Sammamish may have seed money for Town Center
October 4, 2012
By Caleb Heeringa
After years of talk about kickstarting development in Town Center, the city looks poised to put its money where its mouth is in 2013.
But with the economy still on a long road back from the recession, it remains to be seen whether that money will be enough to lure developers into taking the plunge any time soon or whether the city will need to walk back some of its more optimistic visions of the future of Sammamish.
City Manager Ben Yazici outlined some of his proposals to the Sammamish City Council’s Economic Development Committee at a Sept. 25 meeting. The council will be considering the proposals as part of budget discussions this month. The ideas include:
u Rolling over a $3 million fund for infrastructure like road improvements to Southeast Fourth Street west of 228th Avenue, which will need to be widened to two lanes in each direction along with a median, bike lanes and sidewalks in order to accommodate traffic from the so-called “A zone” – the densest part of the Town Center plan.
u Earmarking an additional $1 million for regional stormwater facilities around Town Center. The planned development’s proximity to several sensitive streams and the low-impact development proposals adopted as part of the Town Center Plan will likely mean lots of needed capacity for storm water.
u Reserving $500,000 for an “implementation fund” for Town Center. The fund could be used to purchase parkland, trails or open space that would facilitate the walkable city center envisioned in the plan or go to some sort of parking structure that would help developers meet the parking standards in the area, which call for 80 percent of parking to be underground or in a garage rather than ground level. The fund could also be used as seed money to pay the city’s share of a local improvement district in the area.
u The hiring of an economic development consultant to help market the Town Center plan to developers and attract businesses to the city.
Despite the tepid economy and the fact that the Town Center Plan has only been on the books for about two years, Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol said the city has fielded phone calls from developers who want to know more about the project. Gurol estimated that “four or five” developers had inquired, though the city has yet to receive any formal development proposals.
“The purse strings are starting to loosen a little bit,” Deputy City Manager Lyman Howard said. “In general the economic climate is starting to improve and people are interested in looking at their next projects. They do see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Ace Hardware had given the city rough designs for a stand-alone commercial development just south of Eastside Catholic earlier this year, but the project fell apart because the proposal did not coordinate development plans with neighboring parcels and the costs of handling storm water in the areas was too much for a single business.
Town Center landowner Alden Linn said he and several of his neighbors have been frustrated by the lack of progress on development in recent years and the complexity of having to coordinate development with neighbors who may or may not be on the same page. Yazici said some of the money proposed for this budget could go to help put those sorts of unified plans together and will mean that the city will be ready to chip in when a developer comes forward with a proposal.
Linn noted that as the city ruminates about its Town Center plan, development is beginning in earnest on a Safeway, gas station and movie theater in the Issaquah Highlands. He asked whether the city shows the same level of flexibility on parking requirements that Issaquah did for that project.
“You’d never be able to build that in Town Center because of the parking requirements,” Linn said.
Yazici said part of the task of the economic development consultant could be to compare Town Center to other higher-density development plans in nearby suburbs and determine whether the project was competitive. He noted that the development being seen now in the Highlands is more than 15 years in the making and would not have been possible without government taking a leading role on putting in infrastructure like the freeway interchange at Sunset Way.
“There was millions spent in public improvements before you ever saw a roofline there,” Yazici said.
Though city staff cautioned against wholesale changes to a Town Center Plan that took years of public meetings, councilmembers were split on whether they’d be open to smaller “tweaks” in the plan given how the economic realities had changed since 2008. Councilman Tom Vance urged having patience and waiting for the market to come to the city.
“The Issaquah Highlands just sat there empty for years,” Vance said. “We ran into a great big stop work order from the economic Gods.”