By Miki Mullor
The City of Sammamish Friday denied the permit application submitted by STCA LLC, the larget landowner in the Town Center.
The year-long review is a major blow to STCA and development of the central core of the city. The city staff rejected the application for 300 apartments and 48 townhomes over a multitude of issues. The Community Development Department said the application failed to comply with the development code, ignored environmental requirements and key design elements of the Town Center Plan.
The department had communicated with STCA repeatedly to correct deficiencies, extending the review period several times. STCA still failed to meet requirements, the city said in its decision.
A second STCA application, for 44 homes adjacently, also suffers similar deficiencies, however, STCA was granted 60 days to remedy it.
This is the same project that was the subject of a controversial approval of a concurrency certificate in August 2019.
The denial is subject to appeal to the Hearing Examiner. It also won’t prevent STCA from submitting a new redesign of the project in the future but it is not clear whether STCA can reuse its 2019 concurrency certificate.
The city’s denial letter comes after a year of back and forth between city staff and STCA. The denial letter, over 2,000 pages long, shows in detail how different what STCA was planning to build in Phase 1 is from what it was marketing to the public for the last two years.
Phase 1 is located just south of SE 4th st, west of the Met Market in the center of Sammamish.
The project includes 300 apartments, 48 townhomes and 82,000 square feet commercial space, on a 8.09 acres area between SE 4th St and the Lower Commons park. For reference, Met Market grocery store is 35,000 square feet. The Community Center is about 64,000 square feet. Seventy-seven of the apartments will be reserved for affordable housing at 80% of median income.
The denial letter includes a 30-page long analysis of the non-compliance with the city’s code and comprehensive plan.
CARA – “it is there,” “no, it’s not,” “yes, it is”
CARA stands for Critical Aquifer Recharge Area, which the city code defines as areas in the City with a critical recharging effect on aquifers used for potable water. CARAs have geological conditions associated with infiltration rate that creates a high potential for contamination of groundwater. Existence of a CARA requires a developer to submit a study and establish a protection zone to avoid possible water contamination.
In March 2019, the city informed STCA that a protection zone around a CARA was identified in one of the proposed development lots. However, STCA ignored this and did not include it in the required study and assessment report. STCA told the city that the “project site is not located within a CARA.”
In denying STCA’s assertion, staff notes that the study STCA submitted identifies the project site incorrectly and does not include all the parcels that make up the project site, including the parcel where the CARA is located.
“Walkable city,” “gathering area” – or not
Town Center proponents and STCA touted the Town Center as a “walkable area” for public gathering. During the 2019 city council election campaign, the Chamber of Commerce set up a now-abandoned website “Sammamish Now” that promoted the Town Center walkability and commercial space.
But the staff review of STCA’s application reveals that STCA failed to designate all proposed streets as “pedestrian-oriented.” According to the Town Center comprehensive plan, pedestrian-oriented streets are intended to feature continuous storefronts, wide sidewalks, street trees, bioretention and on-street parking.
Instead, STCA designated four streets as “mixed-use streets,” which allowed it to develop residential-only townhomes, which by design does not provide the commercial and retail space desired and required in the heart of the Town Center, according to staff.
Staff notes that the Town Center plan provides a clear vision for the TC-A1 zone, where this project is located. The pedestrian-oriented street designation supports this vision whereas the mixed-use street designation does not.
City Square, Green Spine – not yet
The area of the development, called TC-A1 zone is required to have one central open space, such as a city square, that takes the form of a primary zone of what’s called the Green Spine. The Planning Commission at the time also envisioned there could be a stormwater retention vault under the Green Spine, protecting the catch basin for Ebright Creek from runoff. It’s a block-size, highly active pedestrian public open space that must incorporate a variety of form, colors, and textures and a range of different places to sit and gather.
Staff analysis concluded that STCA did not include the City Square in its development application. According to the analysis, STCA first proposed that the City Square will be located on a city-owned property at the Lower Commons park. But the City responded this area is designated to be the secondary zone of the Green Spine, accordion to the adopted Town Center plan.
