Critics of a City of Sammamish development moratorium questioned the process and the reasoning behind the measure during a public hearing at the Sept. 1 city council meeting.
Most comments were submitted in writing as the Council continues to meet virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The moratorium pauses most major construction and development activity in Sammamish in response to an April ruling by the state Growth Management Hearing Board (GMHB).
The ruling resulted from a complaint filed by former mayor Don Gerend after the Council raised the bar for awarding traffic concurrency certificates.
Traffic concurrency certificates are a planning tool designed to ensure traffic generated by new development does not overwhelm the capacity of roads and intersections. If traffic from a new development is projected to push a road or intersection beyond capacity, then that means no certificate and no development.
The GMHB ruled that the City must reconcile the new concurrency criteria – which are more demanding and less conducive to additional development – with its Comprehensive Plan before the changes can be adopted.
The Council responded with a series of emergency moratoriums on accepting concurrency applications in order to buy time to overhaul the entire Comprehensive Plan. The hold on accepting concurrency applications – and the resulting halt in new development – runs through January 2021.
The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS) submitted a four-page letter against the moratorium, arguing that it is part of a larger effort by the Council to stop growth.
The Council designed the new concurrency criteria to “trigger concurrency failure, stop development, and keep Sammamish exclusive,” wrote Gina Clark, government affairs manager for MBAKS in King County.
Clark also blasted the Council for adopting the moratorium as an emergency measure and for failing to hold the public hearing in a timely fashion. “It is … an incredibly egregious assertion that this passes the muster of an emergency,” Clark wrote.
The moratorium has halted progress on the Sammamish Town Center, a mixed-use development that meets the requirements of the City’s existing Comprehensive Plan – including the old traffic concurrency criteria.
Kevin Jones, a traffic engineer writing on behalf of the developer, argued that the old concurrency standards are the most rigorous in the state. If the moratorium was lifted, new development would still need to meet a very high bar regarding traffic impacts, he wrote.
“It is unclear why a moratorium is necessary and what adverse impacts would occur without the city amending these standards,” Jones wrote.
Only two people out of the eight who submitted comments expressed support for the moratorium. Dave Osmer of Providence Point, who called in during the hearing, urged the Council to go one step further and remove an exception for public projects that would allow the Issaquah School District to apply for a concurrency certificate and build an elementary and high school near his residence.
Gerend, who filed the GMHB complaint, suggested the Council ought to revert to the previous concurrency criteria and support the Town Center because it would stimulate the city’s economy and create a wider range of affordable housing types and sizes.
“What is needed in cities are thriving mixed-use town centers where residents can work, dine and shop, and recreate,” he wrote.
Correction: This article originally described Gina Clark as the “government affairs manager for MBAKS.” We corrected it to “government affairs manager for MBAKS in King County.”