LFP Officials defend proposed Town Center zoning changes

Monday, February 8, 2021

Town Center photo by Steven H. Robinson

By Tracy Furutani

City leaders in Lake Forest Park strongly defended proposed Town Center zoning changes against a strongly-worded letter from the Town Center owner critical of those changes.

“We listen very carefully to what the citizens say,” said LFP Deputy Mayor and councilmember Phillippa Kassover. “I think what [zoning code changes] you’ll see is all based on what we heard from the community.”

“We recognize the extensive effort that has gone into the preparation of these code changes,” said Jamas Gwilliam, vice-president of development at MerloneGeier Partners, the owner of the Town Center property, in the letter dated January 14, 

“but continue to believe that the City has either chosen to ignore our comments calling for a balanced set of development standards for the Town Center, or has knowingly adopted a position that is fundamentally at odds with our ownership interests.”

“The Council's first priority is to protect the interest of Lake Forest Park citizens and the current draft code reflects that,” said Planning Director Stephen Bennett. 

“The current draft also creates many opportunities for MerloneGeier to obtain some flexibility through the negotiation of a development agreement with LFP. MerloneGeier has done that for their project in the Shoreline and they may need to consider taking that approach in Lake Forest Park as well.”

On MerloneGeier’s Town Center blog, they state, “The incorporation of housing (affordable and market rate), open space, enhanced sustainability measures and all of the associated public benefits, will not come to fruition based on the code that has resulted from this process.”

Mayor Jeff Johnson was disappointed by the potential loss of public benefit, including environmental mitigation. “It was really a bummer… we had an opportunity to work together on wastewater runoff and stream quality,” he said.

“The city’s finances have never been a driving factor in this,” said Kassover, commenting on the fiscal effect of non-development. 

“It just simply isn’t an issue for us at all. We don’t make decisions about development based on finances, but based on what’s good for our community.”

MerloneGeier did not respond to requests for clarification about their plans for Town Center.

The City Council will have a work session at 6pm Thursday, in which Bennett and the city planning staff will present the final draft of the zoning code changes. This session will be followed by the regular council meeting at 7pm.

There will be a further Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on Tuesday, February 16, followed by another COW meeting on Monday, February 22

The city council plans to hold a final public hearing on Thursday, February 25, before adopting the zoning code changes in time to meet the deadline of the moratorium on Town Center development expiring in March.

Kassover was pleased that the proposed zoning code changes were not just about Town Center. 

“I’m really glad that the council was addressing affordable housing in the plan,” she said. “I’m really excited the multifamily tax exemption chapter will affect other areas other than Town Center,” such as areas along Bothell Way near Southern Gateway, and along Ballinger Way.

She struck a final conciliatory note: “I very much hope that, when we have a final document, MerloneGeier will feel as excited about the future of Town Center and its possibilities and potential for a really forward-looking exquisitely environmentally sensitively designed commercial and residential space.”

Updated 2-9-21 to correct Kassover quote


Matthew Warburg,  February 8, 2021 at 5:32 PM  

Might have something to do with the fact that Merlone Geier wanted far more housing than city residents do. They wanted up to 2200 units (I think) with buildings 7-8 stories tall, which would have completely ruined the character of the Towne Center and created huge local traffic problems.

Gary February 9, 2021 at 12:24 PM  

Interesting clarification. That perspective makes a big difference.

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