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.”

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2 Responses to “Sammamish may have seed money for Town Center”

  1. Valerie Spiegler on October 5th, 2012 8:01 am

    Well aware of the bias the Sammamish Review has against the property owners of the proposed Town Center sub-area, I hope my comments get published.

    Property owners who have followed and/or been involved in the town center project for the 10+ years it has been in the “planning stage” are all intimately knowledgeable about the falsehoods, false starts, and false rumors put out by the City Council and Administration all these many years.

    The basic facts haven’t changed: The plan, as written now, is not actionable.
    The densities are inadequate. The money required to provide the infrastructure is non-existent (the city doesn’t have it and has vowed in the past not to pay it, anyway). The City has refused, over and over again, to consider moving the “core” of the town center elsewhere. A reasonable Master Plan for the SE was drawn up and paid for several years ago by private groups. The City would not even read it.

    Ace Hardware, which could have been the jump-start for developing the SE quadrant first, did not drop out of the picture for the reasons given. The neighboring parcels were more than ready to join with Ace, something the City was not going to let happen. Furthermore, just to insure that Ace didn’t go ahead, the City planned to impose obscene and arbitrary fees upon the owner of Ace to get his store built were, fees they knew were unaffordable for him.

    The statements by City officials in this feel-good article about a possible “kick-start” to the town center project cannot possibly be believed by anyone except the uninformed or disinterested property owner.

    Valerie Spiegler
    Property Owner – “A” Zone
    Ed. Note: The writer lives in Virginia.

  2. John Galvin, Ph.D. on October 6th, 2012 8:28 am

    Valerie Spiegler’s letter is on target while the Sammamish Review’s article continues its biased and distorted reporting on the town center. I sat next to the Review’s reporter during the meeting that generated this article, but the Review, as usual, fails to report my remarks that corrected the distortions, errors, and excuses flowing from the city. Case in point, how is it that every other city in the region is moving forward with projects, but Sammamish can only build parks? Sammamish is a country club not a city. We have recreational facilities, but not vital local services. We don’t have lower taxes and higher services. We’ve got lower taxes and higher fees and disappearing services.

    Once again we are seeing certain City Council members and the City Manger and Director of Community Development playing games. The money earmarked for the Town Center and all the talk about jump starting the town center is all smoke and mirrors intended to continue the illusion that these officials are serious about the Town Center, The only City Council member who seems to be honestly concerned about the Town Center, appropriate local services and the long term sustainability of the city is Council Member John James. Meanwhile, the real money, 28 mullion, will go to an Aquatic Center.

    Ace Hardware wanted to relocate to the town center and landowners in the SE Quadrant were fully committed and cooperative. Suitable plans were being developed and progress was possible, but the City Officials sabotaged the project. When Ace Hardware closes next year thank your city officials.

    Valerie Spiegler speaks for many landowners who are tired of the excuses and blatant lies coming out of City Hall.

    All the work that City Manager Yazici wants the economic consultant to do has been provided to the city by landowners and he and his staff have ignored. it. The fictional money earmarked for the town center and the economic consultant are simply delay tactics and excuses for an inability to do the job.

    Landowners and developers will be bring proposals to the City Staff. Watch and see how these proposals are rejected, blocked, and sabotaged.

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