Sammamish City Council to decide on possible review of density increases

December 11, 2012

By Caleb Heeringa

New: Dec. 11, 2:38 p.m.

The Sammamish City Council will decide Dec. 11 whether to move quickly on several proposed changes to the city’s zoning and land use policies or wait until a broader review scheduled for 2015.

Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol told the council that most of the proposals should wait until 2015, when a state-mandated update of the city’s comprehensive plan will allow the city to take a big-picture look at shaping the city’s growth. But with Ace Hardware’s recent struggles (see story, Page 1) and continuing complaints about the lack of commercial options in the city, several citizens and a few councilmembers supported moving forward sooner rather than later.

“There’s obviously a problem with a lack of commercial space in the city,” former Planning Commissioner Scott Hamilton said during public comment Dec. 4. “There’s a need for an immediate solution.”

Hamilton termed the issue an “economic emergency” and proposed that the council consider rezoning several properties along 228th Avenue and around the current Sammamish Highlands and Pine Lake shopping centers to commercial.

He also suggested several changes to the Town Center Plan that he had advocated for during its creation, including shifting some of the density in Town Center from the so-called “A zone,” which is currently the densest proposed area off Southeast Fourth Street, to properties closer to 228th Avenue.

Other proposed plan amendments include:

  • An increase in residential and commercial densities and more help from the city in the area just south of Eastside Catholic High School. The proposal, suggested by a longtime critic of the current Town Center plan and former City Council candidate John Galvin and his neighbors, is a renewal of a similar proposal that failed on a 5-2 vote in 2010 with Don Gerend and John Curley the only councilmembers in support.

In addition to potentially trippling the amount of commercial space in the area — from the current 90,000 square feet to up to 300,000 square feet ­— the proposal calls for a review of the Town Center Plan’s requirements as far as affordable housing and additional city involvement in building storm water and structured parking. Due to the large scope of the suggested changes, Gurol said the petitioners are okay with waiting until 2014 for the review.

Gurol also noted that the economic development plan the city is scheduled to undertake next year will likely encompass many of the same issues.

“Many of these things are in the wheelhouse of the economic development plan,” Gurol said.

  • A proposal by Sammamish resident Greg Kipp to use “gross density” rather than “net density” in determining how many homes can be allowed on a piece of land. The city currently uses a net density calculation, which does not count acreage covered by critical areas and their surrounding buffers when calculating allowed density; a gross density would count that acreage, allowing a developer to place more homes on buildable land. In an example where a developer had four acres of land zoned to allow one home per acre, but two of those acres were covered by critical areas. The current system would allow only two homes, but a developer could place four homes on the remaining two acres under a gross density system.

Kipp’s proposal specifically calls for a pilot project on R-1 zones to see how it works before the 2015 comp plan review. Gurol said such a change could potentially add traffic, affect the pace of growth and impact the city’s critical streams and wetlands and suggested doing a broader analysis of the impacts as part of the 2015 process.

Gerend said he was supportive of doing it as a pilot program, saying it could make more properties feasible for cottage housing developments. The council recently voted to allow up to 50 of the clustered, pedestrian-based units over the next five years.

  • A review of the city’s transportation policies and future road projects. The review stems from recent efforts by Councilman Ramiro Valderrama to get future phases of the East Lake Sammamish Parkway expansion project taken off the city’s long-term roads projects plans. A review will require new projections of future growth and its impact on traffic flow in the city. Gurol suggested moving forward with this review in 2013.

The council will decide Dec. 11 which items to take up next year. Any changes would be routed through the city’s Planning Commission before going back to the council for final action.

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