By Miki Mullor
“Growth targets are mandated by the Growth Management Act. We always negotiated the minimums,” has been the City of Sammamish response for the years when residents complained about over growth.
But is it? The evidence unearthed in a research by the Sammamish Comment paints a different picture.
The last time growth targets were updated by King County was in 2009. Every 10 years, growth targets are updated based on new population projections.
In this Sept. 8, 2016, video of a round table meeting on growth, hosted by the City of Sammamish at City Hall, former Mayor Don Gerend is seen speaking to more than 100 residents who came to discuss concerns over growth:
“We’ve always pushed back and tried to get the minimum allocation for the for our city,” said Gerend to the residents. In its August 2016 newsletter, the city said, “The State’s Growth Management Act (GMA) requires cities to accept new growth.”
Upper end of target recommended – not minimum
However, the record, obtained by The Comment through a public records request, shows city staff recommended the city take the maximum amount of growth it can, not the minimum.
In a council study session meeting held on June 9, 2009, growth targets were on the agenda. Back then, council study sessions were not recorded but The Comment has obtained a presentation staff prepared for that meeting.
In it, staff explained that the county proposed a growth target range of a minimum 3,000 to a maximum of 4,000 units for the period of 2006-2031. It also states that the remaining zoned capacity of growth is 3,700 units.
Staff recommended taking the maximum 4,000 units.
Notably, the slide also shows TC (“Town Center”) adds 2,000 units to the city’s growth capacity, not absorbing growth, therefore effectively making room even larger growth targets in the future.
(BLR = Buildable Land Report, TC = Town Center, PLV = Pine Lake Village, SH = Sammamish Highlands)
Agenda item II from the April 15, 2009, meeting of the Growth Management Planning Council confirms the information staff put in its slide to council. The growth targets draft shows a growth targets range of 3,000-4,000 units. Sammamish was represented by then-Council Member Mark Cross.
Following the June 9 meeting in which Sammamish staff recommended taking the upper end of the target range, King County Council voted on Oct. 9, 2009, on the final version of the growth targets. The motion shows below that Sammamish was allocated 4,000 units—the maximum end of the proposed range not the minimum as Mayor Gerend told residents.
What are growth targets, exactly?
King County Countywide Planning Policies spell out what growth targets are. Policy LU-25a, shown below:
“The targets do not obligate a jurisdiction to guarantee that a given number of housing using will be built,” says King County’s policy, which stand in contradiction to the City of Sammamish’s position that “we must accept growth.”
The Growth Management Act (GMA) is guided by 13 goals. Those are codified in RCW 36.70A.020.
Two goals touch on urban growth and its relationship with infrastructure (“public facilities”):
(1) Urban growth. Encourage development in urban areas where adequate public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner.
(12) Public facilities and services. Ensure that those public facilities and services necessary to support development shall be adequate to serve the development at the time the development is available for occupancy and use without decreasing current service levels below locally established minimum standards.
Indeed, King County Countywide Planning Policies address the need for infrastructure by guiding growth to be phased if infrastructure is not available.
“Urban areas in jurisdiction which do not have urban services and are not scheduled to receive urban services within 10 years shall be subject to [development] phasing requirements.”
Policy LU-28 specifically prioritized that growth should be directed to “Centers and urbanized areas with existing infrastructure.”
The following map was taken from Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Vision 2040 strategy. Growth centers are designated in red circles.
Finally, King County’s policy LU-30 specifically instructs cities to “phase and limit development” where urban services cannot be provided:
While city officials in Sammamish have argued that growth targets are a “minimum”, in 2016 the PSRC has declined to approve plans from five cities because they were growing too much:
As reported by the Seattle Times:
“Covington is planning for a denser, more walkable downtown with six-story, mixed-use buildings that feature ground-floor retail and some affordable-housing units. But its Comprehensive Plan was rejected by the PSRC because it assumes almost three times as much growth in housing — 4,000 new units — as King County calls for in its targets, which Hart notes were set six years ago.
“Under the state’s Growth Management Act, the PSRC has to certify that city and county comprehensive plans are consistent with the regional strategy adopted in 2008. Those strategies direct growth to urban centers that already have the roads, transit and infrastructure to support more density.”Seattle Times, July 21, 2016
Part of the process for negotiating growth targets was, in 2009, secretive.
Staff members from cities would meet in unannounced, non-public meetings to discuss growth targets. Scott Hamilton, then a member of the Sammamish Planning Commission and now a member of The Comment’s editorial board, learned of one staff meeting when Sammamish staff advised the Commission of its date, time and location.
Hamilton went to the meeting, where he was advised it was not a public meeting and invited to leave. However, as a planning commissioner, he insisted on staying and did. Sammamish staff never advised the commission of any future meeting.
The Commission was presented with the assigned growth target for the 2009 Comp Plan update. Unaware of the information revealed above, the Commission approved the figure.
Tom Vance was chairman of the Commission that year. As chairman, he was liaison between the Commission and the staff. He also ran for city council that year and lost to John Curley 55%-45%.