By Miki Mullor
Aug. 19. 2019: Town Center developer STCA last week received two traffic concurrency certificates that clear the way for 419 new homes and 82,000 square feet of retail space on the southeast corner of SE4th and 222nd Ave. SE.
Three members of the council, staff and STCA believed its Town Center project would not pass concurrency testing as a result of the new concurrency standard adopted earlier this year by a split City Council. Indeed, unofficial test runs over nine months indicated this was the case.
Yet, last week, city staff ran an official test and STCA Phase I passed concurrency, with no improvements to the roads.
How was this possible?
This article unpacks and explains the details behind the approval and raises serious questions. It is unusually long and reads best on a desktop.
Mayor Christie Malchow and Deputy Mayor Karen Moran called a Special Council Meeting to discuss the issues with staff.
The Special Council Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug 20, at 4pm at City Hall.
Alternative ways to watch:
What is a concurrency test?
Concurrency is a legal requirement set by the growth management act (GMA) to prohibit development if it causes the level of service to decline below the standards set by city council.
Indeed, Sammamish Municipal Code says exactly that:
(1) In accordance with RCW 36.70A.070(6)(b),
the City must adopt and enforce ordinances which prohibit development approval if the development causes the level of service on a locally owned transportation facility to decline below the standards defined in SMC 14A.10.050,
unless transportation improvements or strategies to accommodate the impacts of development are made concurrent with the development.
These strategies may include increased public transportation service, ride sharing programs, demand management, and other transportation systems management strategies.
For the purposes of the City’s concurrency requirement, “concurrent with the development” shall mean that improvements or strategies are in place at the time of development, or that a financial commitment is in place to complete the improvements or strategies within six years.Sammamish Municipal Code, 14A.10.010 Concurrency requirement.
Over the last two years Sammamish City Council debated and voted on new Level of Service standards. As we reported, on May 23 those became permanent on a split 4/3 vote.
419 homes STCA project in the Town Center
The new concurrency standard recognized a failure on Sahalee Way, due to congestion on that road during the AM peak hour (7-8 AM).
In February 19, 2019, former Interim City Manager Larry Patterson first reported that the Town Center development cannot move forward unless something is done to improve Sahalee Way:
The immediate impediment to the City’s development is Sahalee Way. Staff and our consultants have met and outlined several smaller projects we would like to model. If these provide enough room to allow the Town Center Phase I [STCA’s 419 units project] and smaller developments, that we can work within our concurrency model…Larry Patterson, city manager report, page 67, 2/19/2019
As we reported in April, STCA’s first permit application was submitted and could not pass concurrency, as Patterson alluded to in February.
Three Council Members advocated over the last few months to relax the standards to allow STCA’s project to move forward. Council Members Pam Stuart, Jason Ritchie and Ramiro Valderrama even moved to exempt the Town Center from the impact of Sahalee Way on May 23, 2019, a motion that was voted down 3-4.
On August 15, the city issued a surprise press release announcing that STCA Phase I has passed concurrency test. The City didn’t publicize any of the other 10 concurrency tests that were conducted this year:
“The City of Sammamish announced today that two STCA projects for the Town Center development have passed their concurrency tests and that Certificates of Concurrency have been issued for”City of Sammamish, Press Release, Aug 15, 2019
This is not the first time the City has given STCA special attention. As we previously reported, former communications manager Kelly Stickney got caught in a controversy for promoting STCA in the city newsletter per STCA’s owner Matt Samwick’s request: Just how cozy is the city with STCA?
419 homes = 53 cars leave the city in the AM peak hour
The Sammamish Comment obtained STCA’s two issued Certificate of Concurrency and their corresponding Concurrency Tests.
Section 6 of the certificate reads:
“This certificate is only an indication that [there] is adequate vehicular capacity on the City of Sammamish street network to support the traffic forecasted to be generated by the development described above.”
The approved development consist of 300 apartments, seven single family homes, 112 town houses, one quality restaurant, one high turnover restaurant, and 56,000 sq/ft of a shopping center.
A concurrency test attempts how the future residents who will live in the proposed development will drive around the city.
The traffic engineer forecasted that the 419 new homes and the commercial areas will create 217 car trips during the morning peak time (7-8 AM).
