Sammamish’s Town Center-concurrency dilemma

By Scott Hamilton


The Sammamish City Council faces a complex set of issues interconnecting the Town Center and efforts to revise its traffic concurrency policies.

At stake is whether the Town Center proceeds per the 2009 plan adopted by the Planning Commission and City Council or, as some desire, the plan is reopened with the goal of down-sizing it.

Reopening the plan also allows the possibility of some advocating an up—zoning of the TC.

The city is under a building moratorium adopted last October. The council and staff want to lift the moratorium in July, but controversy over how to proceed with revisions for concurrency casts doubt over whether revisions may be ready by then.

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Ace Hardware signs LOI for Sammamish Town Center: STCA

Ace Hardware signed a Letter of Intent to be one of the anchor tenants of a new portion of the Sammamish Town Center, developer STCA announced today at the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce lunch.

STCA rendering of its Sammamish Town Center project.

Matt Samwick of the company said details must be negotiated; no timeline has been set for a firm contract.

Samwick told Sammamish Comment after the lunch that other companies are lined up as anchor tenants, but no announcement is imminent.

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Next critical date for Ace; and Trader Joe’s is confirmed

The next critical date for the future of Ace Hardware appears to be this Tuesday.

The Sammamish City Council should receive a staff report on efforts between the City Attorney and Ace’s attorney to reach a Developer’s Agreement to build on environmentally constrained land between Washington Federal and the Mars Hill Church.

Whether an agreement is reached or not–and I’m not optimistic that legal differences of opinion will be bridged–required permit reviews at the state and federal level simply can’t be done by Ace’s March 1 deadline to break ground.

This week will be critical.

Meantime, I have confirmed that Trader Joe’s will be the new occupant of the Ace Hardware space in the Sammamish Highlands shopping center.

Staff Conclusion: Not enough time to meet Ace Deadline; an analysis

See the running update in previous post here.


The Sammamish City Council spent a great deal of time on the Ace problem last night and in the end directed the City Attorney, Bruce Disend, to meet with Ace’s attorney to see if a developer’s agreement could be reached.

Ace’s attorney argues that a Developer’s Agreement will enable the City to compress permitting processes and essentially bypass environmental regulations–or mitigate them–in a way that makes building Ace on an environmentally constrained property feasible.

Ace also has retained a company called Watershed to come up with a mitigation plan. The principal of Watershed is Bill Way, who lives on the Lake Sammamish waterfront in our City. I’ve known Bill for years and he is a stand-up guy, dedicated to protecting the environment. His company has come up with creative ways to do so, including for the widening of 228th and its impact on George Davis Creek, as well as Skyline and Eastlake high school projects. This creek runs through the properties involved in the Ace proposal.

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Update on Ace Hardware at Sammmamish City Council Jan. 8

An update from the City Staff was provided the City Council at a special meeting January 8.

Here’s a running synopsis as Kamuron Gurol, community development director, made his presentation to the Council.

  • Goal to give you a status report and recommendations to Council.
  • Some environmental requirements need to be changed.
  • Negotiate a Development Agreement.
  • Standard public notices will be required.
  • Held four meetings with Ace over the holidays.
  • Have a very severe time constraint, had been working on this for 14 months.
  • Seven months before the Ace lease expires.
  • Project has to meet requirements: meets public interest, meets enviro requirements and be defensible.
  • Two stormwater ponds on the city-owned property, and a bog-wetland immediately east of the lot.
  • Building is 10,000-12,000 sf plus 2,000 sf garden center needed, large truck access and turn-around.
  • A single-level building and at-grade parking needed.
  • Existing stormwater facilities have to be replicated and expanded.
  • It is in a critical aquifer recharge area.
  • Category 1 wetlands need 215 ft buffers and 15 ft building setback.
  • George Davis Creek has some buffers.
  • Site appears to be 100% constrained or nearly so.
  • Applicants have produce environmentally critical area study and have made some site adjustments to lessen impact.
  • Applicants have provided recommendations for Council actions “road map” to expedite permitting processes.
  • Given enviro constraints, major code changes required. (Underlining is the staff’s emphasis.) Administratively these changes cannot be done, requires code changes.
  • “Staff does not see how to approve this proposal by the deadine with a defensible record.” Direct quote from presentation.
  • Emergency ordinances would be required.
  • Comprehensive Plan has to be amended and applied city wide, requiring public hearings.
  • Don’t have code for a Developer’s agreement, need code changes for this.
  • Certain State reviews will be required.
  • Some federal regulations have to be met.
  • Permitting challenges great.
  • Permitting and project approval could be appealed.
  • Site and construction time compressed. Not an easy site to deal with.
  • This project doesn’t meet the test to under-promise and over-deliver.
  • Site not able to support hardware/garden center use due to constraints.
  • Major policy questions.

