Zoning change that would mean more houses to wait

December 12, 2013

By Administrator

New: Dec. 12, 1:25 p.m.

A proposal that could lead to more densely-built housing developments might wait until the middle of 2015 for a decision.

On Dec. 3, the Sammamish City Council deferred the idea of allowing some properties zoned for one house per acre to use gross zoning, rather than the city’s current standard, which uses net zoning.

Instead of deciding on the change, the council decided to incorporate the proposal into a review of the city’s comprehensive plan.

Specifically, it decided the city should study all land zoned for one home per acre to determine if the zoning is meeting its objective of protecting the environment, and also to consider the change to a gross-density calculation.

The council approved studying the area on a 4-3 vote. Councilmen Don Gerend, John James and John Curley were opposed. Their opposition was generally rooted in a desire to see the city make the change.

Sammamish now uses net density, which means it doesn’t count unbuildable land toward zoning limits. For example, if there was a 5-acre property zoned for one house per acre, but one of those acres was a wetland, under current rules, the unbuildable wetland would not be counted and only four houses could be built.

Considering the city’s open-space requirements and other items that go into the calculation, the number would likely be even lower. Under the proposed change, all five houses could still be constructed, and would likely be clustered together.

Greg Kipp, one of the people asking for the change, suggested a modification to the plan which would cap the density at two houses per acre. This would still allow more houses to be built, though not quite as many.

The proposal would be a pilot program permitted on only a few properties to study if the houses can be built without too many environmental impacts.

The city’s planning commission studied the idea and rejected it on a 3-2 vote. However, two members were absent and both indicated they would have supported the measure. As a result, the minority report, which was submitted to the City Council, was authored by a majority of the commission.

Some council members were ready to approve the pilot program. Gerend and James, both of whom work in real estate, said they’d like to see the pilot program enacted.

James said the city already has some of the most stringent development requirements in the region, and loosening them would be good.

Other council members blasted the idea. Some noted their general unhappiness with the idea of pilot programs. Councilman Tom Vance said the city has seen several such proposals in the past few months alone.

In each case, he said, the pilot program seemed designed not to study new ways of development, but to allow a specific landowner freedom to do what they want with their property.

He further noted he wasn’t sure exactly what the pilot program would study, and that if the experiment fails, the city can’t just make the offending houses go away.

“I just think that’s a terrible way of achieving public policy,” he said.

Councilwoman Nancy Whitten agreed.

“The only thing here is a land grab to get special treatment,” she said.

City Manager Ben Yazici warned the council incorporating a study of all the one-house per acre land in the city into the Comprehensive Plan review was likely to be expensive.

He said he might need to request additional funding from the council.

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