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Covington Town Center plan starts to take shape
The dream of constructing a Town Center in Covington is still years from becoming a reality, but the first building block may be on its way.
Representatives from the Inland Group, based in Spokane, presented their concept plans to the Covington City Council a few months ago. They have applied for a commercial site development permit for housing on the seven acres located south of Rite Aid and north of Covington Elementary, which is known as the Ashton Property. The plan includes 354 units in top, with retail and office space on the ground floor and underground parking.
“It’s a large project and the first concrete step toward the City Council’s vision for a traditional town center in what is a fairly new community,” City Manager Dereck Matheson said.
Matheson said the council will need to approve the development agreement and property tax exemption by late summer so construction can begin construction this winter. The developer has been working out details of the project and applied for the permit in the last three weeks.
Matheson said Covington citizens have clamored for a traditional town center concept since the city incorporated in 1997. He said the city’s first 12 years were focused on building a tax base and pursuing stores such as Costco, Home Depot and Walmart. The city had done so well growing the calculation by 2008 that the focus shifted from building a tax base to “building a sense of place.”
“People wanted a traditional downtown,” Matheson said. “A heart or gathering place for the community.”
The city hired a consultant, BERK, from Seattle, to conduct a study on the revenue businesses in the town center could potentially generate and how much it might cost. That information is key for applying for future grants.
Matheson said the study is nearly complete and is tentatively scheduled for presentation to the city council on June 24.
The major piece of the town hall puzzle won’t be decided until a decision is made with Covington Elementary. The city has right of first offer with the Kent School District to buy the land once it vacates the site. Matheson said the area has transitioned from residential to commercial over the years, with most students who attend the school in the Northwest portion of the city. The district hopes to include a new school in a future bond issue. Matheson doesn’t expect such a bond to be approved before 2015, which would mean a new school is at least two or three years away from being in place.
Matheson said that part of the project will certainly take time.
“We’re not ready to pull the trigger, but we can’t pull the trigger until there’s a new school in the Northwest corner of the city,” Matheson said.
The city selected Panattoni Development Company, based in Seattle, as its private sector partner to help figure what kinds of developments might go on that property. Matheson said the city is “just starting to roll up our sleeves and talk about the details.”
Though the specifics aren’t set, Matheson said bringing higher education to the town center is a goal.
Although Covington has one of the highest median incomes in this part of the county, Matheson noted that the 2010 census showed that only 23 percent of Covington residents have a bachelor’s degree, compared to the national average of 46 percent.
“Having higher education right there in our back yard could help the whole community,” he said.
He said the city has been working since 2010 to build a relationship with local community and technological colleges, as well as public state universities, in hopes that they would have a physical presence in the town center.
“I think there is a lot of interest on the part of Green River Community College,” Matheson said. “Mixed interest from the universities we’ve talked to.”