LFP City Council takes cautious approach to parking garage zoning code changes

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

A large one-story building with a railing along the roof line. The entire facade of the building is covered with greenery.
The facade of the Bellevue Public Library parking structure displays a "green wall" similar to that which might become a requirement of the Lake Forest Park city zoning code for the Town Center parking structure. Photo courtesy Johnston Architects

By Tracy Furutani

The Lake Forest Park City Council signaled that they would not be offering major incentives for the proposed Town Center parking structure to provide community benefits beyond parking, in a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting of the Council Monday, November 23, 2020 attended by a dozen community members.

The meeting discussion topic was the proposed changes to the city zoning code to accommodate the parking structure that is slated to be built just to the west of City Hall on the Town Center property.

“We have to assume that Sound Transit is paying for it, [so] they have committed to a 300-stall parking structure and they’re intent on delivering that as cheaply as possible,” said Councilmember John Wright. 
“I don’t know that this is some place that we want to try and work on incentives; I think we want to work more on ‘these are requirements for a parking structure.’ Sound Transit is delivering on a political commitment and very little else, so I don’t think they’re going to provide [any extra amenities] unless they have to.”

Councilmember John Resha agreed. “If it’s not in the base [code], Sound Transit is not likely to do it, that’s the simple math.”

Garage plan of the view looking down onto the structure, with north (and Ballinger Way) at the top. Drawing courtesy Sound Transit

The incentives, also known as bonuses, are provisions in the code that allow variances seen as benefiting the developer, in exchange for community benefits.

Deputy Mayor and Councilmember Phillippa Kassover reflected the ambivalence of the Council on the incentive provisions, stating she was “struggling a bit with now figuring out whether or not there is any real reason to expect that Sound Transit would ever want a bonus height and whether it makes any sense for us to even work through what the public benefits that we would ask for in response to their need for a bonus height.”

City Planning Director Stephen Bennett emphasized that the proposed changes, without the incentives, would have to be precisely what the Council wanted. 

“If you don’t have the bonus provision then you really have to decide you’re going to try and get everything right, in terms of what you’re going to require,” he said, adding later that the Planning Commission’s approach was to make the zoning code changes “to make sure that there was some discussion of a development agreement,” which is a development-specific agreement between the property developer and the city that may vary from code requirements.

Councilmember Lorri Bodi agreed, cautioning the Council to not try and anticipate a developer’s goals, “I don’t want us to negotiate against ourselves here by assuming Sound Transit is going to say X,Y and Z,” and, as a result, scale back with the city wants.

In the end, the Council asked the Planning Department and the City Attorney’s office to leave in the height incentive provision, which allows greater height in the parking structure in return for “public benefits,” such as a community meeting space or the use of “green (living) walls,” and to require a set square footage of the structure be for “commercial, public or other active use,” with the exact distribution of that space to be determined.

“[I] also believe most of this is going to end up in a development agreement, and I think we’re going to have another opportunity to have this kind of discussion,” said Councilmember Semra Riddle. “Putting more [requirements] into the base code … will encourage that development agreement which will help us get what we want in a way that might actually happen.”

The Council is required to send proposed zoning code changes for the Town Center area to the state Department of Commerce sixty days before a Council vote on the adoption of the code changes.

Since the Council’s moratorium on changes to the Town Center expires on March 10 of next year, the proposed changes need to be sent to the state by January 10, 2021. The proposed changes sent to the state will include different options, not all of which will be approved by the Council in its final vote on the zoning code changes in late February or early March.

The next discussion on the proposed Town Center zoning code changes will be a Council Work Session this Thursday at 5:30pm on the Zoom platform. 

This session will be followed by the regular business meeting of the City Council at 7pm.

There will not be a public comment period in the City Council Work Session on Thursday at 5:30pm. However, there will be the usual Citizens Comment period near the beginning of the regular City Council Business Meeting at 7pm.

A public hearing of the proposed zoning code changes to the Town Center area not related to the parking garage is scheduled for January 25, 2021. 

Jamas Gwilliam, Vice-President of Development for the Town Center owner Merlone Geier Partners, sent a letter to the Planning Department and the City Council dated November 12, 2020 in which he states the company’s position: 

“…it appears that there is still considerable work that needs to be done on this document [the proposed zoning code changes]…we have provided many comments in the past urging the Planning Commission and City Council to avoid placing overly restrictive provisions in the code as it relates to our property.”

Both public comment speakers at the November 23 meeting emphasized the urgency of giving the community a 21-day notice of the January public hearing.

CORRECTION: There will not be a public comment period in the City Council Work Session on Thursday at 5:30pm.


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