City’s Newsletter on growth distorts the facts; Variances-R-Us

Newsletter LogoThe September Sammamish City Newsletter–which has become an electioneering tool for the Nov. 3 ballot at taxpayers’ expense–has one and two-thirds pages devoted to growth issues.

Unfortunately, it just flat-out distorts and omits some important facts.

In a Q&A format, the Newsletter begins on Page 1 and jumps to Page 3, discussing a host of issues.

Here’s what’s distorted:

Q. Sammamish still has a forested feel to its natural environment. Can that be preserved?

A. We have a tree retention policy that requires big developers to retain 35% of the trees on their property. …[O]ur standards are already higher than most cities and we’re currently working on some additional upgrades to our policy.

Fact: Omitted are some very important details. The 35% ordinance has only been in place since December. Before that, the retention requirement was 25%, and penalties were so weak that developers ignored the requirement, paid the fine and viewed it as a cost of doing business.

Also omitted: every application that was submitted before the December 35% ordinance–every single one, including most if not all of those blue and white billboards around town–are vested to the 25% rule. Only applications coming in after adoption of the 35% ordinance must conform to it.

Finally, most developable and redevelopable land has already been developed or applications have been filed for development. We’re now doing “in-fill;” there are, on a percentage basis of the city, far fewer properties that will be covered by the 35% rule.

Q: For a few years after incorporation, the city had a development moratorium. Why did the city end that moratorium?

A. Because of enormous legal pressure was building. …[W]e had to end the moratorium to avoid enormous legal fees and financial exposure to taxpayers.

Fact: Omitted: The development community in fact did sue Sammamish to end the moratorium.

Variances-R-Us

Q. Speaking of housing developments, who gives the green light to the green of clearing we’ve seen[?]

A. … City staffers look at the permit applications, assess whether everything is in alignment with our code, and then issue a decision that’s legally binding.

Fact: Well, not so much. The City Staff routinely issues variances and exemptions to the City code, so often that frustrated citizens who have appealed projects call Sammamish “Variances-R-Us.”

Council Member Ramiro Valderrama pointed to one project that he said had 41 variances. The project was appealed and a settlement later reached.

The Kamp project

Kamp Property

The Kamp project on 228th Ave. SE. The City Staff wanted to punch a road through to a subdivision on the East side in violation of its own City Codes. Residents appealed. The City lost. Click on image to enlarge.

The huge project on 228th Ave. SE at SE 20th, commonly known as the Kamp property, also had a host of variances. More to the point, the City Staff ignored its own city code by insisting the developer, Polygon, punch a street through to an adjacent neighborhood to the East where streets are not up to City Code for such connections. Nor was the City going to pay for such upgrades nor require the developer (which didn’t want to put through a street in any event) to do so. The City’s own traffic study showed traffic generated by the Kamp project would increase traffic through the adjacent subdivision by a factor of 10.

Residents met with Staff and the City Manager repeatedly to block this connection, to no avail, a citizen involved told Sammamish Comment. Residents filed an appeal on this blatent violation of the City Code, and also objected to other variances. The Hearing Examiner upheld the appeal. It cost the residents $30,000 to fight the City Staff’s variances and exemptions, the citizen told The Comment.

Chestnut Estates West

The City Staff approved a plat called Chestnut Estates West, filled with variances. The Hearing Examiner upheld the appeal. One of the appellants, Wally Pereyra, objected to the Staff approval before it was tendered. After the Examiner’s decision, Pereyra said that if the City Staff had simply followed its own code, the plat wouldn’t have been approved.

The Examiner agreed. He found the Staff flatly erred in approving the plat.

Pereyra said he spent $100,000 in legal fees appealing the plat approval. Chestnut Estates (East) spent $90,000, says Christie Malchow, who lives in “East.” She told The Comment she spent $15,000. She, her neighbors and Pereyra now face more legal fees because the developer appealed the Examiner’s decision to King County Superior Court, and the appellants will need to be there to defend their interests. Separately, the developer sued the City for damages.

Malchow is running for City Council in part because Staff isn’t following its own codes when reviewing development.

Conner-Jarvis

A development along Issaquah-Pine Lake Road and bounded on the South by the Kempton Downs subdivision plans 115 homes. The City approved road variances to standards that would otherwise be required along 232nd Ave. SE and several connecting neighborhood streets.

Variances to a host of other City codes and environmental standards were also granted by staff.

The entire project is under appeal by the Kempton Downs homeowners association.

Sammamish Town Center

TC SE Vault

This cement vault is right along the sidewalk in the Town Center. A 50 ft landscaped/treed buffer was written into the Town Center comprehensive plan to prevent this. Staff approved this variance. Click on image to enlarge.

As Sammamish Comment reported Sept. 7 in the Greenwashing special investigation, the Town Center sub-area Comprehensive Plan calls for a 50 ft buffer between the street and development so we don’t have a 228th Ave. that is one solid line of buildings. But in the Northeast Quadrant, there is a cement vault right up to the sidewalk. Not only does this violate the letter of the sub-area Comp Plan, it isn’t even an attract building design of some kind: it’s a cement wall.

Variances do happen

It must be pointed out that variances do routinely happen for projects throughout the State. There can be sound reasons for variances and sometimes there are trades between approving a project’s design in order to protect an environmental concern. Conversely, variances have been known to be granted at the expense of the environment, something appellants charged in the Chestnut Estates West case. There may be legitimate reasons for variances.

But Sammamish, which claims to be tough (and which through its September Newsletter promotes this myth), has become known for weak ordinances, loop holes and a pliant staff.

While the City’s Newsletter asserted the moratorium was lifted to avoid legal fees (which, strictly speaking, was true), the examples above illustrate the legal costs to taxpayers because Staff isn’t following its own codes.

Council Member Valderrama for months has been asking the City Administration for an accounting of legal fees from these and other appeals. He has been stonewalled for a response.

 

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2 Responses to City’s Newsletter on growth distorts the facts; Variances-R-Us

  1. Jim Flateboe says:

    I think Valderrama is the only one truly trying to keep Sammamish a great place to live. Statistically there have been too many variances and revenue-related decisions

  2. Pingback: Outraged, shocked, surprised about Sammamish cooking the books on concurrency? I’m not. | Sammamish Comment

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