Town center wins permit reprieve against the city
In the latest twist of a long-running dispute over the fate of the Sammamish Town Center, the developer scored a legal victory against the City of Sammamish that invalidated a decision the city made nearly one year ago to deny them a permit to build the first phase of the town center.
On August 30, the hearing examiner issued a “remand” decision on the permit, ordering both the city and STCA — the town center developer — to renegotiate and collaborate for another round of evaluation.
The original permit was submitted by STCA in 2019 to develop eight acres of land in the middle of Sammamish, near the current Sammamish Village complex. STCA applied for a permit to build 48 townhomes, two large mixed-use buildings containing 300 apartments and 42,000 square feet of commercial space, and a third building with 40,000 square feet of commercial and restaurant space.
The city denied them a permit in November 2020, and STCA immediately appealed the decision to the hearing examiner.
During the hearing, 19 issues were examined, and the city lost 15 of them. This includes 14 issues that the city used as justification to deny the permit last year.
Two problems stood out among the myriad of legal conclusions against the city.
The hearing examiner found the city had applied code inconsistently, and held STCA to a higher standard than three previously approved projects — Southeast Village, Plateau 120, and The Village. This was the case for the issues raised by the city over storm water management, wastewater treatment, critical aquifer protection, solid waste management, and compliance with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environment Design) requirements.
“[City of Sammamish] Community Development subjected STCA’s application to a more stringent standard in a number of regards,” the hearing examiner wrote in his ruling.
Over four other issues, the hearing examiner found the city had misinterpreted its own plans and codes to evaluate the application.
For instance, the city wrongly argued that the townhomes are banned at the proposed location, that all streets must be pedestrian-oriented, and that the CitySquare must be located at the south side of SE 4th Street. The hearing examiner found none of this was actually required in the Town Center Infrastructure Plan (TCIP), Town Center Plan (TCP) and Sammamish Municipal Code (SMC).
In addition, the hearing examiner found that the city’s strict interpretation of the TCIP as having complete authority over town center design was inaccurate since the TCIP offers several possible plans for the development of the town center, which indicates that design flexibility was intentionally baked in.
STCA did lose four of the issues, including three that they raised over due process.
Prior to the hearing, Councilmember Kent Treen and Stephanie Rudat, who is the daughter of city manager David Rudat, tried to drum up public comment against STCA to defeat this appeal.
“Councilman Kent Treen has offered to talk with residents who will be submitting a public comment in advance. Both volume and quality of calls matter,” Rudat wrote on the Vote Sammamish Facebook page ahead of the hearing’s public comment period.
Yet, that effort failed to sway the hearing examiner to rule in the city’s favor. STCA, on the other hand, was very satisfied with the decision.
“We are pleased with the hearing examiner’s decision to remand the Town Center application back to the City of Sammamish so we can work together to realize their Comprehensive Plan that has long been envisioned for this wonderful community,” said Matt Samwick, the operating manager for Innovation Realty Partners who also oversees STCA.
On Sept. 8, David Pyle, the city’s community development director, said in an email that the city was reviewing the decision and declined to make any further comment.
A day later, the city filed a reconsideration motion with the hearing examiner, aiming to change the “remand” decision.
The city wrote in the motion that “the decision appears to be based in whole or in part on erroneous facts or information and, in contravention of the Code.”
After reviewing this motion, the hearing examiner is now accepting written public comments until Friday, Sept. 24. An evaluation of the motion’s merit is expected before Oct. 10.