Council questions:

  • What are ripple effects: Answer: you can’t make code changes for one person, it has to be city-wide. A SEPA checklist required to analyze this, but state doesn’t approve but can comment on these changes, which might delay process.
  • Given all the existing development around George Davis Creek, should standard be to do no more harm: Answer: We do have documented evidence that fish live in the stream at the top of the Plateau.
  • City Manager: Federal and state mandates for buffers have changed in last 10 years.
  • Quality of this particular stream is not pristine. It’s making this land is unbuildable; Answer: Current adopted codes don’t allow change or allow this development to go through. City Manager: This particular site has [too] many challenges.
  • Tom Vance: I want to stop the denigrating of George Davis Creek. There are salmonoid in George Davis Creek. Water comes from upstream. There are environmental constraints from three directions.
  • John Curley: there are legal risks to be considered.

Applicant responses:

  • We have to deal with setbacks but we don’t have to build on wetlands and streams.
  • Our goal is a mitigated impact and even improve the site environmentally.
  • A Development Agreement can deal with these process issues. We are not asking the City to do anything illegal. Kamuron is conservative. Some of the things that he says have to be done, we’re not convinced he’s correct.
  • Watershed (an environmental company) hasn’t yet developed a mitigation plan. We need a week to do this.
  • Other jurisdictions use a Development Agreement. There are hurdles and risks but a DA minimizes risks.
  • We don’t think the project is dead.
  • We need the City and Council to use all the tools in tool box, and that’s a Development Agreement.
  • Council should direct attorneys to meet about DA.
  • Watershed: Been doing stream and wetland mitigation work for 30 years. While this appears to be a very difficult situation, it’s not an impossible site.
  • We don’t get to the end of solving this thing by looking at buffers. We get to the end as an internal self-mitigating mechanism by mitigating impacts of development on-site and off-site. It isn’t black and white.
  • Watershed has done almost all the work on George Davis Creek that’s good: SkyLine, Eastlake, the City, for example.
  • The City site is quite compromised. The ponds there could be dredged out to within two feet of the wetland; there is a road around it for access. To say a site that can’t be made equal or better is not true.
  • We could have easterly two fifths of the site be natural wetland and have underground vaults for water retention.
  • Ace Attorney: If Kamuron wants to change the codes, the hurdles are high. A Development Agreement in state code is permitted and enables a project like this.
  • A DA won’t have ripple effects.
  • We’re not proposing changing code. The DA allows this. Staff has a different of opinion, which says DA doesn’t have sufficient authority to make changes. We think it does.
  • Watershed believes goals of Critical Areas can be protected. We think we can make the site better with better functioning wetlands.
  • Reasonable Use Exception is also a legal mechanism.
  • You can adopt Development Procedures by Resolution–don’t need an ordinance.
  • We could have a DA to you by the middle or third week of February for approval.
  • If you have the will to make it happen? Yes, you need opinion from legal counsel and if it is viable, we have the team to put this together.

