Town Center Moratorium dead, but growth issues heading toward Retreat

Valderrama

Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama unleashed a firestorm of opposition to a building moratorium when he suggested one for the Sammamish Town Center.

The Sammamish City Council decided Tuesday to not pursue a proposal by Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama to undertake a 60-day study that could have led to a building moratorium for the Town Center.

The TC is already under construction, but there remains about 40 acres for which a building permit application has yet to be filed.

The Council considered Valderrama’s suggestion after nearly two hours of public comment, nearly all of it opposing a moratorium

But the issue isn’t dead.Following up on Town Hall meeting

The Council directed staff to follow up on a variety of topics discussed at a Town Hall meeting earlier this month that focused on growth issues. A moratorium had been mentioned—in passing, according to public comment, and this was the impetus for Valderrama’s suggestion last week. But other issues, including transportation, tree removal, infrastructure and storm water runoff, were of greater discussion at the meeting, public comment and council members said.

These topics will be addressed at the Council’s annual retreat in January. A date and time for the retreat hasn’t been announced.

Moratorium is inconsistent with Town Center

City Manager Lyman Howard kicked off the discussion with a prepared statement that concluded with a recommendation against adopting a moratorium.

“A moratorium for the Town Center is not consistent with what is happening there,” Howard said. “It’s smart growth. Design standards are in place. Surface water control will be in place. The roadway will be in place.

“The Town Center has taken a decade and a half to come to life,” Howard said. “It’s at a crossroads. If we derail this effort, I fear we will not recover the progress made. It may take 20-30-year delay.”

School, Water districts don’t need moratorium

Howard reported that the Issaquah School district said there is no need to enact a moratorium on its behalf. So did the Lake Washington School District. Howard said that Jay Krauss, the general manager of Sammamish Plateau Water, has no water or sewer capacity constraints. Howard reported that Krauss said Sammamish Plateau Water shouldn’t be the reason for a moratorium.

“We should work toward better ways,” Howard said. “If the council wants a moratorium, it should look to other ways.”

“A failure has taken place”

Valderrama, who spoke next-to-last after other Council Members expressed their opposition to a moratorium, stuck to his guns.

“It’s important to remember the original discussion taking pace on Sept. 13. The [Town Center] plan was developed 12 years ago. We want to make sure we’re going forward in partnership, respecting developers, property owners. We have staff that is overworked. We don’t have basin plans. The Town Center is where half of all the new residential housing units will be taking place, and more traffic,” he said.

“We’re not able to keep up with growth, planning and infrastructure. How are we going address the traffic in the most concentrated place? How are we going to address the storm water that will destroy the creeks and the lakes?”

The, perhaps in seeming incongruity, Valderrama asked, “Can we take higher density in the Town Center and relieve growth outside the Town Center?

“My recommendation again is that we direct the staff to open a 60-day process and come back to us, with capital infrastructure plans that need to be accelerated and [other] recommendations and based on that, then we can move forward,” he said.

“What we’re really talking about is building the quality of life and character of our city. I believe there has been a failure that has taken place. Right now, there is no plan. It’s business as usual.”

Moratorium wouldn’t change things

Council Member Bob Keller, who served on the Planning Commission during part of the time when the Town Center plan was created, opposed a moratorium.

Bob Keller

Bob Keller

“Transportation is one of the problems high on the list” of growth concerns, he said. “I hope the moratorium doesn’t derail the conversation for the things in the round table.

“How does the moratorium change things? I don’t think a moratorium will change traffic for the six months [it would be in effect]. It will impact people, though. There are unintended consequences of a moratorium.

“There are other things that can have a greater impact immediately than a moratorium on the Town Center,” or on a greater area in Sammamish, he said.

Downsizing and new families

Council Member Kathy Huckabay said the Town Center will provide housing that’s more affordable for senior citizens, like herself, and new families who want to downsize or acquire their first home.

“We heard a lot of people [in public comment] who were interested in selling [and developing]. I want to give you a different point of view. As a senior, we are considering downsizing. We are looking at the Town Center.” Huckabay said it will have walkability for goods and services, something that is broadly missing in Sammamish today. “Right now there isn’t any place to adequately downsize.”

She said there is little housing in the $400,00-$700,000 price point, which is also attractive to young families.

