center, 424 homes, is currently blocked
  • Council votes on whether to keep the new rules or not

The Sammamish City Council will hold a public hearing tonight (6:30 at City Hall) with an expected vote later that night to make the concurrency rules enacted in November 2018 permanent.  

With the new concurrency rules, the City changed a 15 years course of development without adequate infrastructure to a pause on development until infrastructure can catch up.

The vote tonight will decide whether the City stays on the new course or goes back to the old one.

Looking back to 2003

In 2003, the City’s Comprehensive plan contemplated that in the next 20 years, the city will accommodate an urban growth of up to 3,500 new homes.  

The City plans called for infrastructure investment of $170 million (in 2003 values) to provide adequate infrastructure for the growth. Developers would pay $13 million of that in development impact fees – the rest was planned to be paid by the residents.

In the same plan, the City cites that if the infrastructure is not keeping up with growth “The City may also choose to strengthen its concurrency requirements, allowed in the Growth Management Act [GMA], resulting in infrastructure being provided truly concurrent with development.

“Concurrency” is a development regulation tool that ensures adequate infrastructure is available to serve new development. City Council has exclusive jurisdiction on deciding what level of infrastructure is adequate.  

Infrastructure backlog

The following chart shows that only 30% of the road projects the city planned going back to 2005 were actually built.

Sammamish road projects 2005 – 2016

The following chart shows urban growth in Sammamish over the last 15 years. The yellow line represents the 20 years growth target of 3,850 units contemplated in the 2003 comprehensive plan, for which the City said $170 millions worth of infrastructure are needed.

(the growth target has been raised since).

Sammamish urban growth 2004 – 2018

Inexplicably, even though the City had a $50 million surplus, previous City Councils decided to use the money for projects other than roads.

In a June 10, 2017 email to former City Manager Lyman Howard, the former Public Works Director John Cunnigham (2006-2010) said that:

“Funding that could have been used for transportation capital projects was for other priorities such as city hall, the city’s street maintenance program, the YMCA/Community Center and to some extent, even the city’s parks capital projects.”

John Cunnigham

The City’s share of the community center was about $28 million including land costs.

2017 Moratorium, new concurrency rules

In October 2017, City Council enacted an emergency moratorium on new development so staff can work on strengthening the concurrency rules – with the intent to move the needle away from more development without infrastructure, towards more infrastructure before development.

Beginning in November 2017, and continuing into 2018 with a new council, the City has worked on new rules for concurrency.

Caught in the middle of it was STCA LLC, headed by Matthew Samwick, who has been acquiring 80 acres of land in the Town Center area just north of City Hall on the hill above Met Market.  

While the City was under a development moratorium, STCA spent between January 2018 and June 2018 over $30 millions buying properties from longtime residents, money that was loaned to it by Benaroyra.

The Town Center allows up to 2,200 homes and 400,000 sf of commercial space to be built in the middle of Sammamish. Small parts of the plan have been built, such as Plateau 120 apartments, Met Market and Sky Apartments.

The debate over concurrency has been ongoing until a split council finally voted 4-3 on new rules in November 2018.

Mayor Christie Malchow, Deputy Mayor Karen Moran, and Council Members Tom Hornish and Chris Ross voted in favor.

Council Members Ramiro Valderrama, Pam Stuart and Jason Ritchie voted against.

Sammamish City Council November 13, 2018 meeting minutes

The November vote was on a component of concurrency called “V/C” – which stands for Volume over Capacity.  V/C compares the volume of cars going through a road to the capacity of the road to carry cars at an acceptable congestion level.

Procedurally, the V/C rules were enacted as “interim regulations” to allow a lengthy, but legally required public process to run its course. The “interim” part means that the new V/C concurrency rules expire on June 1, unless City Council votes to make them permanent.

Town Center blocked

Sahalee Way didn’t meet the new V/C standard, pausing approval of new development until the level of congestion is decreased.

In April, STCA submitted its permit application for Town Center Phase I,  for 424 homes and 82,000 square feet of commercial space, located between SE 4th St. and the Lower Commons Park near City Hall.

