Sammamish needs to act now for more commercial zoning–not wait to 2015–due to ‘economic emergency’

There were three “Docket Requests” submitted to the City from citizens seeking amendments to the Comprehensive Plan. One was from Ace Hardware, which as I’ve reported in a previous post was a placeholder and which is superseded by the preferred Development Agreement proposal. Another was from the landowners in the Town Center’s Southeast Quadrant. And the third had to do with how density is treated.

Staff urged the Council to reject all three requests, saying the Ace was too difficult to achieve given wetland issues and timing and that the other two should wait until the 2015 Comp Plan rewrite.

The recommendation to put off Comp Plan changes of consequence to 2015 may have some merit under ordinary circumstances. But we have what I call an “economic emergency” right now.

Regency owns almost all the commercial space in the heart of Sammamish (only the Saffron complex is owned by someone else) and it’s now clear Regency doesn’t give a hoot about local businesses. Ace Hardware, the Sushi restaurant and Rancho Grande are being pushed out in favor of national retailers. Several other local businesses are gone. Civilized Nature is going.

The lack of alternative commercially zoned space is killing opportunities for our local business.

And, unfathomably, the City Administration has not on its own initiative proposed identifying properties in the city outside the Town Center that could be rezoned commercial and which do not have the regulations associated with the Town Center that, as we now know, make it virtually impossible for small businesses to locate there.

Recognizing this, last January I submitted a long list of ideas to the City Council to redress some of these issues. The proposal was put on the shelf.

With the time for Comp Plan amendments now upon us, the City Administration did not come forth with a single idea to redress this, but instead says wait until 2015.

This is ridiculous. Even more so, it seems that nobody on the City Council suggested changes, either. Where is our leadership? Where is the vision?

At the December 4 City Council meeting, I provided public comment resubmitting my January list of suggestions and urged the Council to direct staff to include rezonings on the current Docket Request. This submittal is below the jump. the January memo is here.

The City Council is to make decisions regarding Ace Hardware, the Docket Request from the Southeast Quadrant, the other Docket Request and, I hope, my December 4 suggestion all at the December 11 meeting. I urge citizens to appear again to support affirmative action on these. It seems the City needs the proverbial 2×4 upside the head to get the message. It’s astounding that we have this economic emergency that is devastating locally owned businesses and neither the City Administration or the Council has taken any action to meet this emergency.

To:       Sammamish City Council

From:   Scott Hamilton

Date:    December 4, 2012

 Public Comment, Comprehensive Plan Recommendations

Introduction

  1. The Ace Hardware situation highlighted the flaw in the Town Center Plan that it was created for developers, not small business owners.
  2. The Ace Hardware situation also made it clear that a dearth commercially zoned land in Sammamish eliminated viable alternatives to Ace relocating to the Town Center.
  3. There is a clear problem. There is a clear need for solutions.
  4. It is amazing, therefore, that the Administration did not propose to the City Council changes to zoning of certain properties for the Comprehensive Plan review in 2013 that would address this problem and offer solutions.
  5. It therefore falls to the City Council to mandate Docket requests for Comprehensive Plan changes to redress these problems.

Proposals

  1. In January 2012 I submitted a seven-page memo to the City Council suggesting a number of zoning, policy and regulatory changes, some of which could be achieved by Council action and some of which would require Comprehensive Plan changes. After staff review, the Council elected to put these recommendations on the shelf, where they sit nearly a year later.
  2. Specific Zoning Recommendations contained within this memo include:
  3. Rezoning the area from the corner of 228th and SE 4th (aka “the Caboose property” west to the A Zone Town Center core from the B Zone to Commercial/Retail/Mixed Use.
    1. This zoning should have been done with the creation of the Town Center Plan, and I proposed it, but the Planning Commission did not support this zoning nor did the City Council upon review of the Commission’s recommendations. Nonetheless, this should be Commercial.
    2. It would solve the issue of “no visibility” to 228th for the Core;
    3. It would have eliminated the issue of “spot zoning” in the case of Ace Hardware, though admittedly other issues associated with the Town Center plan would have remained.
  4. The parcel immediately to the East of the Shurgard property in the Sammamish Highlands center is zoned R-18. This should be rezoned commercial/retail.
  5. The air rights over the south Sammamish Park & Ride at Issaquah-Pine Lake Road and 228th should be zoned Mixed Use.
  6. The owners of the school next to the Swedish Pine Lake Medical Center at one time sought commercial zoning. This should be explored.
  7. The Staff should be directed to identify other parcels that could be rezoned commercial.
  8. The Recommendations and Suggestions contained in my January 2, 2012, memo should be considered by the Planning Commission in its Comprehensive Plan 2013 review to determine what may be appropriate for incorporation into 2013 Comp Plan Amendments.

Objectives

  1. Having additional commercially zoned land, including that outside the Town Center, would enable small business to locate in Sammamish and avoid another Ace Hardware situation.
  2. Commercial zoning outside the Town Center would not have the policies and regulations associated with large developers that proved infeasible for Ace Hardware or other small businesses.

Rezoning the Caboose-to-Core Properties

Officials may worry that rezoning these properties will “bust” the limits of the Environmental Impact Study associated with the Town Center. The approved zoning and density is below the thresholds studied in the EIS, so there is some flexibility. However, there is another option.

Ace contacted the Lake Washington School District to determine whether relocating there was an option. According to information from Ace, the school district declined, restating a long-held intention to build a school on this site in the Northeast Quadrant. If this information is correct, the result is that the LWSD is essentially holding hostage the commercial zoning in this quadrant when it should be made available for people who want to use this zoning.

The Planning Commission and Council-appointed citizen committees—including one on which Council Members John James and Tom Vance were members—did not recommend commercial zoning in the NE Quadrant, arguing that commercial zoning should be consolidated into one area for mass and synergies. The City Council at the time overrode these recommendations and spread the zoning around like peanut butter. The problem is that this glob appears to be “off the market.”

This commercial zoning could be reassigned from the NE Quadrant to the Caboose-to-Core properties without increasing the overall commercial square footage and density of the Town Center, thus eliminating concerns of “busting the EIS.”

 

 

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One Response to Sammamish needs to act now for more commercial zoning–not wait to 2015–due to ‘economic emergency’

  1. ysohigh says:

    Some very thought provoking ideas that should be taken into consideration. Of the 4 locations mentioned for rezoning it may make sense to do this. However these types of rezones should be taken on a case by case basis. There should be a purchase and sale agreement with the property owner and then a feasibility period that the applicant can apply for a rezone.

    Simply rezoning land won’t accomplish much unless there is a will by the property owners to sell. I haven’t seen any of the parcels mentioned being listed on the market. I can say that there has been 2 sales in the Town Center in the last year, 1 pending property (ACE), and 1 active property. So there are properties exchanging hands in the Town Center zoned land but not to “Developers”. Developers can’t make it work, neither can Small Business.

    There aren’t many locations, other than the Town Center, that can handle commercial development without turning 228th into an Aurora Ave which is one of the consequences of why the caboose property is zoned B. On a side note, this property should be zoned A as you mention to create the commercial connection between the quadrants.

    Also, your Objective #2 to create more commercial zoning to skirt the zoning laws in the Town Center undermines the goals of Growth Management. There is no easy solution. The Town Center plan needs fixed which would open up a large amount of land that is already commercial but not viable to be built on under current guidelines.

    You’ve definitely put a lot of thought into this and it is much appreciated. Hopefully the Council and City will do the right thing here and look at your proposals and create action items to solve the ensuing problems.

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