Sammamish City Council changes pair of Town Center regulations
December 13, 2013
New: Dec. 13, 2:14 p.m.
Sammamish has relaxed a pair of environmental regulations in an effort to spur development in Town Center.
After a year-long study by consulting group Community-Attributes, the council took action Dec. 3 on two proposals. First, they agreed to reduce the amount of structured parking; second they made changes to the amount of stormwater that can run off a property. The parking change was approved unanimously, while the change to stormwater standard was approved 5-2, with Councilmen Ramiro Valderrama and Don Gerend opposed.
The Town Center Plan, approved in 2008, envisions an urban-style downtown on about 240 acres in the middle of the city. The area straddles 228th Avenue and runs generally from City Hall north to Eastlake High School. It would allow about 2,000 residential units and 600,000 square feet of commercial space.
Since the plan was approved, however, there had been little interest in developing it until recently when a handful of applications for development were filed. The proposals call largely for residential development, not the urban, mixed-use development envisioned by the plan.
Councilman John James acknowledged that the plan was approved at the beginning of the Great Recession. However, he also noted there hasn’t been much movement since the recovery began two years ago.
Parking and stormwater requirements, he said, are what’s keeping developers from deciding to try and build. The consultant’s study largely backed James’ assertion.
The initial plan called for Town Center developments to have 80 percent of their parking structured – in garages rather than open lots. Parking garages are considerably more expensive to build than surface parking lots. As a result, many developers complained the projects would not pencil out with the added costs.
The new regulations call for only 50 percent of the parking to be structured. City officials were unclear on exactly what impact it would be likely to have, in terms of enticing developers to build.
“At 80 percent, nothing happened. At 50 percent, maybe something will,” James said.
Community Development Director Kamuron Gurol echoed those comments, noting that the change will likely be perceived as good news by developers.
More water will flow
The other changes to regulations will allow more stormwater to flow off a property.
Cities regulate how much water flows off a property after development in an effort to preserve the health of nearby streams and lakes, in addition to reducing the potential for flooding on other nearby properties.
Sammamish’s initial guidelines had called for developers to attempt to capture 100 percent of stormwater on the site.
However, the goal seems unreachable. Considering the types of soils in Sammamish, the idea of getting all the water to seep into the ground does not seem possible, said Eric LaFrance, a city stormwater engineer.
He noted there might be theoretical ways to still stop any water from leaving the site – he gave an example of using tanker trucks to remove the water – but such extreme measures would not be economically feasible.
The new regulations will require developers to retain 60 percent of their stormwater, and in the Ebright Creek area, to attempt to retain 80 percent.
Gerend hailed the change.
“I think it’s reasonable to take these actions which are very defensible environmentally and economically,” he said.
Councilwoman Nancy Whitten questioned the value of the change. She wanted more information to determine if the change would actually have an impact.
“I’m not sure what we’re doing. Are we helping?” Whitten said.
She noted that striving for an 80 percent retention in Ebright Creek is admirable, but wondered if it was realistic.
“If not, why put it on the books?” she said.
The new standards go into effect immediately.