The following maps show how forecasted traffic flows within the city during the morning between 7 and 8 AM:
- To Redmond:
- 14 cars on Sahalee Way
- 10 cars on East Lake Sammamish Parkway
- To Issaquah
- 25 cars on Snake Hills Road (212th ave)
- four cars on Issaquah Pine Lake Road
- 0 cars on 43rd Street (right after 228th Ave going south)
In total, 53 cars leave the City in the morning peak hour from a 419 homes development.
Where is the rest of the traffic going?
The map from Concurrency test #11 and #12 show how traffic from the STCA project is headed to different spots in the city and to city limits. The blue lines represent traffic, the numbers next to them represent the number of cars on that road segment. The thicker the line, the more cars drive that road segment. (Click the maps to enlarge.)
As cars reach their destination within the city, the number of cars on the next segment drops.
Few cars are shown leaving the Town Center for the transit park and ride in Issaquah Highlands.
Does this match reality?
Assuming the 217 AM car trips the traffic engineer forecasts is correct, the 53 cars that leave the city represents 25% of total car trips.
But that does not match the reality in Sammamish.
According to the city, 96% of the workers commute outside of the city (computed from the data in the slide below from presentation to City Council on May 2017).
Residents will work in Sammamish?
The slide states that 3,311 people work in Sammamish but live elsewhere. Proponents of the Town Center and STCA argue that smaller homes (like apartments) will entice more local workers to move to the city. From looking at the traffic forecast, it seems the traffic engineer made the assumption that the majority of the future residents will indeed work in Sammamish.
The map shows the rest of the traffic going to high schools, shopping centers (including the Town Center) and residential neighborhoods within Sammamish.
Ten percent of the units in the Town Center are designated affordable housing (at about $1,700 per month for one bedroom). The rest are market rate: one- to two-bedroom apartments go for $2,000-3,700 a month; town homes have been selling in the upper $800,000s.
Sahalee Way – to build or not to build
The traffic forecast model still does not explain why STCA was granted a concurrency certificate after it was informed it would fail the test four months ago.
The answer lies in Sahalee Way.
The concurrency test describes some of the conditions to be able to pass:
No roadway segment may exceed an HCM modified v/c of 1.40 in either the AM or PM analysis hours.
No roadway corridor may exceed an HCM modified v/c or 1.10 in either the AM or PM analysis hours. “
This is the oft-discussed vehicle over capacity (V/C) measurement of the roads. The new standards adopted last November by the council majority, and made permanent on the May 23 vote, recognized that Sahalee Way indeed fails the test.
On April 4, a concurrency test showed that Sahalee Way failing (1.15 v/c is over 1.1):
But in a July concurrency test, Sahalee Way is now passing (1.07 v/c is under 1.1):
The two tests show that the v/c number changed from 1.15 (fail) to 1.07 (pass). Given that the City Council did not make any changes to the rules, the change reflects an improvement to the road that is reflected in a lower v/c, meaning less congestion.
Of course, no improvement has yet been done on Sahalee Way, but the law allows the City up to six years leeway between approving development and completing required road improvements.
Road capacity added
Indeed, the STCA concurrency test shows that the engineer added capacity to the road network based on the 2019-2025 TIP (Transportation Improvement Plan) that includes a proposed $54m project on Sahalee Way – as if it will be completed within six years.
As we reported before, the city and prior city councils routinely included projects on the TIPs over the years, with a long history of not completing them.
The following table summarizes the TIPs from 2005 to 2016, showing in red projects that have been sitting on the TIP for years with no action.
In this case of Sahalee Way, the city council specifically pointed out the project is not funded.
“It’s just a planning document”
During the June 18 council meeting, the council routinely discussed the 2019-2025 TIP, including the Sahalee Way project. The TIP was initially voted down 5-2 (with Mayor Christie Malchow and Council Member Tom Hornish dissenting), objecting to the inclusion of the $54m Sahalee Way project that the majority of the council did not think should be built as presented as it would have only provided for an additional 32 cars and would not alleviate the clog once drivers hit Redmond Way / 202.
Only after a discussion in which staff assured the Council the TIP is just a “planning document,” the Council voted for it 4-2, with Hornish and Malchow dissenting, to satisfy a legal requirement to have a TIP in place before July 1. Staff and council also agreed to continue discussion on the projects in September, after the August recess.
