By Jack Mayne
Outgoing SeaTac City Councilman Rick Forschler expressed sadness and anger Thursday (Oct. 10) when the city staff said there was a need to withdraw a proposed comprehensive plan map amendment for consideration due to “procedural issues.”
The area is bounded by Military Road on the east, 26th Ave. S, on the west, S. 128th Street on the north, and S. 133rd St. on the south (more details here).
Within the proposed re-zone area is a large undeveloped parcel of land. The owner of this vacant property is Taj Basra, a developer who wants to build a multi-family residential facility. However, the current zoning is single family residential. Forschler requested the city upzone the area to the highest density residential category that would be feasible (medium or high density residential), and to include the revised upzoning in the City’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan.
In effect, the potential change was postponed for decision until 2020, after necessary traffic analyses are completed.
Community and Economic Development Director Steve Pilcher told the Council for the city to meet state environmental policy act (SEPA) requirements mandated by high density residential zoning, city staff is required to make a traffic impact analysis.
Pilcher said the city’s traffic consultant estimated the analysis would cost $50,000 and would take two-plus months to complete. That expense would require a budget amendment and the time to do an impact study. That time would prevent the city from meeting the comprehensive plan amendments deadline. Pilcher said all changes must be considered as one package, “so if we slowed on this proposal, everything else would slow down with it.”
“There doesn’t appear to be much public support for the proposal as it has been put forth,” Pilcher said. On Sept. 23, a community meeting was held to solicit public comment on the proposal. Both verbal and written comments were received that showed significant public opposition to the proposal. Councilmember Pam Fernald wondered if all of the public and staff discussions to date on the issue would be preserved “or do they have to start all over again next year?” Pilcher said the city would keep all previous comments on the record.
Councilmember Rick Forschler said he was “very disappointed in the proposal to withdraw this map amendment from the new comprehensive plan proposal,” because the restrictions of being an airport town prevents many things from developing in SeaTac. Slowing this potential change means businesses that could have developed in the city will go to other places”. He also mentioned the federally created Opportunity Zone inherent in this location and said “we lost the maximum value of it by the end of this year.”
He noted he is not running for reelection and part of that is health reasons, but partly because he feels the city staff is running the show.
“I am disappointed that this has happened,” Forschler said, but he said he would vote to remove the proposal from the 2020 Comp Plan.
“We need to have areas zoned so that we can have the areas zone that our citizens would like,” he said. “It is not going to happen the way the zoning is now.”
“I am disappointed — this could have been brought up months ago,” he said addressing his fellow Councilmembers. “I hope you are paying attention. I am not going to be here next year. This could have been concluded, resolved when there was still time.”
Addressing City Manager Carl Cole, “I am sorry Carl, but this has been for some people in the city, this is either incompetence or intentional sabotage. The larger multifamily buildings are something we’ve needed in our city for decades and haven’t been able to get it.”
Councilmember Joel Wachtel said “I have a different opinion,” and noting the process of getting a project approved needs to be looked at. People here expect their representative to understand what they believe and elected officials “should be supporting those opinions.”
“I am not disappointed in this decision” to postpone the final ruling on the multifamily buildings with retail sought for the north SeaTac area.
Deputy Mayor Clyde Hill said he hoped there could be a clear decision on whether more residential and business could coexist, but instead there is not decision and said he would vote to keep the matter on the agenda for potential final decision later.
Councilmember Stanley Tombs agreed he would support holding in abeyance for later final decision.
Peter Kwon said the Council and city staff need better outreach processes and favors holding the decision on the residential and business mix over for decision.
“It would be a good project but not in a single family neighborhood,” said nearby resident and Councilmember Pam Fernald.