Sammamish residents don’t spend much in town
April 17, 2013
By Ari Cetron
New: April 17, 3:39 p.m.
Sammamish residents spend barely a quarter of their money within the city, a number that needs to go up dramatically if the city is to support the town center project as envisioned.
A consultant studying the city’s economic climate, however, says it should be possible.
“It seems quite well within reach,” said Chris Mefford of Community Attributes.
The City Council hired Mefford’s company to do a community and economic analysis of Sammamish.
While the full report isn’t due until the fall, Mefford presented some preliminary findings to the council’s Community and Economic Development Committee and then to the full council April 9.
So far, Mefford’s group has looked at Sammamish in comparison to other so-called bedroom communities around the region including University Place, Mill Creek, Bainbridge Island and Mercer Island.
Sammamish has a higher population than any of those places and at the same time, has fewer jobs within the city limits than any of them.
Mefford pointed out that Sammamish has 0.3 jobs for each household. Three of the four peer cities have a ratio of 0.6 jobs per household, Mefford said.
“You could add a lot of jobs to Sammamish and still maintain the character of a bedroom community,” he said.
Adding in those jobs might help with the city’s other problem, retaining retail spending.
Mefford explained that Sammamish residents spend only about 27 percent of their money within the city. He particularly noted the amount spent on groceries by city residents within the city was only 31 percent, a number Mefford said should be close to 100 percent.
“Keeping things the way they are today is not going to be enough to support a town center,” Mefford said.
If Sammamish wants to support the two existing retail centers and the retail envisioned within town center, residents would need to spend 43 percent of their money in town, Mefford said.
He stated repeatedly, however, that reaching that percentage should not be too difficult.
One example he gave was the chance to open more family-oriented shops. He noted Sammamish has a high household size – meaning people have a lot of children – so the city would be ripe for such businesses.
City Councilmembers noted the conundrum of adding to retail sales while trying to maintain the city’s character.
“We’re never going to get a Costco here, nor do we want one,” said Councilman Tom Vance. “So without big boxes, what can we do?”
Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol suggested considering the types of businesses that aren’t in Sammamish today, such as bookstores, bakeries or wine shops. Gurol suggested considering Sammamish’s development regulations to see if there might be something that accidentally makes opening such businesses too difficult.
The lack of jobs was also a problem. With much of the city’s population gone during the day, some retailers could be reluctant to come to the city, fearing a huge lull in business during the mornings and afternoons.
“Developers want daytime jobs before they go to build retail,” said Councilman John James.
In addition to looking at the retail and job markets, Community Attributes is studying the development and real estate market. Mefford’s report notes that Sammamish’s Town Center plan has parking and height requirements generally in line with comparable areas. In this case, the consultant compared Town Center to the Issaquah Highlands, Mercer Island, Bothell, the Bel-Red area of Bellevue and Redmond Overlake.
While the parking and height requirements are similar, Sammamish has a lower density than do those other areas.
However, Community Attributes noted that the comparisons were not complete. Sometimes a city may have requirements in place that act as a de facto restriction, meaning that the numbers listed in the code may not reflect conditions as they would be built.
They are also analyzing impact fees in nearby areas, but that study is not yet complete.
Mefford said some developers believe Sammamish might be a good place to build. His firm has reached out to a few developers and plans to talk with others. On the up side, developers say the time is right to move forward and that they have an interest in acquiring large swaths of the Town Center area.
On the down side, developers have a perception that Sammamish is essentially landlocked – that people do not come from outside the city to spend money there. They also note that development in the Issaquah Highlands presents a significant competition.
Even so, Mefford said at least one developer was “quite bullish” on building in Sammamish.
Mefford will present another update to the city in May and expects to have a draft version of his report complete in early June.