In a June 1, 2020, meeting with the city, STCA argued that concepts identified in the Town Center plan provide “flexibility in locating the City Square to a site other than directed by the City” and that the city should contribute financially to its alternative development.
In an update to its application, STCA excluded the City Square from its Phase 1 application by relocating it to an undetermined location north of SE 4th St., an area that is outside of Phase 1.
STCA repeated that the actual location and design of the City Square will need to be negotiated with the City and that it expects a financial contribution to be made by the City.
The analysis reveals a back and forth discussion over the City Square dating back as far as August 2018. Staff highlighted an August 7, 2019, meeting, in which STCA presented an updated concept where 50% of the Green Spine secondary zone, located in the Lower Commons park, will be allocated to a full street supporting STCA’s development. Staff cancelled the meeting, telling STCA the new concept, and any financial contribution, requires City Council approval.
As we reported, in the following months, STCA poured a record amount of campaign money into the November 2019 City Council election, through former-Mayor Don Gerend’s PAC, Livable Sammamish. All three candidates supported by Gerend lost by a historic landslide and a record turnout.
Environmental stewardship, Sustainability missing
The city requested STCA describe how their application incorporates Low Impact Development. LID are techniques that strive to mimic predesiturbance hydrologic processes of infiltration, filtration, storage and evaporation by emphasizing conservation, use of on-site natural features, site planning, and distributed stormwater management practices.
With Ebright Creek and George Davis Creek headwaters located in the drainage areas of the Town Center, LID is the only tool the City has to manage the excess volume of water that will wash the creeks, after the 2010 special stormwater standard was dismantled in 2016. Council Member Kent Treen outlined this issue in a August 13, 2020 guest column:
STCA told the city that infiltration and stormwater LID practices were not suitable because of the glacial till sediments underlying the project’s site. However, there are a variety of other LID techniques that may be used to mitigate stormwater runoff.
Staff analysis indicated that STCA is proposing to clear the entire site, including all 53 significant trees and existing vegetation. Although the code allows STCA to do that, they are required to incorporate natural areas such as stands of mature trees, maximize retention of trees, native vegetation and native soils into their development proposal. STCA proposes converting 90% of the area into an impervious surface (roads, sidewalks, buildings).
The city says STCA failed to incorporate environmental stewardship into their plan because it is not an example of environmental stewardship. STCA’s plan does not propose any sustainable measure to implement the environmental strategies described in the Town Center plan, such as a regional stormwater facility, rain gardens, green roofs, retaining native vegetation and reducing building footprints. These are examples of LID techniques.
STCA responded that it will consider such features in the future after further feasibility studies and if these features are reasonable and cost effective.
No Natural Areas, wildlife corridors
Staff’s report indicates that the Town Center plan requires incorporation of natural areas such as wildlife corridors and stands of mature trees as amenities on the project site. When the City asked STCA on March 10, 2020, how STCA will address this requirement, STCA responded by pointing out the natural features of the existing Lower Commons park. “The project is situated with frontage along the northern edge of Sammamish Lower Commons,” said STCA, “which comprises significant natural areas including wetlands, wildlife corridors, and stands of mature trees together with a landscaped park.”
The city said STCA’s development proposal highlights the natural features and park amenities on property neighboring the project site and does not propose any opportunity to either preserve or integrate the natural feature existing on its own project.
A long list of issues; can be appealed
Staff’s report includes a multitude of other issues, some administrative in nature, some technical. The Sammamish Comment extracted the staff’s report from the entire 2,131 document for readers to be able to easily access the entire list of issues.
STCA can appeal the City’s decision to the Hearing Examiner by December 4, 2020.
In response to The Comment’s question on whether STCA can further amend its application, the City said STCA can appeal it.
The city also says it is not clear whether STCA can re-use the concurrency certificate issued to it in August 2019 to support a new application.
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