Controversial 400 homes Town Center project moves forward – reaches a critical milestone

By Miki Mullor
Editor

  • STCA filed a permit application for Town Center Phase 1 on Nov. 4, revealing more details.
  • This project was issued a controversial certificate of concurrency in August.
  • City Council ordered an audit of the certificate of concurrency – that has yet to start.

STCA LLC’s first project in the Town Center area has been granted a “complete application” status by city staff. The significance of the status is that this particular project is now legally “vested, meaning any future change to the development code, such as density, design limitations or concurrency, will not apply to it.

STCA LLC, an Oregon-based company owned by Matt Samwick, is the largest owner of land in the Town Center. It was reported that STCA owns 90 acres of high density buildable land in the center of Sammamish.  

The diagram below, taken from STCA’s permit application, shows the boundary of the Town Center. Areas in purple have been developed already by other developers (Met Market complex, Plateau 120 and Ichijo townhomes).  The area in red is STCA’s Phase 1 project, the subject of the permit application, consisting of 400 homes: 300 apartments, 90 townhomes and 10 single family homes. Phase 1 stretches south of SE 4th between the lower commons park and SE 4th. 

(source: STCA building permit application)

Concurrency controversy 

The project has been the subject of a controversy over the issuance of a concurrency certificate Aug. 15, after the project failed concurrency for more than 9 months. 

At the center of the controversy was the use of unfunded road projects from the City’s Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) in the calculation of future traffic loads – as if the roads will be built – regardless of whether built or not . 

Staff admitted that for over 15 years, the City routinely approved development using this controversioal method.  The Growth Management Act (GMA) allows cities to approve development even if the development fails concurrency, as long as the failing roads are improved to mitigate such failure, within six years. 

In a fateful meeting in July, the Council voted 4-2 (with Council Member Chris Ross joining Ramiro Valderrama, Pam Stuart and Jason Ritchie) to include a controversial Sahalee Way improvement project in the TIP.  From the discussion, it was clear there was no intent from the Council and staff to move forward with the $54 million project that would have added only a few dozen cars capacity to the road. More importantly, the project was not funded, which is a condition for it to be included in a concurrency test. 

An exchange between Cheryl Paston, interim Director of Public Works, and Stuart, illustrates the liberal interpretation staff applies dealing with development:

(source: https://vimeo.com/354554735

Shortly after the Sahalee Way project was added to the TIP, STCA applied for a concurrency certificate, and passed the test.

City Council majority, visibly angry with staff, ordered an audit of the certificate by a third party. The audit has yet been completed. 

By law, issuing a concurrency certificate is an administrative action vested exclusively at staff hands. City Council cannot interfere with it. Only City Manager has the authority to revoke an erroneously-issued certificate. 

On Nov. 19, City Council fired City Manager Rick Rudometkin.  A reason was not given, as the process was held in executive session, a confidential council meeting the law allows the council to hold in certain circumstances. 

More details revealed 

STCA submitted its building permit application on Nov. 4, a day before the election.

According to the following timeline the City published, the first step in the review process is a Completeness Review.  On Nov. 27, the City notified STCA that Phase I moved to the next step, Comment Period.

The Comment Period and Appeal Period are statutory periods for public input on the legality of the project. Staff Review/Applicant Response is a period in which city staff inspects the permit application to ensure it meets the City’s development code.  This process is strictly about whether the project meets the code, as written the day the application was vested, in this case, Nov. 4. 

The city and the public has no input on what will get built. For example, the number of units built, or the design of the development is at the developer’s option, as long as the developer adheres to the code. Many residents have been engaged in online discussions on Facebook on what type of businesses they would like to see in the Town Center–a decision that, at this point, is to be made solely by the developer, STCA, and not by the City.  

The City has set up a dedicated website to provide the public easy access to materials submitted by developers of the projects in the Town Center.  

The application materials reveals a more updated rendering of the future STCA Phase I project, showing two apartments buildings with 300 apartments, a commercial building and about 100 residential units of townhomes and single family homes.  

(Source: STCA Phase I building permit application. Looking south along SE 4th St. The City Hall, library and Community Center are in the upper left of the illustration.) 

The rendering showsSTCA Phase 1 looking southward with the newly built SE 4th with two roundabouts at the center of it.  The project ends at the north end of the Lower Commons park, while the grassy areas just south of the two apartment building is a city property called the notch, the future site of a city square on top of a regional stormwater facility. 

STCA submitted two applications, separating the residential neighborhood on the west end.. The Sammamish Comment added an illustration to the rendering to reflect the total 100 homes expected to be built as part of phase I.