As we reported, STCA’s application cannot be approved unless the City Council changes the V/C standard or exempts Sahalee Way from concurrency.

Sahalee HOA pulled into the debate

In an email sent on behalf of Council Member Ramiro Valderrama to Sahalee residents, Valderrama told residents that:

To provide for development going forward, the City Council now has three options:

1) Remove Sahalee from the city concurrency model as the City Council did earlier with East Lake Sammamish Parkway;

2) Increase the V/C ratio in the concurrency model for Sahalee to 1.4 or higher. This allows smaller and more suitable improvements to be made on Sahalee over time.

3) Provide for the significant improvement (4-6 lanes). Expected cost in high nine figure amount to be paid for by our current residents and traffic still stops at RT 202.”

Council Member Ramiro Valderrama

However, Valderrama did not convey a fourth option – that the City is not obligated to build Sahalee Way in response to the concurrency failure. Valderamma posed the same question to City Attorney Mike Kenyon on June 2018 during a council meeting and was informed that the City has no legal obligation to build roads due to concurrency failures.

Sammamish City Council meeting, June 5, 2018

Valderrama has advocated for exempting Sahalee from concurrency or raising the V/C ratio so the road doesn’t “fail”.  

This would allow for continuing development despite traffic congestion worsening and will ultimately require even more lanes added to Sahalee Way to handle the added traffic volumes from new developments, like the Town Center.

To understand the relative impact of the Town Center, consider that over the last 15 years, the City grew by about 3,500 homes. The Town Center alone would add 2,200 or more homes, in a relative short time, in addition to other development everywhere else in town.

Sahalee HOA yesterday sent a notice to its members encouraging it to attend the meeting tonight about “Sahalee Way widening project.”

2019 candidates reaction

The Sammamish Comment reached out to the 2019 City Council candidates to find out their position on the vote tonight.

Mayor Christie Malchow declined to answer given her expected vote tonight.  In the past, Malchow voted for the new concurrency rules.

Ken Gamblin and Kent Treen took a strong position in favor of the new rules.  Treen said he would favor even stricter rules.

Karen Howe did not take a position, replying that: “I believe that Council and Staff have made a rigorous and good-faith effort to find an acceptable volume/capacity measurement for Sammamish. V/C calculations may be a “blunt instrument” and I can’t state with authority that 1.1 for corridors and 1.4 for segments are the right numbers. “

Karen McKnight and Rituja Indapure did not respond.

Further reading: the full responses from the 2019 candidates.


The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 23, starting at 6:30 pm at City Hall.

The meeting can also be viewed live on Comcast channel 21 and streaming on the web https://www.sammamish.us/news-events/tv-21/.

A video of the meeting will be posted on the City’s YouTube channel.

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16 thoughts on “Critical vote on development tonight, with the Town Center looming above”

  1. Alternative Perspectives Regarding Concurrency.

    By Paul Stickney, Sammamish Comment Board Member.

    I sent an email with noteworthy perspectives on concurrency to the
    Sammamish City Council on May 19th, 2019.

    I wanted to post a copy of that email here, but this comment section
    formatting does not allow me the option to link to that document.

    I will outline the gist of my email to the City, but a few comments first.

    • I was not asked for my input or critique of the Concurrency article the
    Sammamish Comment published today (5/23/19)

    • I did supply the editor with growth numbers (primarily for single-family
    homes in Sammamish) which I have been collecting since 2004.

    

• About Housing Growth in Sammamish:
    -King County Pipeline housing projects were from 1999 to 2006.
    -Sammamish permitted housing projects from 2007 to the present.
    -About 2500 homes have been built in Sammamish since 2007.
    -There are about 330 homes in the plat pipeline at this time.
    – Growth targets are minimums in Sammamish, not maximums.
    – The current growth target for Sammamish is about 4500 homes.
    – The growth target is one of two sources for housing numbers.
    – The other source for housing numbers are housing needs and wants.

    • The Sammamish Comprehensive Plan DOES fully plan for our negotiated
    regional growth target number.

