Why the Town Center is needed

The Sammamish Town Center plan was about seven years in the making, controversial throughout. Then development was held up by the 2008 Great Recession. Ground was finally broken in 2015. The first store, Metropolitan Market, opened this year. And now the Town Center is again at the center of controversy over the building moratorium.

By Scott Hamilton

There has even been a call to revisit the plan.

Here’s why doing so is not a good idea and why the Town Center is needed.

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Creating the Town Center Plan

In Part 1, the background, objectives and membership of the Planning Advisory Board was described. In Part 2, the PAB gets down to work writing Sammamish’s first Comprehensive Plan. In Part 3 today, the focus shifts to the creation of the Town Center Plan, a sub-area of the Comprehensive Plan.

City_of_SammamishThe Sammamish Planning Advisory Board (PAB), tasked with writing the City’s first Comprehensive Plan, finished all elements except the complex topic of developing a commercial-office-retail element that was better than the strip malls created by King County.

These malls were formally known as Sammamish Highlands at NE 8th and 228th Ave. NE, the Pine Lake Center at 228th and Issaquah-Pine Lake Road and the 7-11 complex on East Lake Sammamish Parkway. Sammamish Highlands, not to be confused with the neighborhood of the same name at the far south end of the City on 228th, was more commonly known as the Safeway complex. This included the commercial stores across 228th (McDonald’s and other retailers) and eventually Saffron across NE 8th.

The Pine Lake Center was more commonly known as the QFC complex.

Alternatives for Commercial Development

When the first draft of the Comp Plan was completed, the PAB proposed several alternatives for commercial development. Under State Law, this was standard procedure. Usually Comp Plans had Alternatives 1, 2 and 3 and a No Action Alternative.

The No Action Alternative is self-evident: don’t do anything and proceed as before.

The alternatives contained in the Draft Comp Plan were as follows:

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Writing Sammamish’s first Comp Plan

In Part 1, the background, objectives and membership of the Planning Advisory Board was described. In Part 2, the PAB gets down to work writing Sammamish’s first Comprehensive Plan. This is six pages when printed.

City_of_SammamishThe 17-member Planning Advisory Board members were a cross-section of environmentalists, activists, developers, real estate agents and businessmen. The City Council did an admirable job of appointing a broad spectrum of people.

Open divisions from the start

However, from the start there was open tension among the members. Divisions from the bitter 1999 City Council election carried over to the PAB, which was appointed by this Council. Most of the members of the PAB supported the candidates who won in that bitter contest; a few supported the losing candidates, who, it will be remembered, lost by wide margins in what turned out to be a nasty race filled with anonymous fliers and a forged newsletter.

Sammamish MapOne of the developer-real estate appointees who supported the Council candidates later told one of the environmentalist-activists it was her personal mission to oppose everything he said. The two strong personalities clashed often and openly.

Two members resigned early. One Council Member later said they resigned because they thought the PAB was too heavily dominated by environmentalists. Whether this is an accurate characterization or not is beside the point. The broad spectrum of the appointees belies any charge that environmentalists ran away with the process. In the end, the Comp Plan was adopted and recommended by the PAB with just one dissenting vote and this vote had nothing to do with the environment or any other issue. The dissenter complained the PAB hadn’t finished its job. (This will be described later.)

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Regency forces out another Sammamish business

Another Sammamish business is being forced to close because Regency, the Florida company that owns almost all the commercial space in Sammamish, is hiking the rent to a level the store cannot sustain.

Here is the article.

I spoke with the store and Regency wanted to triple their rent.

Plateau Spirit and Wines spent $220,000 to buy the liquor license when the state privatized liquor sales after the 2012 election initiative. This investment is down the drain; the owners can’t move the liquor license out of Sammamish and there isn’t any other commercial space. Saffron, which is not owned by Regency, is full.

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.

Civilized Nature to move to Issaquah Highlands

Civilized Nature will be moving to Issaquah Highlands around next fall.

I previously wrote how this locally-owned pet store will be the next victim of Regency’s drive to nationalize the Sammamish Highlands shopping center with the addition of Petco. I’ve learned from Nature that the local Regency rep actually went to bat with Corporate to make a move to Issaquah Highlands possible.

Petco is planned to open around June; Nature hopes it can survive the overlap until its own lease expires.

Civilized Nature is next locally owned store to leave Sammamish

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Civilized Nature, the local pet store in the Sammamish Highlands shopping center, is the next locally owned store that will be leaving the City.

I confirmed today (Dec. 4) that the pet store will move because it won’t be able to compete with mega-chain Petco, which will move into the former Hollywood Video that has been vacant for a couple of years, and the Rancho Grande and Sushi restaurants whose leases weren’t renewed to make way for Petco.

Ace Hardware’s lease expires August 28, 2013. Petco is said to start construction in January and to open several months later. Civilized Nature did not tell me where it will move to, but since there is no commercial space in Sammamish that is available, Civilized is all but certain to move out of the city.

At the City Council meeting tonight, which was standing room only, I presented recommendations to rezone more land commercial to serve local businesses. I’ll be posting my remarks later.

The City is about to undertake a Comprehensive Plan Amendment process. Astounding as it seems, the City Administration did not put commercial rezoning on the agenda for the Council, even after the lack of commercial zoning outside the Town Center became clear and may be a death knell for Ace. In fact, the Staff report recommended against a rezone for Ace Hardware, for a number of complex reasons.

In more posts this week, I’ll publish various documents concerning the Ace situation.