“From my perspective I am very anxious to see the Town Center go forward.”

Town Center relieves pressure

Member Christie Malchow opposed a moratorium.

“I don’t believe putting a moratorium on the Town Center addresses the concerns of our community as a whole. On the contrary, the Town Center relieves some of that pressure. People don’t have to drive off the Plateau,” she said.

“The Town Center is fairly dense, so you will find fewer trees coming down outside the TC.”

But, she added, “There are issues we need to address as a council.”

Malchow also said the idea came too late and pointed to the restrictive tree preservation ordinance adopted in October last year. “The horse has left the barn,” she said, noting that 428 homes are vested to previous ordinance; only 152 are vested to new ordinance.

Certainty needed

Council Member Tom Hornish noted that the public comments earlier in the evening were “were focused on money. I think what’s missing here is the community good for the environment that has no voice.”

Hornish said the Town Center plan has rules, regulations, policies and guidelines. Introducing a moratorium into the mix will breed uncertainty.

“We need a rule of law and a rule of plan in place. It’s too burdensome to implement a moratorium at this point,” he said. “However, I’m not for a study at this point. We need to let people know what the rules are and move forward.

“There are things that need to be addressed. I think we can address it in time, without burdening staff at this time.”

Moratorium is nuts

Member Tom Odell, who joined the Council in 2010 just as the Planning Commission handed the Town Center plan to the Council for its final review and adoption, said adopting a moratorium now “is like trying to redesign the airplane in flight. The idea of trying to put a moratorium on just the Town Center is nuts. The Town Center plan has been around for seven years. One of the first things I did on the Council is to vote to approve it.

“There are other things [to consider citywide] about buffers set back from streets, for trees. We probably did the Master Builders Association a favor by reducing lot size [across the city]. “If we were to go for a moratorium, and I still might be talked into it, it would be for the city except for Town Center, with gradual release from it. We need to think this thing through. “

Discussion for the Retreat

Mayor Don Gerend, who has been on the Council since 1999 and lived through the entire Town Center process, also opposed a moratorium. He favored staff evaluating issues raised at the Town Hall meeting and reporting to the Council at the January retreat.

“I would expect by retreat time in January we will have some good progress.”

 

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3 Responses to Town Center Moratorium dead, but growth issues heading toward Retreat

  1. It was disappointing that the Council didn’t take the opportunity to elevate their discussion of the moratorium issue raised by Councilman Valderrama to address the larger issue of improving our understanding of the impacts associated with the significant development that is occurring now throughout our City, including Town Center, and the significant associated development at Issaquah Highlands.

    Citizen comments at the recent City growth forum suggest that there is a growing unease regarding our present growth trajectory and its effect on the livability of our City. These are storm clouds that need to be taken seriously. Why wait until sometime in the future to begin the needed studies to determine whether or not we need to take action? By then it may be too late. In fact thise studies on traffic and storm water should have been completed before the recent development surge

    The Council had a great opportunity to step up and address the citizens concerns. Instead they put off dealing with those stated concerns off another day. I hope it won’t be too late but I am not optimistic.

  2. Sean Smith says:

    I’m sensitive to storm water issues and not having basin plans ahead of town center designs are locked down makes me concerned we’re passing up opportunities for regional stormwater systems. We should get a handle on that very soon, before designs are approved (no more of stripping land ahead of all the required studies like happened recently in Sammamish).

    I heard there might be an option to recharge the aquifer instead of letting it all run off down to the lake. I’d like to know more about that idea, like will the water be treated? We’re starting to learn the effects on fish of nasty chemicals (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons- PAHs) in stormwater runoff comming from our cars and roofs. We wouldn’t want to let that get into our groundwater. But infiltration could be a great alternative.

    References:
    http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/whats-killing-coho-study-points-to-urban-road-runoff/
    https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2451727-spromberg-et-al-in-press-j-appl-ecol.html

  3. hwmaine04@comcast.net says:

    This town has no infrastructure in place to meet the growth. Permits at any price. Collecting taxes is the key issue here. Valderrama is on the right track. One reason many US cities are in trouble, since many council members have no clue. Just look at the Seattle makes you sick. A real stew pot in action. They think the head was designed for hair cuts only. Sincerely, H.W. Maine

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