    • The Sammamish Comprehensive Plan DOES NOT fully plan for modestly
    optimized internal Housing Balance numbers, based on how housing supplies
    relate to housing wants and needs for all those in Sammamish, over time.

    The gist of my email to the City on Concurrency was:

    > Concurrency does not drive desired land use.

    > Desired land-uses drive concurrency.

    > 8 major factors not fully considered in this concurrency.

    > Analysis considerations.

    > Suggestion 1: Severely limit types of housing our community
    has current internal surpluses of.

    > Suggestion 2: Allow types of housing our community has past and
    present shortages of.

    > Suggestion 3: Support policies to attain “housing affordability through
    balanced sustainable housing” as called for by the Sammamish
    Comprehensive Plan vision statement.
    Comprehensive Plan vision statement.

    1. Paul Stickney does not disclose that he owns property in the Town Center and would benefit by further upzoing. The concurrency issue works to his detriment if it is not relaxed.

      Paul also favors shutting down all single family construction in favor of multi-family. The problem: this will dump multi-family into established single family neighborhoods.

      1. Not long ago I visited friends in Cologne Germany. Their home was located in a lovely mixed use area. Let me describe it. A bus serviced the three several block long streets that constituted this neighborhood. This public transport ferried residents to transportation hubs (transportation oriented mixed use development) with shops, restaurants, other services. From this trans. hub one could travel throughout Europe. The mixed use streets had lovely single family homes, a day care, one multi-family housing unit. Two blocks in there was a corner pub and across the street was a half acre grass field with two horses. Within a half mile was a family oriented recreation center with pools, sauna, meditation hall, and restaurant. Traffic calming design made the street safe for pedestrians and children. How is mixing development a problem. Europe and our pre-suburban cities did it and do it well. Good bye fossil fuels and good bye the single occupant vehicle. Hello walkability, localization, public transportation. Sammamish has been addressing development since 1999 and has learned very little. Lastly, how does owning property in the town center area disqualify one from having an informed, balanced opinion about what needs to be done. Scot, can you explain the rationality of spending $54 million to increase projected capacity (calculated by an abstract theoretical model) by 35 car trips?

  2. $28 million for a so-called “community center” which is more accurately known as a swimming pool … that’s a majority of the $50 million the Council wasted on a non-critical monument to themselves, at least by Mr. Cunningham’s likely conservative estimate, while the city’s infrastructure deteriorated and failed to keep pace with overdevelopment.

    When government competes with private businesses operating within its tax jurisdiction, it means that those business are subsidizing their own competition. This is not the way it’s supposed to work. Finally acknowledging the error in diverting funds to these kinds of self-serving debacles may be too little and too late, but at least some of these mistakes still have market value that can be monetized to fund legitimate and truly necessary government projects.

    It’s a shameful legacy for so many reasons. Admitting it was a mistake and selling the pool NOW would benefit the city and its taxpayers far more than the false face-savings of continuing to operate it as if it were a legitimate government enterprise.

    1. Point on Otto! The Community Center (taxpayer subsidized pool used by a small fraction of residents), sucked all the funds badly needed for adequate roads. Oh – wait, let’s just raise taxes now (sarcasm)!

      Dump that albatross, and zero development until adequate roads are built! The market can then determine what price pool users will pay.

  3. I take exception to your statement “Inexplicably, even though the City had a $50 million surplus, previous City Councils decided to use the money for projects other than roads.” It is not “Inexplicable”, it is indeed simply that the Councils listened to the citizens and prioritized investments. One of the top priorities, for example, was that the community wanted a community center and we have that now and it is overwhelmingly popular.
    Also, the complete response from Mike Kenyon, which you paraphrase as “was informed that the City has no legal obligation to build roads due to concurrency failures” gives a different slant to the obligations of the City; “Every deficiency is on the City to pay for because developers can’t be made to pay for existing deficiencies, but the City is under no particular timeline or obligation to get it all done now or later.”
    The City has been in a virtual paralysis for a year and a half while the Council obsesses over a concurrency ordinance change which could have been done in a month. The end result is exempting East Lake Sammamish Parkway (which is equivalent to the old Table T-8 result) and now has to deal with leaving Sahalee Way as a failure and thus an obligation of the City and not the developers to remedy, or realize that no matter what the City does to Sahalee Way, the congestion point will remain at the SR 202 intersection. Millions of dollars and staff time could have been better spent on cyber security, for example. Just apply some safety fixes to Sahalee Way and adjust the v/c to a reasonable 1.2 so that there will no longer be a failure is my suggestion.

