Fact and myth, truth and spin about the Town Center Plan

By Scott Hamilton

Guest Contributor

There is a continuing effort to claim the Town Center will divert growth from the rest of Sammamish. This is a falsehood based on the current set of facts on the ground (so-to-speak).

Credit: Patrick Husting. Satirical rendering of the Town Center.

Here are the facts:

  1. The Town Center was an up-zoning. It added capacity to the city’s land use zoning. It did not transfer zoning from any place else in the city into the Town Center.
  2. The “cap” for residential units in the Town Center was 2,000 in the plan. The Environmental Impact Statement studied higher numbers, up to 3,000, according to the then-director of the Community Development Department, Kamuron Gurol. (I was the one who asked the question as a member of the planning commission.)
  3. The plan envisioned Transfer Development Rights from within the city into the TC so that, if pursued, other areas of the city could effectively be downzoned while those property owners with higher zoning could monetize their value.
  4. The city council instead entered a deal with King County buy TDRs from areas on the city limits/county side, on the theory that this would preserve the undeveloped border properties in their forested state. These got preference for TDRs into the TC over in-city TDRs. This is how the current “cap” is now 2,200 units. (Only 1,678 units have been allocated to the four quadrants of the TC and fewer than 1,000 have been permitted.)
  5. Parenthetically, the TC plan from the planning commission to the city council recommended 500,000 sf of commercial/retail/office space. Don Gerend wanted 700,000 sf and the city council settled on 600,000 sf. (STCA, the developer at the center of the long-running controversy over the TC, in 2017 submitted documents to the city requesting another 250,000 sf of space and 1,500 more units. This would have been another up-zoning—not an “instead of” down-zoning elsewhere in the city. The request died at the time.)
  6. Other than the intent of in-city TDRs, there was intent any effort to downzone other parts of the city.
  7. Once the TC plan was approved in 2009, the then-current zoning land use analysis concluded that build out to the approved zoning (ie, developable land being left to build on) would produce a population of about 72,000. The population in 2009 was 42,700.
  8. Annexation of Klahanie (in 2015) was not part of any planning at the time. Then, Klahanie was part of the Issaquah Planning Area and Sammamish couldn’t touch it.
  9. Efforts (by me) to identify the NW corner of SE 4th and 228th as a Park and Ride garage with development on top of it failed. Tom Vance, who now through his blog, promotes the TC as “Transit Oriented Development,” opposed the park and ride when we was on the commission with me. Don Gerend, who also now touts the TC as transit oriented development, killed this at the city council level when I tried to make the case to the council.

Those are the facts.

Now for the assertions

Here are the key assertions by three current members of the city council, three candidates for city council, the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce and some others:

  1. Developing the Town Center protects the rest of the city from development. (False.)
  2. The Town Center is transit oriented development. (False.)
  3. Sound Transit or Metro Transit will serve a park and ride on the top of the SE 4th hill. (False.)

The assertions are false

Here is why these assertions are false:

  1. As noted in the Facts section above, none of the city was down-zoned in creating the TC plan. The TC was an up-zoning. This was not a neutral-density plan. The three current council members who claim the TC will protect the rest of the city from growth are being disingenuous at best. Unless the city down-zones other properties, any up-zoning of the town center above the already approved 2,000/2,200 units is up-zoning the city’s total land use capacity.
  2. Down-zoning requires a comprehensive plan process, public notices and public hearings. None of these has occurred.
  3. Down-zoning will create a firestorm of objections from those property owners hoping one day to monetize their values. No firestorm has occurred.
  4. None of the three current council members has proposed any such plan. One council member claimed on Facebook Sammamish group pages that she has a plan, but when challenged to produce it, the response was—silence.
  5. None of the three developer-backed candidates has proposed any net-neutral or down-zoning plan. On the contrary, there has been silence from two of them and the third praised a “vision” that would see high density added to 13 single-family neighborhoods. This candidate and her backers can spin this all they want, but her statements are clear. She liked the egg splat vision (so-named because the rendering looked like egg splats throughout the city).
  6. Transit Oriented Development include intense density residential and commercial development. The Town Center was never intended nor planned to be “transit oriented development.” STCA’s 2017 plan could change this, however. As it was, Tom Vance and Don Gerend opposed even a park and ride in the plan. It is ironic that now each touts it today.
  7. Sound Transit and Metro Transit made it clear during the TC planning process they would not take buses up SE 4th’s hill to serve any park and ride up there. The cost, the time, and in the rare times of ice and snow are the reasons why. It is also ironic that as part of the Sound Transit 3 vote, ST pledged a park-and-ride for Sammamish. Doing one at the north end, the ideal location, is not possible because it’s outside the ST taxing district and there is no land available. So where is ST *considering* a PNR? Along 228th, near where I suggested in 2009. But claims by three council members, certain candidates and King County Executive Dow Constantine that ST or Metro have committed to serve Sammamish with more operations have been denied by ST and Metro.

Those are the facts.

Going for a spin

Now for more spin from Tom Vance.

Vance, in a new post of his blog, claims STCA and the city agreed to make the Town Center a TOD. He goes on to quote the Memorandum of Understanding at length as “proof.”

He clearly doesn’t read his own quotations. Nor, apparently, does he understand the differences between an MOU and a binding contract or an approved Developer Agreement.

An MOU is not a firm agreement. The language is filled with “coulds”, “investigate”, “participate in discussions,” “endeavor to reach agreement”, and this section:

  1. Park-and-Ride/Transit. The Parties agree that the Town Center could be enhanced by a transit center. The Parties recognize that cooperation between the Parties and other regional transit authorities will be needed to investigate and provide for a permanent transit center in the Town Center. The Parties agree to participate in discussions with these third parties regarding same. The Parties also agree to discuss and investigate the inclusion of a temporary park-and-ride facility or transit center.

