City to discuss moratorium prospect tomorrow

Kamp Property

The Kamp property at 228th Ave. SE and SE 20th shortly after clearing and grading was completed. A building moratorium wouldn’t have stopped this project. It would have been delayed. It was vested to rules and entitled to build to those existing at the time any moratorium might have been adopted. Potential new, more restrictive rules wouldn’t apply.

The Sammamish City Council will discuss the prospect for a building moratorium tomorrow at its meeting beginning at 6:30 pm.

After the topic first came up a week ago, a reader of The Comment posted the following in response:

  • We must come up with viable solutions to stop this madness! Once a property is developed, IT IS PERMANENT! Let’s promulgate zoning laws and rules that make sense in terms of safety, footprint, aesthetics, environmental and erosional impact, infrastructure funding such as for schools, roads, etc. After which, let’s have a qualified, committed, and properly-staffed government to enforce the wish of the PEOPLE! This should not become a race between property owners and developers cashing in, versus government’s unpreparedness to manage it, in accordance with the wish of the people!

In advance of the meeting tomorrow, a little review might be worthwhile as members of the public prepare to comment.

Current laws

The current laws encompass everything the reader listed above.

The question then becomes the subjective plea, rules that “make sense.”

As The Comment wrote several times during the 2015 City Council election, the problem wasn’t that the city code was lax; it was the amount of variances that were being granted to these codes that enabled developers to have latitude in complying with the codes.

Some of these variances were made in the name of environmental protection, although on the face this seems counter-intuitive. For example, allowing narrower streets than code requires benefits the environment because it reduces impervious surfaces.

Granting an exception to connectivity (ie, connecting a new subdivision to an old one via a connecting road) can maintain safety for the old neighborhood by preventing cut-through traffic. There was a notorious effort by staff to force a connection that even the developer didn’t want to do that residents in the old subdivision appealed to the hearing examiner, and won. So granting an exception to the code for connectivity is an example of how exceptions to strictly enforcing code “makes sense.”

But, as The Comment wrote last year, Staff become known as “Variances-R-Us” for the large number of exceptions granted in the last few years. While there are undoubtedly code sections that need tightening or revising, it is this propensity to exercise discretion that may be the greater need.

The flip side to this, however, is that small property owner who finds himself facing an intransigent staff. Sammamish has code that imposes stricter requirements on the four-lot plat than it does on the large developer. The financial burden sometimes weighs more on the small property owner than on the large.

Moratorium

The question arose whether Sammamish should adopt a new building moratorium. The Comment doesn’t have an answer for this, because the specific issues weren’t discussed last week. At this point, it’s not known whether there is even legal standing to adopt a moratorium. This discussion should have taken place with the City Attorney in executive session before the City tipped its hand in public session. Raising the issue in public prematurely will start a gold rush of applications to become vested before any moratorium can be adopted. Any new rules and code adopted by the City won’t apply to vested applications, even if building is stopped under the moratorium.

None of the projects that have the blue billboards posted will be affected by any new code.

One reader wrote that Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama “had” to bring up the issue in public because the “fancy four” (Mayor Don Gerend and Members Kathy Huckabay, Bob Keller and Tom Odell) would otherwise block discussion. This is incorrect. Under new rules adopted after the 2015 election, and with the support of the mayor, now three Council members (instead of four) can put an item on the agenda for discussion. Thus, Valderrama, along with Members Christie Malchow and Tom Hornish, could have put this topic up for discussion in executive session. A public discussion would become necessary at the proper time, assuming legal standing exists.

Residents also need to understand that only 2.5% of the land in Sammamish remains for development. (This was revealed by then-Council Member Valderrama during the tree ordinance revisions.)

Counting noses

If legal standing exists for a moratorium, the support is probably on the Council to adopt one. Huckabay already is on record supporting one for the erosion areas. Whether she supports a broader one is open to question. The Council already adopted a moratorium (too late, as it turned out) for more development along Inglewood Hill Road while fixing drainage issues. Private conversation with one Council member indicates to The Comment a fourth vote is likely.

But citizens need to manage expectations.

A moratorium, as noted, won’t affect vested projects with new rules.

Only 2.5% of the land in Sammamish is undeveloped.

A moratorium will be too little, too late. It will be symbolic, yes. But citizens should not expect anything significant will change.

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5 Responses to City to discuss moratorium prospect tomorrow

  1. Mike Grady says:

    Scott….

    I think we are all getting hung up on the word “moratorium” and not addressing the REAL issue.

    I don’t know if you attended the Town Hall meeting. The Town Hall meeting encouraged groups of citizens to brainstorm and address the PROBLEMS in Sammamish. Then each group assigned a spokesperson to articulate the thoughts. Almost every single group commented that our City has NO PLANS to address the infrastructure that will be needed to support all of the development. Infrastructure includes: roads, schools, traffic, sewers, utilities, etc. that will be needed to support all the development.

    Citizens are concerned….most citizens are not lawyers……so many groups used the word “moratorium ” when the real issue is “pause….or stop issuing your permits (with questionable variances) until you have a plan.

    I wish to defend Ramiro…..Ramiro simply proposed a 60 day PUBLIC study of the problem. (Yes, he used the “M” word). You snd I both know that if the issue is ONLY discussed in Executive Session (closed to the public) Gerend, Huckabay, ODell, and Keller will quash any public visibility and nothing will get done.

    • cityhamilton says:

      Thanks, Mike, for your comment.

      Ramiro used the “M” word, and accordingly that is what the recent commentary addressed. If what Ramiro meant was a public, 60 day study toidentify problems and solutions, per the open house, then he made a serious error in using the M word. Developers will rush to file applications and get vested. It is what happened in 1998 before we incorporated when SHOUT pushed the county to declare a moratorium. When the first city council adopted a moratorium, it didn’t stop growth, it only delayed it–and the growth resumed to old rules because the projects were vested.

      But I believe Ramiro did mean to say and potentially impose a moratorium, based on communication I had with him.

      I also believe there are four votes for a moratorium based on conversation I had Friday with another council member. What this would ultimately look like is another question–the devil is always in the details.

      Scott

  2. Sean Smith says:

    Ramiro proposed discussions to determine if a moratorium made sense. No way to propose that without using the word moratorium. The more complex projects may rush to get in under the wire, but other project owners may do what stock market participants do when faced with uncertainty…they wait. When big news is coming in the economy, stock market volume is reduced ahead of the news. Not many like to be ahead of the news.

    • Frank Blau says:

      I’m no financial analyst (and maybe some can weigh in here), but stock markets most definitely move in anticipation of big events and uncertainty. Uncertainty kills markets. But especially when those big events have an implied outcome (like a moratorium would). It’s not like we are going to have a moratorium and make it EASIER to take down trees and develop property, are we?

      • Sean Smith says:

        Yes. Markets move big time…to the sidelines. Lots of activity for sure -outright sales or by creating a delta neutral position through hedging. My point is that if developers are like traders, activity should go down, not up…as long as things remain uncertain.

        Ramiro created uncertainty (maybe a moratorium on Tuesday, maybe not. Maybe 2 months of talk about it, maybe no moratorium). Any developer that needs more than two months to get an application into the pipeline might very well wait. Especially projects that have dependencies beyond their control, like say for example, they are closing on property they don’t totally have locked up, or can’t complete SEPA review in time. In that case, best to wait as see what shakes out.

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