by Jack Mayne
Whether to allow developers to build more large park and fly facilities outside the airport spilled into public view last week when the SeaTac City Council first voted 4-3 to prevent the city’s planning commission from hearing or considering a committee’s proposed changes, then to backtrack to allow a presentation but not a public hearing.
The actions became even more public when Wes Wood, project manager for Dollar Development, wrote a letter to SeaTac City Manager Todd Cutts saying that Mayor Tony Anderson, who pushed the votes at the special workshop Council meeting “went on to say the Planning Commission shouldn’t waste their time on something the Council may not even be in favor of.”
City Manager Cutts said conversation at the study session on Oct. 15 resulted in a second 4-3 vote to allow the commission to hear the proposal.
“There are differing opinions on the Council to the revision of the parking code and the SEPA (environmental protection) evaluation,” Cutts said Thursday in a telephone interview. “The Council is still having that conversation and digesting that information. There was some conversation about whether or not it was appropriate for the Planning Commission to hear this information at this point because the Council felt like they weren’t fully comfortable with it and they wanted to make sure that they got Planning Commissions recommendation on not only the bonus program that the ad hoc committee had recommended, but also (they) had Council’s thoughts on where they were going with this parking before the Planning Commission dug in to analyze this.
“But they ended up having the conversation and after a few minutes of conversation there was an agreement amongst Council members that it could and should move forward to the Planning Commission for a presentation to the Planning Commission the next night.”
The Planning Commission heard the ad hoc committee presentation on Oct. 15, he said “and they are also deliberating on the parking bonus code.”
Cutts said the planners would discuss the parking zoning changes at their next meeting, but did not know whether a public hearing would be held.
Observers at the Council workshop meeting believe Mayor Tony Anderson should have recused himself from voting because he works as a supervisory official for the Port of Seattle Police.
This development is latest in a long ranging battle between the City of SeaTac, the Port that owns the airport, and private property owners who run hotels and parking businesses around the airport.
Many have accused the port of pressuring the city so as to maximize its own commercial enterprises on its airport property at the expense of surrounding private businesses.
Additionally, the operators of the only two larger parking facilities, WallyPark, with 1,700 parking spaces, and MasterPark’s garage with 1,039 stalls are said to have lobbied the city not to change its parking code that would allow other large parking facilities to compete along International Boulevard.
Dollar Development objects
A big objector to the Council stymieing a Planning Commission public hearing was Dollar Development, the parent of the Dollar airport park and fly facilities, a well-known local car rental business and Scott Plaza totaling 18,000 square feet along Military Road in SeaTac.
Wood told The SeaTac Blog in an interview that the city formed the ad hoc committee to look at zoning regulations for large development along International Boulevard, the city’s main business street.
“One of the problems the city has right now is the current codes the city has are really not developer friendly. (City officials) ask how come nobody is building in our city? They have been told by myself and by other developers and property owners that your codes are pretty oppressive.
“The city has a 300-base limit which means you cannot have a parking garage for park and fly for any more than 300 cars. We have been trying to do a project there for six years and it has been a real struggle.
“We need way, way more than (300 cars) to make the project pay,” he said noting their project would need between 1,400 and 1,500 stalls to make feasible the $70 million dollar development “that would bring life to the corner of 176th and International Blvd., not to mention jobs and additional revenue for the city.”
“One of the problems you have in SeaTac is that retail really doesn’t pay for what it costs to build it,” Wood said. “There are two drivers in SeaTac: the highest revenue return is park and fly operations, the second one is hotels. Everything else is way under that. So, we wanted to build a parking garage and a hotel with some retail.”
“We have got a problems and we have told (city officials) you’ve got something here that won’t work.
“So they started the ad hoc committee – a good thing – to look at the codes to see if there was something to be done to be more developer friendly.”
Wood was appointed by the city to be on the committee.
“We spent almost two years going through all the codes and working all this out,” he says.
The committee eventually came up with a 1,000-car base, to replace the 300-car base in the current code. He noted exceptions were made for the WallyPark facility, which has 1,700 parking spaces, and MasterPark’s garage with 1,039 parking stalls.
“Our competitors have been lobbying the city to keep (its progress) stalled but we believe in fair competition and freedom in the marketplace,” Wood said.
The Port of Seattle has pressured the city and the ad hoc committee to not change the rules to give others the extra parking spaces needed for a financially sound project, Wood said.
“I, and several others in the room who were listening, were then quite taken back with (Mayor) Tony Anderson’s recommendation the Planning Commission not see the presentation the following night as planned,” Wood wrote in a letter to City Manager Cutts. “This seemed strange since one of the major roles of the commission is to review these kinds of proposals and offer comments and/or recommendations to the Council to give them additional input, options, recommendations, etc., about the subject proposals being submitted.”
In the interview, Wood added, “With Tony Anderson, it is really strange. We’ve met with Tony about our project before and I would say he has been for us. Then the other night at that (Oct. 15) meeting I was floored by what he was saying. He has been on the Council and he has been pro-some development and then suddenly for him to be the guy to drag his feet and to not want to show the Planning Commission the proposal is so unlike Tony.
“We were shocked to hear him oppose this,” Wood said. “It made us wonder who is getting to Tony – maybe it’s his employer, we don’t know.”
Wood, along with others say Mayor Anderson should recuse himself, but if he did, his majority would lose control because tie votes automatically mean the matter fails.
He said maybe the SeaTac City Council is happy the way things are, but if that is the case, “they should just come out and say so and save everyone’s time.”
Fernald feels ‘left out.’
“It looked and sounded to me that some Council members were literally trying to keep the (Planning Commission” from doing their job,” Councilwoman Pam Fernald wrote in an e-mail note to Wood. “My question was, and is, why? I heard no logical or valid reason . . . to answer that question.”
“Since January, bit by bit by bit, the majority of the Council has effectively cut the public out of city business at Council meetings and the elimination of Council committees has also cut Council member Forschler, myself and Council member Terry Anderson out (of) equal opportunity participation to be seen or heard by the citizens we represent – or to be seen or heard and build a relationship with (city) staff,” Fernald said.
“As an elected official of this city Council, I feel my service on the Council is being diminished and I do not feel that I am included or given equal opportunities to participate fully and represent citizens who elected me,” Fernald wrote. “So, all that to say the discussion Monday night regarding the parking does not surprise me, but it certainly disappoints me.”
Regular follower of the Council and SeaTac business consultant Earl Gipson and regular Council critic Vicki Lockwood also wanted the mayor not to vote on the issue.
Gipson said because Mayor Anderson “is a long time managerial employee of the Port of Seattle . . . and the Port has made its staunch opposition to changes to the SeaTac Zoning code explicitly clear regarding parking bonuses, spaces, etc. . . . and most recently with Airport Manager Mark Reis appearing before the Chamber of Commerce implying a potential parking price war between the Port and SeaTac private businesses should changes be implemented.”
Lockwood also sought Mayor Anderson to recuse himself because he “obviously has a conflict of interest regarding this issue, as his primary employer is the Port of Seattle. The Port has/is very vocal regarding their desire to have a captured market for parking. Even if Tony was capable of voting independently on these issues, the perception of a conflict is paramount and should be recognized and appropriate action taken regarding his participation.”