Outside Counsel for City of Sammamish:

  • This law firm works almost exclusively for governments and has crafted and defended DAs in past.
  • DAs are contracts and bound by contract law.
  • You cannot use a DA to alter a number of things applicant seeks. You can’t use it to change Comp Plan elements or land swap or underlying zoning or change stormwater regulations unless on a very small level.
  • Standards in a DA has to be consistent with existing codes and Comp Plan.
  • In my experience I have never seen a DA be used or attempt to be used to alter buffers. I’m not saying you can’t but I haven’t seen it. You would be the test case for this.
  • Third parties have a right to challenge DA, and I think there is a high risk a challenge would be forthcoming on buffers, Dept of Ecology, Army Corp of Engineers, neighbors or environmental authorities.
  • There is no legal authority to fall back on. You would have to argue the specifics of this situation. We would be in uncharted territory.
  • I’ve not seen a DA incorporate an RUE. There is no case law. I don”t know if it would withstand a legal challenge.
  • I don’t think this project as proposed would qualify as an RUE. It would be difficult to defend.

John Curley lets it slip that the Sammamish City Attorney believes a DA can’t be done.

Curley makes a motion to have the attorneys meet to discuss a DA. It passes 7-0.

Sammamish and “the vision thing”

In 1987, Vice President George H. W. Bush was gearing up to run for president. The Vice President was well known for mangling his syntax (like father, like son, as it turned out) and often had difficulty articulating his thoughts (as we said…).

This inability led to his famous characterization of “the vision thing.”

Sammamish has a Vision Thing problem.

First, it must be acknowledged that governments in general typically lack vision. Out of necessity, days are consumed with simply running things and fixing day-to-day problems. But Sammamish, since its inception, has had trouble with “vision.”

I’ll concede that the City has looked into the future and taken some steps on this or that. But action often becomes years in the making and vision, if it is recognized at all, often becomes inaction.

The greatest example is the Community Center. Consider:

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Looking ahead to 2013 for the City of Sammamish

Here are some of the big issues I see facing Sammamish and our citizens for 2013, in no particular order except for….

  • The future of Ace Hardware. Time is running out. Ace needs a building permit by March (February would be better) if it is to have a new building ready by August, when its lease expires. Staff was directed by the City Council in December to expedite a review of issues facing development of some of the most environmentally constrained land in the city, next to the Washington Federal Bank and the Mars Hill Church on 228th. A land swap with the City is a crucial component. Procedurally, an “emergency” probably would have to be declared to speed up processes required by state and local laws, but there are still certain requirements that suggest to me that even on an expedited basis, I don’t see how it can all come together by February or March. I hope I’m wrong. The City Staff is to report back to the City Council at the first meeting in January (the 8th, I think). Let’s hope. What happens could play into the 2013 City Council race. If a positive solution isn’t found, the issue is certainly going to become a major campaign event. Four seats are up for election: Mayor Tom Odell, Deputy Mayor John James, and Members Don Gerend and John Curley. Failure to find a solution will be used against these guys, and the issue will become a major one. Success will be used by these guys.

After Ace, here are some of the other key issues I see:

  • Staying with or defecting from the Eastside Fire and Rescue (EF&R): This is going to be a Big Deal. A decision will be controversial. The outcome has the possibility of becoming a major election issue for the 2013 City Council race. There is some significant sentiment to leave EF&R because of the costs (it, along with police service, is the highest single item in our budget and it’s going up) and long-running disputes over Sammamish’s fair share of the EF&R budget. Ambitions to expand the district by other EF&R members would have the effect of neutralizing our influence on the EF&R board and place our two representatives at a disadvantage to protect our taxpayers. But, according to several City Council members and others we’ve talked to, our City Manager Ben Yacizi is adamantly opposed to the City forming its own fire department because he doesn’t want to deal with unions. The City Council, which in my long-held view, is too subservient to the City Manager, may well be out-maneuvered by him in his opposition. A committee of former City Council members appointed by the current City Council to study the issue recommended leaving EF&R. The committee included Ron Haworth, a former fire chief himself, Kathy Huckabay and Lee Fellinge. Our City Council so far has ignored this recommendation. A decision comes before the election in November. It will be interesting to see if the four Council Members whose seats are up will have the political courage to withdraw from EF&R; the time, I believe, has come to do so.

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