As the City Council begins review tonight (March 15) of the Town Center regulations, eventually one element recommended by the Planning Commission is providing for a transit-oriented development (TOD). This has become more controversial than it should, and for reasons that continue to escape me.
The City wants to put 2,000 residences that would house perhaps 3,500 people and 600,000 sf of commercial on about 100 buildable acres. This is on both sides of 228th Ave., the busiest road in the City–and the City Council in 2008 did not accept a recommendation from the 2007 Planning Commission that TOD be a part of the plan, although some highly generic language was included in the Town Center Plan.
As a Commissioner, I last year cited the absence of a solid TOD as a “major flaw” in the Town Center plan.
The 2009 Commission included specific language in the recommended regulations for a TOD.
Let’s be clear: we are talking about a TOD, not a transit-oriented center (TOC). A TOC is a major hub-and-spoke bus and/or light rail center. This is not and never has been what the Commissions envisioned for the Town Center. A TOD, however, is simplistically a mixed use development built with a focus on a park-and-ride. This could be an office/residential use; a commercial/residential use; or a combination of all three. It might even be simply a residential/park-n-ride or an office park-n-ride or a commercial/park-n-ride. Sammamish has the option of defining a TOD any way it wants.
Although the 2009 Commission inserted language into the recommended regulations that a TOD should be built, the approved Town Center Plan doesn’t specifically zone for it, nor are there any recommendations about where it might be.
I believe the best location is on the NW corner of 228th and SE 4th, where the green caboose is. This land is relatively flat, it is at the geographic center of the Town Center and it is right on the bus lines that run on 228th.
The caboose property is zoned “B” residential, which given this high-profile corner I believe is a misapplication of zoning. During the 2007 period, I proposed that this be zoned commercial (“A” zones were subsequently designated commercial), but this idea was not agreed to. This remains a mistake, in my view.
With my firm belief that this corner should be a TOD with a park-n-ride, how might this be accomplished given the Town Center Plan?
Under the TC Plan, the residential “B” zone may become commercial if developed in conjunction with the commercial “A” zone. This is permissible by regulation. But this competes with commercial density allocation of other zones, and this is currently capped at 600,000.
To specifically designate the caboose property as an A zone would require an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan. The City Council can do this in time for action by the end of this year, and this would not harm any timeline. Designating the caboose property an A zone would extend the A zone from the core (the yellow on the left of the map above) to 228th St. This would give the commercial visibility from 228th that many argue is needed to make the core commercially successful.
This frontage on 228th would seem to conflict with the TC Plan policy of minimizing commercial frontage along 228th. There are exceptions already–the Arbor School (the burnt orange above) and the Liu property (dark blue) are exceptions due to their proximity to City Hall and the Library. The caboose property is contained to the corner of SE 4th and 228th and the need for a park-n-ride is of such importance that this warrants another exception.
The remaining issue is where might the caboose’s commercial space come from and how much? Here are the options:
- Increase the commercial space overall from 600,000 sf to some higher (but reasonable) number. Some landowners in the SE Quadrant wanted to increase their allocation from 90,000 sf to 300,000 sf (a 210,000 sf increase), originally by increasing the overall commercial throughout the Town Center to nearly 2 million sf. This was a non-starter and economically unsustainable, and it was rejected by the City Council on March 2. But Mayor Don Gerend has argued that there should be greater commercial opportunity than 600,000 sf. One option would be to allocate an additional number for this site and expand the A zone in the process. This would require an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to do so. The question then becomes, how much goes here: 20,000 sf (like that allocated the Arbor School); 90,000 sf (like that allocated the Liu property and the NE and SE Quadrants; or some other number? I think this merits discussion.
- Maintain the 600,000 sf and take it from the density pool. But this would eliminate the incentive pool for other policies in the TC Plan. I don’t see this as a viable option.
- Reallocate densities from other areas. Ordinarily I would reject this as unfair to those who have planned on these densities, but in this case the spokesman for the SE Quadrant has made it abundantly clear he and his colleagues do not believe their density allocation of 90,000 sf is economically feasible and they don’t believe a developer will develop it. This being the case, perhaps the best choice is to take them at their word and reallocate this commercial density to the caboose property and let the SE quadrant develop as multi-family residential. This option would require a Comp Plan amendment.
In any case, the need for a TOD in the Town Center is vitally needed. It will reduce traffic that now goes south to the park-n-ride at Pine Lake and perhaps even Issaquah Highlands; it will provide a real park-n-ride closer to the north end of the City; and it could also attract shoppers to the Town Center if done creatively.