By Miki Mullor
The majority of the Sammamish City Council voted last Tuesday to tell King County the City cannot take anymore growth.
The 5-2 vote came after council members highlighted an overall lack of infrastructure, citing traffic, schools overcrowding and stormwater problems.
King County planning staff presented to the Council the process of assigning growth targets to cities, a process that takes place every 10 years. “The ultimate [growth] target is that that a jurisdiction [city] determines is a good fit for itself. It doesn’t necessarily have to fit within that [proposed county’s] target,” explained the County’s staff.
Growth targets dictate the minimum number of housing units the city’s zoning of available land must accommodate in its comprehensive plan, which is due by June 2024, according to the County’s staff.
Assigning growth demands
What Sammamish might be looking like in the next 10 years will be impacted by how well the city staff can convince a few nearby cities to split a total of 13,985 new housing units target (over the next 24 years) assigned to them by King County. Those cities include Sammamish, Maple Valley, Duvall, Carnation, Black Diamond and North Bend, to name a few.
Every 10 years, the state forecasts the population growth expected in each county, and each county then splits this projection to each of its cities. Cities are then required to zone their area so enough housing can be built to accommodate the assigned growth target during the following 20 years period.
In 2009, Sammamish was assigned a growth target of 4,000 housing units. As we reported, former Mayor Don Gerend and then-City Manager Lyman Howard told residents the city “negotiated the minimum,” even though documents later showed it actually requested the maximum.
On Nov. 3, three King County planners attended the City Council meeting and explained the process of determining growth targets. Contrary to what was previously told, the planners emphasized the County doesn’t “assign” or “mandate” growth to cities, but rather have the cities that belong to a certain category determine how they split the growth among themselves.
This year, Sammamish has been moved from the “big cities” category to “small cities” category. The small cities category is assigned to absorb a total of 5% of the County’s growth.
A range of growth
City Staff presented a range of growth targets the County proposed, but emphasized these are simple formulas calculated based on factors such as area size. For Sammamish, these range from 3,773 at the high end to 1,743 on the low end. Staff explained that these are statistical numbers driven by Sammamish land area size compared to the other small cities (high end number) or by the percentage of actual buildable land (12%) compared to the other cities. However, these numbers are not binding. These are just a starting point for discussion.
Between 2006 and 2019, Sammamish built 3,963 units, or 94% of its 2035 growth target.
Council Member Ken Gamblin voiced frustration over Staff’s proposed numbers, raising the notion of taking no growth: “It just seems extremely backwards. It would seem to me, Sammamish should be in a position to take little to no additional growth…and this is very strange that we don’t have a policy decision well thought out and voted on by our council…. I don’t feel this point that Sammamish, with our needs and our problems, has been heard from in the way we should be.”
Council member Pam Stuart, on the other hand, encouraged regional cooperation.
“[Growth] isn’t something we should look at as a punishment. This is something that we need to look at, is how do we, as the city of Sammamish, participate in a region that we all love?”
Later that evening, the City Council held a discussion on what growth target should staff present to the other cities as Sammamish’s position.
Council member Jason Ritchie moved to adopt the lower end value staff proposed (1,743 housing units).
Gamblin objected to the city staff’s proposed growth targets, arguing for zero as a growth target.
“We’re not on a highway, we don’t have a light rail, our transit services is mediocre at very best and not going to get any better,” said Gamblin. “I would put forward here that we just had an election last year and the major point was traffic and infrastructure and the lack thereof.”
Stuart disagreed. “I think that a lot of people suffer from not having the infrastructure currently in place. And I don’t think the fact that we haven’t built our infrastructure will be viewed as a legitimate rationale for not giving us more growth.“
Deputy Mayor Christie Malchow pushed back on Stuart, highlighting past policy as the root cause of the infrastructure woes in Sammamish.
“All cities are not created equally. You know, you can say that we haven’t built some of our infrastructure. But I think that was a product of a past concurrency methodology that allowed us to grow without [building infrastructure] because you wouldn’t build a road when your concurrency methodology didn’t require you to build anything. So we got ourselves into this mess with some poor policy, which we’re trying to remedy.”
Irresponsible to take growth without infrastructure
Director of Community Development, David Pyle, added that it would be irresponsible to take on a growth target that exceeds the City’s ability to provide infrastructure:
“As we look at how to fix infrastructure going forward, eventually maybe in the next round of the countywide planning policy updates, eight or so years from now, maybe [then] we’ll have a better handle on [infrastructure], and maybe [then] we’ll be able to take a different approach to growth,” Pyle suggested.
Stuart objected to taking zero growth:
“I think that, zero is an unrealistic number,” she said. “That is not how you participate in a region. If we really believe that, then we better go to the table with something to say, here’s how we’re going to help all of the other jurisdictions to deal with the growth that we’re not taking.”
Gamblin explained that Samammish is having multiple infrastructure issues with traffic, schools and stormwater.
“I would say we shouldn’t be building more here until we have solved some of these problems. Each additional housing unit is making our failures even worse,” he said.
On a 5-2 vote, the Council adopted Gamblin’s motion and directed staff to present a zero growth target in discussions with the other cites. Stuart and Ritchie voted against.
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