Nothing in this paragraph is a firm commitment by anybody to anything.

On July 24, the former communications manager of the city wrote The Comment’s editor, Miki Mullor, that there were no negotiations going on with STCA on a Development Agreement and no expected date for that agreement to be presented to city council.

But beyond all this, the MOU expired in August, so even this MOU piece of paper is meaningless. There is no Developer Agreement.

Vance, who has been loose with his facts all election season, swung and missed again.

And then there’s Don

On Facebook, Don Gerend cited a statement I made in an application to join the Bainbridge Island Planning Commission that only “minor” changes were made to the Town Center plan. (The incumbent commissioners were reappointed; none of the new applicants were even interviewed.)

Here’s what I wrote in response to him on Facebook:

By the time the council got through with the recommended plan, there was 100,000 more SF of commercial (another Gerend legacy, who wanted 200,000 more), the county-fed TDRs, elimination of 50-100 ft setbacks on 228th so there would be a green buffer to buildings, no park-n-ride (I tried to bypass the PC’s no-support on this one) and Gerend’s persistent (though unsuccessful) effort to eliminate height restrictions so there could a be 20 story “Don Tower”. Northwest style architecture was gone, allowing the standard urban style you now have.

In the context of the overall Town Center Plan, one can argue these are minor changes. I never said I agreed with them.

What STCA proposed in 2017 is a major, major upzoning. What Gerend pushed for the last 10 years to remove height restrictions so tall buildings can be erected is a major change.

Scott Hamilton served on the Planning Commission that wrote the Town Center plan.

3 thoughts on “Fact and myth, truth and spin about the Town Center Plan

  1. Here are the goals of the Growth Management Act. Basic question is: can these be addressed without a vibrant town center? I don’t think so. We have city Comprehensive and town center plans produced over many years and with the participation of several city councils, planning commissions, citizen groups, surveys, consultants, peer reviewers, legal challenges. Numerous small lots have been purchased by a few developers with a commitment to give the city what the town center plan demands. Six years of development moratoria allowed planning to get out ahead of development. Code development and land assembly took ten years. Major infrastructure projects are in process or already complete. “So, lets get on with it.”

    RCW 36.70A.020
    Planning goals.
    The following goals are adopted to guide the development and adoption of comprehensive plans and development regulations of those counties and cities that are required or choose to plan under RCW 36.70A.040. The following goals are not listed in order of priority and shall be used exclusively for the purpose of guiding the development of comprehensive plans and development regulations:
    (1) Urban growth. Encourage development in urban areas where adequate public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner.
    (2) Reduce sprawl. Reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development.
    (3) Transportation. Encourage efficient multimodal transportation systems that are based on regional priorities and coordinated with county and city comprehensive plans.
    (4) Housing. Encourage the availability of affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of this state, promote a variety of residential densities and housing types, and encourage preservation of existing housing stock.
    (5) Economic development. Encourage economic development throughout the state that is consistent with adopted comprehensive plans, promote economic opportunity for all citizens of this state, especially for unemployed and for disadvantaged persons, promote the retention and expansion of existing businesses and recruitment of new businesses, recognize regional differences impacting economic development opportunities, and encourage growth in areas experiencing insufficient economic growth, all within the capacities of the state’s natural resources, public services, and public facilities.
    (6) Property rights. Private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation having been made. The property rights of landowners shall be protected from arbitrary and discriminatory actions.
    (7) Permits. Applications for both state and local government permits should be processed in a timely and fair manner to ensure predictability.
    (8) Natural resource industries. Maintain and enhance natural resource-based industries, including productive timber, agricultural, and fisheries industries. Encourage the conservation of productive forestlands and productive agricultural lands, and discourage incompatible uses.
    (9) Open space and recreation. Retain open space, enhance recreational opportunities, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, increase access to natural resource lands and water, and develop parks and recreation facilities.
    (10) Environment. Protect the environment and enhance the state’s high quality of life, including air and water quality, and the availability of water.
    (11) Citizen participation and coordination. Encourage the involvement of citizens in the planning process and ensure coordination between communities and jurisdictions to reconcile conflicts.
    (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.
    (13) Historic preservation. Identify and encourage the preservation of lands, sites, and structures, that have historical or archaeological significance.

  2. Just briefly – until I have time to read through all this data – As a retiree on a fixed income – I will in genral oppose anything that costs me more money. My property taxes alone are high enough already. The car tab initiative is simply highway robbery – if you’ll pardon the pun.

    Additionally, and speaking for the community in which I live, it would already appear that any so-called improvements mostly benefits newer communities and developments while doing little to provide any signicant benefit to our Pine Lake Heights neighborhood. I think only our neighbors realize we’re possibly the only one on the Plateau that lacks sidewalks. Unforgivable on a route that is used by students to walk to school at Pine Lake Middle School.

    Oh, let’s not forget those poorly planned three-way stop signs that are generally ignored. If the city insists on leaving them there, why not put a camera above the intersection and at least let the city benefit from the revenue obtained by ticketing the offenders. The intersection on question has not changed in the 45 years we’ve lived here, but now would appear to be something like turn 3 at Daytona.

    Frankly, I’m not sure if the county or the state even cares.

    I wonder what (will not name names here) what two residents (at least) had to pay in license fees for their $50 million collector cars? Oh, wait those are probably not in the Blue Book so they might be exempt.

    Anyway, Scott,keep communicating.

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