During the discussion, Stuart specifically called out acting Director of Public Works, Cheryl Paston, for the questionable practice and alerted her that the inclusion of the Sahalee Way project on TIP does not solve the concurrency failure.
The exchange can be seen here:
|Stuart:||What projects get included in the modeling for concurrency?|
|Paston:||The projects in the model are in the latest adopted TIP.|
|Stuart:||Do they have to be funded or just be listed?|
|Paston:||They have to be funded because the model assuming the improvement is in place so they have to be completely funded.|
|Stuart:||As of right now, we wouldn’t be solving the concurrency problem because Sahalee isn’t funded.|
|Paston:||Sahalee is funded.|
|Stuart:||But they are not funded. There are dollar figures next to them but we have a $88m shortfall, this is a $53 million project. |
It’s not funded.
|Paston:||When you say “funded,” I guess I am using a different terminology. For the model, it takes the six year TIP and assumes the city will find the funding to complete those projects, that’s how I was using the term. |
The way I understand you’re using it is, do we have the money, the revenues, from various sources in hand, or will have by the end of the six years, and that is what you are all are discussing.
Paston closed with the assertion that:
“It is a planning document, because you can change it, this does not commit the city. The budget can look different than the TIP and often it does look different.”
City Attorney Mike Kenyon chimed in and clarified further:
This is definitely a planning document.
If you adopt this tonight, you can change it tomorrow; you can change as often as you want. This is a six year plan.
The concurrency projects have to be included, have to be funded, have to be built within six years, in order to satisfy concurrency and allow development to move forward.
The model, which is separate from the concurrency issue, takes all of the TIP projects and cranks them in so you can see what it looks like if it’s all built out, it doesn’t mean they all will be built out.
These inputs can be changed, the model can be changed, that is a separate issue from the concurrency.Mike Kenyon, City Attorney
After these clarifications, city council voted for the TIP 4-2, with the Sahalee Way Project in it. Malchow and Hornish dissented. (Moran had to leave the meeting)
Then, it’s more than a planning document…
Then, staff included the TIP in the concurrency test, even though the Sahalee project is not funded and not even approved by City Council – and it has been used to pass the STCA concurrency tests.
As it turns out, the TIP is more than just a “planning document”.
The Comment asked the city whether the city attorney was consulted before the 2019-2025 TIP (with the Sahalee project) was included in the concurrency test.
”The transportation industry’s standard practice is to update traffic models with the most current information,” the city said. “The city updates its traffic models on a continual basis by including each approved Concurrency Certificate, the most recently adopted six-year TIP, and completed private and public projects into it.
“This professional engineering practice is not a legal decision. As such, this routine administrative function is not sent to the city attorney for consultation.”
This is not the first time Paston got caught in controversy related to development and concurrency. In May 2018 we reported how staff blindsided the Council by recommending a component of concurrency, known as “Intersection LOS”, even though it knew it ignores congestion:
The Comment has reached out to all Council members and to all City Council candidates.
“I am shocked and mystified by this announcement. The basis of issuing the Concurrency Certificate is reliant on assumptions that defy common sense. Revealing this major decision without warning during the Council recess shows a total disregard and lack of respect towards the citizens of Sammamish. We must hold our city accountable and nothing short of a full public explanation is necessary. “Council Member Chris Ross
“Once again, the City of Sammamish has failed to follow the spirit (if not the requirements) of the Growth Management Act. Instead of using due diligence to be sure that adequate transportation is in place before approving development, staff granted concurrency certificates for 300 apartments, 57 townhomes and 82,000 SF of commercial space (ala recycled Redmond) knowing fully well that the City has no means to provide the required road improvements to meet any reasonable standard.”City Council Candidate Kent Treen
“Council makes policy and staff executes according to the policy. Council is not involved in running the tests etc and should not be…”Council Member Pam Stuart (In a reply to Candidate Kent Treen on Facebook):
“In recent council meetings, council was informed by both city staff and our city attorney that the TIP was simply a planning document, and thus all possible future road improvement projects should be placed in the TIP, even if they were not anticipated to be built within the 6 year term.
Now we find out that all road projects in the TIP were included in this concurrency run and were considered as completed, for the actual concurrency test. We need a public explanation to Council and an independent neutral traffic engineer, by staff and the city attorney, on why they were advised that TIP was presented as only a planning document, but then used in the city permitting process.”City council Candidate Ken Gamblin