“Green spine” or “Cement spine”

The Town Center plan calls for an area in the center of the project called the “green spine.”  It’s described in the plan as “to provide an attractive setting for residences, public facilities, and many businesses, especially those benefiting from an open space amenity, such as restaurants, cafes, galleries, and salons:”

(Source: City of Sammamish Town Center plan)

During the last two years, proponents of the Town Center touted the green spine as a major benefit to the residents from this project. 

STCA’s promotional rendering of the green spine, shown below, indeed shows an area with a large grassy area, similar to the one built in Downtown Redmond. 

(source: www.sammamish-towncenter.com)

STCA Phase 1 application materials reveal a different green spine, in which the grassy areas were replaced with paved areas with cement stairs.  

(source: STCA Phase 1 building permit application)

Whether or not the green spine will look more like a “cement spine” depends largely on the strength of the Town Center development code.  Regardless, it will be too late for City Council to make any changes to the code, because STCA Phase I has already vested to the current code. 

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10 thoughts on “Controversial 400 homes Town Center project moves forward – reaches a critical milestone

  1. Miki in this article you state the Concurrency Controversy as “issuance of a concurrency certificate Aug. 15, after the project failed concurrency for more than 9 months.” To my knowledge the Town Center project only applied once for Concurrency and passed on August 15th (the project did not apply, tested or fail concurrency prior to August 15th) The Council was fully informed by the City when STCA submitted for both its Concurrency Permit and its Building Application permit. Neither should be a surprise to the public either since the Council originally voted to exempt the Town Center Phase 1 (discussed here) from the then moratorium based on the Council Memorandum of Understanding with STCA and three times voted unanimously to support the Town Center as designed.

    • Ramiro,

      In December 2018 interim CM Larry Patterson reported to Council that Town Center cannot pass concurrency. Staff conducted multiple “test runs” showing the Town Center fails because of Sahalee concurrency failure. Then, on 5/23, Valderrama voted with Ritchie and Stuart to EXEMPT the Town Center from the Sahalee failure. Why would you do that unless you knew it fails concurrency??? (the vote failed 3-4)

      The vote to exempt the TC from the moratorium that you Valderrama cites has nothing to do with concurrency. Two different things. Classic Ramiro obfuscation.

      Even on the eve of his last council meeting, CM Valderrama continues to misrepresent and obfuscate on behalf of STCA. Sad

  2. Good afternoon Miki,

     Is this just another case of being raped under the porch when no one is looking? Sure seems like it to me, and I’m just a “Dumb old Mechanic” as one Sammamish citizen once said.

    Luke Shaff

  3. Miki unfortunately my last number of comments have NEVER appeared – hopefully they will now. I just checked and Sammamish Comment Face book still blocks me from commenting. I realize there is a lag time but you still haven’t posted the comments I submitted last month! On the concurrency the tests were not actual submissions, or count – fact is STCA only submitted once and passed. Also fact The Council was fully informed by the City when STCA submitted for both its Concurrency Permit and its Building Application permit. Neither should be a surprise to the public either since the Council originally voted to exempt the Town Center Phase 1 (discussed here) from the then moratorium based on the Council Memorandum of Understanding with STCA and three times voted unanimously to support the Town Center as designed.

    • “Neither should be a surprise to the public…”

      One certainly has to agree with CM Valderrama here. The public shouldn’t be surprised at any of these shenanigans, assuming they’ve been paying attention. STCA submitted only when they knew full well that the fix was in.

      However, Mr. Schaff’s comment about being “raped under the porch when no one is looking” is an unfair characterization of the political process in Sammamish. Any raping is happening right there ON the porch, it doesn’t matter who’s looking. As Martin Luther famously said, “Sin boldly.”

      And if someone at the Comment is really suppressing Mr. Valderrama’s comments, don’t. You can’t dig a deeper hole for this guy than he can dig for himself.

    • Ramiro, that isn’t uncommon, remarks aren’t always posted. It seems that some prefer the echo chamber rather than healthy discussion.

  4. Honestly this is so convoluted it’s hard to follow! What does this all mean, really? Are the voter’s voices getting lost? Are we chasing horses that were already out of the barn long before this past election cycle– where voters assumed their votes indicated desired direction and leadership? Miki, let’s get together for coffee as we talked about once. Can we map out an infographic about who decides what in regard to growth, who manages which decisions and how, etc. People should understand what the heck is going on. And realize this: no one shows up to work to do a bad job. They are all focused on doing what they think is right. It just seems like the structure for operating is misaligned wrt incentives to me. Assuming positive intent is a way to get through and beyond this.

    • It is a very complex issue dating back to the early years of the city. Thankfully the new majority of the council is up to speed on the details, the possible solutions etc. This includes newly elected council members Treen and Gamblin. Between Malchow, Moran, Ross, Gamblin and Treen there is vast amount of knowledge unlike any other previous councils so I’m hopeful we see residents taking over control fo the city in the next few months.

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