GMA nuanced in development control, says City staff

  • The special study session on Sammamish transportation concurrency and traffic issues continues at the City Council meeting today. This begins at a special time, 4:30pm, to about 6:30pm. It will be televised by Comcast 21 and webcast on the City website.

The Growth Management Act doesn’t exactly mandate development, as Sammamish officials often said, a special study session last night on traffic and transportation concurrency revealed last night.

Instead, the GMA gives cities and countries some options to respond to growth.

The deep-dive into how Sammamish developed and uses its currency system continues tonight in a special time, 4:30pm, at a City Council meeting that will be webcast and televised on Comcast 21.

The special meetings were prompted by a study by a Sammamish citizen, Miki Mullor, who concluded Sammamish manipulated concurrency to approve development.

He claimed the GMA allows cities to stop development if concurrency fails.

Not entirely so, the City Council was told last night.

And, yes, through policy decisions from a succession of City Councils, the Staff crafted concurrency that approves development—but the rationale is far more complex than the black-and-white reasons claimed by Mullor.

Growth Management Act

The GMA is State law that provides the foundation for growth management. (Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Source: City of Sammamish.

In the past, Sammamish officials declared unequivocally that the GMA requires the City to accept growth, which means approving development.

Fundamentally, this is correct.

But as Staff told the City Council last night, there are nuances. (Figure 2.)

Figure 2.

Down-zoning

It’s also permissible to reevaluate land use (zoning) under GMA, which could lead to down-zoning. This would limit development.

However, this runs into a myriad of other issues.

One is the political firestorm the City, any city, would face from property owners who paid taxes at the higher zoning, often for years or decades, based on King County’s practice of taxing at “highest and best use” regardless of the current use. In other words, if there is a single home on a 10 acre parcel zoned R-4 (four units per acre) or higher, and Sammamish wanted to down-zone this to one unit per acre (R-1), the property owner who counted on developing this land will be less than thrilled.

Some people with developable land count on doing so as part of their retirement. This profit would go up in smoke, and it’s the key objection of Mayor Don Gerend whenever the topic of down-zoning or a moratorium comes up. (It’s also true, however, that Sammamish does not have a fiduciary duty to make people rich through development.)

Some may also argue that down-zoning constitutes a “taking” under the US Constitution.

Policy decisions

One of the major policy decisions made by previous City Councils is that roads won’t be expanded in advance of development, but are intended to be improved “concurrent” with development.

“Concurrent” in government-speak is within six years.

If Sammamish improved roads in advance of anticipated development, taxpayers have to front 100% of the costs. The City can recapture costs upon development, but this could be years to do so. In the meantime, the City must finance the cost, or pay out of cash, which potentially diverts from other needs.

By waiting until development occurs and pursuing “concurrent” road improvements, developers pay their fair share of costs and reduce the cost to taxpayers.

A current example is Issaquah-Pine Lake Road improvements. This has been on the City’s “transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) since 2006 but the City hasn’t done any work.

The Conner-Jarvis development, now underway, will construct about 60% of the road as its development proceeds.

Another policy decision is to use the “corridor” approach to concurrency traffic testing rather than segment testing.

This permits the City to average the traffic across an entire corridor, which almost certainly passes concurrency rather than looking at a particular segment that might fail concurrency.

Issaquah-Pine Lake Road

Issaquah-Pine Lake Road is, again, the example to consider.

Council Member Christie Malchow points out that the section of IPL Road from 228th to the entrance/exit of Pine Lake Middle School has multiple lanes, turning lanes, bike lakes and sidewalks. This segment is unlikely to ever fail, she says.

The balance of IPL Road, all the way to the Issaquah city limits, currently has segments that if looked at in isolation fail concurrency. But because the entire corridor is used for testing, the test never fails.

Victor Salemann, the City’s outside transportation engineer, says that if segments were used rather than the corridor, and there are segments all over Sammamish that fail, the City would be on the hook to fix these are great cost.

By using the corridor approach, development impact fees can be used to address problems.

Malchow understands the theory but objects to the practice. She vowed to pursue this at the meeting tonight.

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5 Responses to GMA nuanced in development control, says City staff

  1. K Gamblin says:

    Thanks, Scott for the insightful (and even handed) analysis.

  2. I approve of the city being more transparent with the very detailed and complicated traffic concurrency calculations from last night’s meeting. My takeaway from this 4+ hour meeting is that a strong council has the choice and ability to define LOS (level of service) and set policy for our city.
    John Robinson

  3. Melissa Grimaldi says:

    I have happily sat on IPL road prior to the Jarvis development and would have happily as a tax payer funded road development vs housing development had the opportunity presented itself.

  4. Pingback: The inside story of how traffic and concurrency became “the No. 1 issue in Sammamish:” failure, success of government | Sammamish Comment

  5. Pingback: In 2006, Sammamish pointed to concurrency to stop growth | Sammamish Comment

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