    1. One reliable way to raise ex-Mayor Gerend’s hackles is to bring up the pool in a negative light. While history hasn’t been kind, given the confluence of debacles that occurred under his watch, there seems to be a disproportionate sensitivity about this project in particular. I wonder why.

      Imagine if the development frenzy had been characterized contemporaneously for what it really was. The books were cooked on concurrency, and as a result real estate developments approved under the flawed protocols exceeded the capacity of the city’s infrastructure to support them. But instead of performing the due diligence we once expected from elected public servants, some on the Council chose to use their resources to serve as tireless promoters of the pool. Imagine if that project had been contextualized accurately (not to mention going at least $3 million, or more than 10%, over budget): we’re going to spend a lot of (your) money on this thing that we’ve convinced you you want, but we’re not going to admit that it comes at the opportunity cost of strengthening the city’s infrastructure to support the overdevelopment we’re simultaneously promoting. And hey, it’s all coming out of “surplus” funds anyway!

      Surplus indeed…in the good old days. If it was really surplus, why didn’t you give it back to its rightful owners, the taxpayers? I bet that would have been even more overwhelmingly popular than a pool.

      The waters get even muddier when you realize that some of those same council members had a vested financial interest in an overheated real estate market, as they and/or their immediate family derived income directly as real estate agents and brokers.

      Oh, but it all could have been straightened out in a month. Except it wasn’t. I wonder why.

      Next time you get stuck in traffic on the way to the pool or a City Council meeting, listen for the chickens squawking, because they’re coming home to roost.

    2. Don’s listening skills are highly selective.

      Five council-appointed citizen committees and commissions, with 70 citizens, recommended that all Town Center development be clustered around Sammamish Commons, not split across 228th. As the first planning commission chairman, Scot Jarvis, said at a PC meeting, when the council gets a recommendation it doesn’t want, it appointed another committee. Gerend was part of this process.

      The city’s own consultant concluded that the Town Center could not support more than 500,000 sf of commercial space. Dick Amedei, a commissioner who worked for Safeco Development when it backed the Redmond Town Center project, said Sammamish couldn’t support more than 400,000 sf. Jarvis, an investor in the development of the Kenter Center, agreed. The PC stuck with a 500,000 sf recommendation. Gerend wanted 700,000 sf. The council settled on 600,000 sf. The commission recommended 2,000 housing units. Gerend wanted 3,000. The commission recommended that Transfer Development Rights from within the city be allowed. Gerend’s council struck a deal with King County to accept TDRs from outside the city in preference to inside the city.

      At the first big public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan, some 200 residents appeared at the meeting and made it clear growth elements outlined were too ambitious. Gerend, throughout his tenure of 18 years on the council, consistently favored more growth.

      Citizens, commissions and committees were clear they wanted a height limit in the town center. Gerend has long advocated for buildings as tall as 20 stories. In his waning days on the council, Gerend toyed with proposing a Comp Plan amendment to remove height restrictions. After he left the council he proposed doing just that.

      So when Don invokes “councils listened to the community,” he conveniently forgets all the times he did not.

      1. My long dead grandfather liked to say “A fish rots from the head”. Voters – this November, let’s make sure we keep our current ‘fish’ fresh, and not go backwards to the stink we previously had.

  4. I am interested to know why the Sammamish Comment’s Editorial Board Member, Paul Stickney, was not asked to review or provide input to this article. He has researched this topic for some time, regularly provides input in public comment at the Council Meetings, etc. Since you have access to his expertise, and he is a member of your editorial board, why not take advantage of his input?

    1. Sherie: Paul has a conflict of interest as a Town Center property owner. (See my reply above to his comment). His positions are well known to the Editorial Board.

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