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