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Black Diamond City Council considers YarrowBay projects The Villages and Lawson Hills

The Black Diamond City Council has been wrestling with the

permit applications for two master planned developments, The Villages and Lawson Hills, for more than two weeks.

The members began deliberations July 19 and have been working through the issues surrounding the developments including storm water, noise, fiscal impacts, traffic and density.

Through Tuesday the members have met 19 times in closed-record hearings, which includes the public comment sessions.

The council has been pushing and pulling the facts and information provided in the record from the final environmental impact statement or FEIS and MPD hearing in March.

Phil Olbrechts, the city’s hearing examiner, presided over the FEIS and MPD hearing. He ruled the FEIS statements on The Villages and Lawson Hills were adequate and he recommended approval with conditions for the MPDs.

Following public comment on the projects that spanned several weeks, the council began deliberations with the final goal to approve, remand or send a part or all of the application back to the hearing examiner, or deny the permit. If the members approve, other considerations are the conditions imposed on the developments.

YarrowBay, a Kirkland development company, is proposing to construct 4,800 residences or dwelling units on The Villages property and 1,250 in the Lawson Hills project. Each of the master planned developments would also have retail, office and open space.

The council spent most of the last three meetings circling the issue of density.

The council dove into the density puzzle Aug. 11 and continued the discussion Aug. 12 and most of the Tuesday, Aug. 17 meeting.

Councilman Craig Goodwin expressed his concern with overall density in The Villages and the high density proposals in the projects.

Goodwin said during the Aug. 11 deliberations he saw value in open spaces provided by the development.

“In addition to the open space in sensitive areas provided in The Villages, there are significant open spaces provided in the city.... This is important to us,” Goodwin said

The councilman stated he had a problem with the density in The Villages at nine dwelling units per acre.

The density calculation based on the gross acreage of 1,196 is four per acre in The Villages, but when the sensitive areas, buffers and commercial areas are back out of the equation, that leaves about 535 acres, which works out to 8.7 units per acre.

Lawson Hill comes in at about four per acre.

Goodwin said of the nine units per acre density in The Villages, “that’s the true density we are going to see on the ground.”

Councilman Bill Boston pointed out, “You are looking at nine units per acre, but not every acre will have nine units. Some could have 12, some could have four. There is a mix.”

Councilwoman Kristine Hanson brought up the transfer of development rights program, which allowed YarrowBay to reach the density calculation on the projects.

The city’s TDR program is designed to allow development rights on designated properties to be sold to a developer. The property owner is able to keep the land, and the land cannot be developed in the future. The developer is allowed to transfer the development rights from the protected land and add to the density of the land being developed.

Goodwin said YarrowBay “claims credit should also be given for open space preserved through the TDR program.”

According to Goodwin some of the areas designated “could not have been developed under any circumstances.”

Boston noted the city’s TDR program was intended to give a landowner value for property the city wanted protected and not developed.

Goodwin said, “In the end, that is the ultimate value of the TDR program, not in preserving land, but taking land that could not be developed and compensating landowners. I happen to know who those landowners are, but that is not in the record and we cannot discuss that.”

Hanson said she disagreed with Goodwin, “I agree it is compensation to the landowner, but if you look at what King County did. They took people’s land and said you cannot develop it. They were preserving land, but they were taking it away from the landowner.”

Goodwin said he also had problems with high density proposals, which the councilman called “ultra high density.” Goodwin said the term ultra high density was not an official term, but one he used.

The high density proposals of 13-18 and 18-30 per acre areas was the designation Goodwin objected to in the developments.

YarrowBay wrote in the July 14 closing statement document the high density areas allow for, “diversity and variety in smaller, more affordable, home offerings.”

Goodwin said at the Aug. 11 hearing, “No question that some higher density allows you to do some more affordable housing. But what I see more occurring here with this layout with this ultra high density potential is what you want to avoid in affordable housing. You want to avoid ghettos. Large areas that are just common high density.”

Goodwin said it was, “maybe not fair to call this a ghetto, but there are significant areas that are very, very high density.”

Boston said, “The higher density housing was pretty much centered around the town center area. As I remember we looked at that at one time as giving the commercial area, the retail area, the benefit of having higher density to support that, to make it viable.”

Boston added, “I don’t like the term ghetto.”

Brian Ross, YarrowBay’s CEO, said the plan for the projects is to provide housing for all age groups and a variety of income levels.

“We want to be able to accommodate all families and to do that you need a variety of housing,” Ross said. “If you get away from high density it pushes the development into all the same density.”

According to Ross an example of high density in the 18-30 range could be a five-acres site for an assisted living facility.

Ross said he could see the “members are struggling with the scale of the projects.”

Councilman William Saas said at the Aug. 12 deliberations, “We are in the greatest time of influence right now, so we have to do our best to come together to figure out what is in the best interest of the applicant and what is in the best interest of the city.”

During the Aug. 12 and 17 sessions the members contrasted conventional development verses a MPD.

“You look at developing a MPD versus a conventional development,” Boston said. “There is a lot of things a city gets because of that (MPD). If all the acreage was developed an increment at a time, what would that look like.?

Boston noted the city code stated any development over 80 acres had to be developed as an MPD.

At the Tuesday hearing Goodwin presented some arguments from his perspective to deny the application, which included the permit was incomplete, leaving too many details to the development agreement. The councilman also said the “ultra high density” was inconsistent with the city’s code.

Hanson pointed out the high density areas would be subject to approval by the council during the development agreement.

A process for a development agreement would begin if the permits are approved by the council. The city and YarrowBay would begin hammering out the finer details of the project. The development agreement would go before the hearing examiner and to the City Council for approval.

Goodwin noted developing Lawson Hills as a MPD is better for storm water management, but not necessarily for The Villages.

“The question are those benefits at The Villages worth additional density,” Goodwin said. “I’m not trying to argue one way or the other.”

Councilwoman Leih Mulvihill questioned the options if the developments, “start and it doesn’t look like what we envisioned, not what we believed the projects would give us.”

City Attorney Bob Sterbank said, “We have to look at what is in the code rather than an individual council members vision.”

Mulvihill said it was the council’s vision “16 years ago.”

At the close of the Tuesday hearing the members asked Sterbank to prepare a list of the various conditions including traffic, noise, fiscal impacts, density and storm water management recommended by the hearing examiner, YarrowBay and the councilors during deliberations.

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