Gerend wanted larger, taller Town Center

Aug. 20, 2019: Former Sammamish Mayor Don Gerend, who is trying to overturn the city’s traffic concurrency standard adopted in May, favored a much larger commercial area of the Town Center than was approved when he was a sitting council member.

Don Gerend

Throughout the debates of the Town Center plan and standards, Gerend consistently argued for 700,000 sf of commercial/office/retail space against the 500,000 sf recommended by the Planning Commission.

Gerend also made half-hearted attempts to eliminate the Commission’s recommendation of a 70 foot cap on buildings. This would have restricted buildings to five stories of residential over one story of commercial space, a concept similar to development in areas of downtown Redmond.

After Gerend retired from the council in December 2017, he proposed as a private citizen eliminating the height restriction entirely in a so-called Docket Request. This is an annual process to amend the Comprehensive Plan, of which the Town Center plan is a part.

Request denied

The current city council did not approve the Docket Request, which would have undergone staff review.

Gerend, who occasionally offered ideas that seemed on the fringes (he proposed naming the new city “Heaven” instead of Sammamish), talked about a 20 story building that could have star gazing on the roof.

Rendering of Sammamish Town Center. Source: Benaroya. If Don Gerend had his way, this would be larger and taller.

The Planning Commission that sent its final recommendations to the city council, earlier Commissions and several citizen committees, all appointed by several city councils, all recommended height restrictions to avoid a skyline with view-blocking tall buildings.

These commissions and committees, which overall had about 70 appointed citizens, recommended clustering the Town Center around Sammamish Commons instead of splitting it across busy 228th Ave.

Gerend, along with one or two other council members, argued for the split. Gerend also supported advocacy by certain land owners in the “Southeast Quadrant” (north of SE 4th, South of SE 8th and East of 228th) to approve more than 300,000 sf of office/commercial/retail space there, an up-sizing of the overall plan.

This was defeated at the council level.

Petitioning to overturn concurrency

In July, private citizen Gerend petitioned the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) to overturn the concurrency standard of 1.1 volume-to-capacity ratio for Sahalee Way.

The standard was adopted by the council on a 4-3 vote, with opponents Ramiro Valderrama, Jason Ritchie and Pam Stuart in the minority. Mayor Christie Malchow, Deputy Mayor Karen Moran and members Tom Hornish and Chris Ross favored the standard.

The ratio is the same one used by King County for the Sammamish Plateau before incorporation. It means traffic equaling 110% of the road capacity could use the road before “failure.” New development that sent enough traffic to Sahalee Way, exceeding the 1.1 ratio, would not pass the lawfully mandated concurrency test.

Opponents to the ratio feared new development in the Town Center proposed by STCA would fail.

Claiming ownership or vested interest

In his petition to the Hearings Board, his attorney wrote, in establishing his standing to file the petition:

“Mr. Gerend owns and/or has a vested and cognizable legal interest in property within the City of Sammamish that is directly affected and prejudiced by, has interests as a result of their property ownership which the City was required to take into account…”

Gerend lives on Pine Lake and hasn’t any applications to subdivide or develop his property. The Town Center is currently the only proposed development affected by the 1.1 v/c ratio on Sahalee Way.

Gerend’s claim of “own[ing] and/or has a vested and cognizable legal interest in property within the City of Sammamish that is directly affected and prejudiced” by the concurrency ordinance created a firestorm on Facebook questioning whether he had interests during his terms on the city council.

Gerend denied any ownership but repeatedly did not respond to other questions about an MOU, LOI, option or financial pledges from any developer.

Gerend retained a law firm and partner routinely used by developers to fight land use appeals by citizens objecting to government approval of project applications. This law firm, Johns Monroe Mitsunaga Koloušková PLLC of Bellevue, represents builders who develop in Sammamish.

Singing STCA praises

In a Perspective on the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce website, Gerend repeatedly said he was “thrilled” with STCA’s aggregation of land.

“I’m thrilled that someone aggregated the parcels to make a cohesive development consistent with community’s and council’s vision…. I am totally thrilled that STCA came along and aggregated all the parcels for the town center,” he said.

STCA is a member of the Chamber, which has consistently advocated for the Town Center, against the concurrency ordinance and against a development moratorium while the concurrency modeling was reviewed.

STCA passes concurrency tests

Last week, in a move that stunned those following the STCA development efforts and Gerend’s petition, the city staff granted STCA two concurrency certificates, indicating the traffic impacts did not fail any concurrency or level of service standard.

Since Valderrama, Ritchie, Stuart, the Chamber of Commerce, STCA and others all feared the Sahalee 1.1 standard would fail the STCA applications—and staff said as much to the council—bewildered citizens couldn’t understand how this could happen.

A special city council meeting is scheduled at 4pm to find out.

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5 thoughts on “Gerend wanted larger, taller Town Center

  1. After his 18 years on the city council, I think the city of Sammamish owes Don Gerend a token of our appreciation. We should give him a giant 10’x5′ plaque that says:

    ASK NOT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COMMUNITY, ASK WHAT YOUR COMMUNITY CAN DO FOR YOU.

    That has been his motto for the past 18 years. The man has no scruples.

    • Don’s advocacy for development and property rights was never a secret during his 18 years on the council. Saying he has no scruples goes too far.

      It is concerning, however, that he will not answer questions whether he has an MOU or LOI for any ownership or vested interest in the Town Center or whether any developer is paying his legal fees or agreed to reimburse his legal fees.

      Absent ownership or vested interest in the Town Center (about which it was thought was the only affected property by the Sahalee concurrency standard), nobody can figure out why he’s petitioned to overturn concurrency. His residence is on Pine Lake, not affected by the concurrency standard.

      • I think most thinking people have already figured out why he’s petitioned to overturn concurrency. The only reason he was able to stick around for 18 years was because most people were not paying attention, too busy going about our lives. It doesn’t make what he did any less repugnant. We already have enough self-serving politicians in DC, we do not need them at the local level.

  2. Gerend files legal paperwork in his petition to dismantle traffic concurrency tests that acknowledges his vested property interests in the matter, yet he claims no such interests in interviews. City staff contorts the meaning of basic English words (“funding”) beyond any reasonable recognition and renders “planning” documents operative, while working behind the backs of elected officials. This kind of cognitive dissonance is part of the stock-in-trade of grifters and fraudsters. We see it going on every day at the highest levels of the federal government, and we have a front row seat to watch it happening here in Sammamish.

    Now that a few key councilmembers have started to reverse historical trends, reason and a sense of preserving non-monetary values are interfering with somebody’s ability to make a buck. The usual suspects have opened new attacks on us citizens from new fronts.

    These kinds of irregularities don’t “just happen” year after year as a result of random incompetence; this is a pattern, and the same culprits seem to surface repeatedly. There appears to be a deliberate plan with a clear vector that follows the money all the way, and there’s a hell of a lot of money at stake. For every government official caught with his or her hand in the cookie jar, there’s dozens or hundreds more who escape scrutiny. Let’s find out whether this sinks to the level of malfeasance once and for all.

    I think an investigation is in order, including a forensic analysis of the personal finances of staff as well as elected city officials, both past and present, from Yazici/Howard/Gerend/Huckabay to Valderrama/Ritchie/Stuart/Paston (to name just a few).

    Perhaps the logic of this call to action is finally starting to make sense to a wider audience. What better time as we ramp up (or down) to the next election.

  3. Pingback: How the Town Center plan happened – Sammamish Comment

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