PODCAST: To build or not to build?
Many teenagers in Sammamish are unhappy with the lack of entertainment areas for their age group. This week, our podcast dives into the heart of the development debate in Sammamish to understand the different visions for the City’s future. Join hosts Alex Woodall and Simran Tandon as they interview Matt Samwick, the operating manager of Innovation Realty Partners, Sammamish City Councilmember Kent Treen, and Janelle Roberson, from the Sammamish Heritage Society.
If you have lived in Sammamish at any point over the past 12 years, there is a good chance you have encountered the debate about development in this city. The heart of the debate lies in one question: to build or not to build a town center for the City of Sammamish? Below is a primer to help readers understand both sides of this debate.
The origins of this debate began far earlier than 2008, when the Sammamish City Council first approved a plan for the Town Center. But it truly began in 1990, when the Growth Management Act (GMA) was passed into law. State legislators found that unplanned growth was threatening the economy and environment, so they created the GMA to outline areas for preservation, mark areas for urban growth and prepare comprehensive plans for development to be carried out at the local level. Sammamish was an area designated for urban growth, which meant the city had to comply with the plans for growth laid out by the GMA, including the creation of 4,180 housing units by 2035 to absorb the population growth of the Pacific Northwest.
This development goal was what originally led to the proposal for a town center, which was first outlined in a Comprehensive Plan prepared by the City Planning Advisory Board in 2003. Their goal was to create a ‘heart of the city’ in a way that ensured “urban growth anticipated in Sammamish will occur in a way that contributes to the natural character and quality of life in Sammamish” (Sammamish Town Center Plan). The official planning process for the Town Center started in 2004, using a citizen task force to help guide the design. Throughout the process of designing the Town Center, the city took into account citizen perspectives via public forums, open houses, a Sammamish Youth Board meeting, surveys, and more. Eventually, the city drafted a Sammamish Town Center plan that they adopted in 2008.
Since the conception of the Town Center, there has been controversy surrounding it. Some feel like the addition of a town center would ruin the bedroom community haven that they consider Sammamish to be, while others believe that the city could use a heart to bring a greater sense of community, and more activities, for local residents. However, the debate goes further than just the kind of vibe people want the city to have. Issues such as traffic and the status of Sammamish’s housing targets are at the true heart of this debate.
One of the main arguments against the Town Center is that developing the area further would lead to increased traffic on already congested roads. A town center with activities and attractions would clearly draw people to it, leading to more driving on crowded roads like 228th Ave.
However, supporters of the Town Center claim that the traffic increase would not be significant. The main company behind the first phase of the Town Center, Innovation Realty Partners, in collaboration with Pillar Properties, argued that the Town Center would be an ideal location for business to rent office space and would bring jobs to Sammamish, therefore decreasing the traffic leaving the city. They also discuss their association with King County Metro to provide transit services within the area of the Town Center, citing a plan for a “state-of-the-art multi-modal transit hub that will accommodate a park-and-ride lot, serve transit and ride-share, and connect to the city’s walking and biking trails” (Innovation Realty LLC). However, this service would only be available on the condition that the Town Center is actually built.
Beyond traffic, many wonder if the Town Center is necessary anymore due to the growth in housing in Sammamish over the past few years. One of the original goals of the Town Center was to absorb population growth by building multiple housing units in a dense area by 2035 to meet the GMA development regulations. But Sammamish has come a long way since the plans were originally made. The city set goals for residential units built by 2035, which included 2,640 residential zoning units and 2,000 town center units. According to the city council’s data, the city achieved 92% of its housing goals outside of the Town Center. Some question the necessity of building a Town Center right now, given the already robust housing growth in Sammamish.
Supporters claim the Town Center is still a necessity for providing variety in housing stock for residents with diverse financial means. The developers assert that the Town Center would provide more affordable housing options for teachers, firefighters and other local workers, since affordable housing is not widely available in Sammamish. In addition, some support this development because it is “up-zoning” land already claimed for city use, and using the land for smart growth that creates a space for the community to congregate and enjoy.
The city council passed a new traffic concurrency ordinance in 2019 to try to limit growth. The City has cited traffic concurrency as a reason for why development should not occur due to an inability for current roads to keep up with congestion. However, the state ruled the process by which City used violated the GMA and created inconsistencies within the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The City has been granted 6 months to revise the concurrency ordinance, or change their Comprehensive Plan in order to make it compliant with the GMA. You can read more about this issue here.
The Sammamish Town Center project is one of the most debated issues in our city, and one that directly impacts all of its residents. Whether it is yearning to maintain the Pacific Northwest bedroom community or just wishing there was something to do in Sammamish, there are many opinions on the subject. In this week’s episode of Indy on Air, we interviewed guests with different viewpoints.