Kent's Land Use board considers rezoning par 3 golf course

The city of Kent must rezone the Riverbend par 3 course it wants to sell in order for a developer to construct a mixed-use project such as condos or a hotel and retail shops. - STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter
The city of Kent must rezone the Riverbend par 3 course it wants to sell in order for a developer to construct a mixed-use project such as condos or a hotel and retail shops.
— image credit: STEVE HUNTER, Kent Reporter

Jack Ottini remembers when corn and strawberry fields filled the land where the city of Kent's Riverbend Golf Complex par 3 golf course sits next to the Green River.

"The best thing that was ever on that property was Kato's strawberry farm and Frank Watanabe's corn farm," Ottini said in his role as chairman of the city Land Use and Planning Board, at a June 9 workshop. "If you go back that far, you know you could get the best corn in the valley and the best strawberries you've ever had."

Now Ottini will help decide which options the board will recommend to the City Council to rezone the property south of West Meeker Street for a potential mixed-use development.

The council unanimously agreed in April to try to sell the course to a developer to help bail out the financially struggling Riverbend Golf Complex, which also features an 18-hole course, driving range and merchandise shop.

But in order for any development to occur, the land must be rezoned from its low intensity uses and its designation as open space under the city's comprehensive plan.

Riverbend faces a $2.6 million debt, capital investments of at least $6 million and operating deficits of about $300,000 per year. City officials hope to sell the par 3 to cover the debt and pay for capital improvements to the 18-hole course.

"There is a very large debt," Ottini said. "I was not in favor of giving up the land the last couple of years. But a couple of things changed my mind. The city said they will take the (18-hole) course and have a forward set of tees so it will be the same as the playing the par 3 but on a bigger course. There are not enough playing on the par 3 to sustain itself."

Parks Director Jeff Watling told the board the council does not want just any developer buying the property and building whatever they want.

"If we are going to sell such a marquee, pristine, very importantly positioned piece of 20-plus acres, it's got to be for the right thing," Watling said.

The land use board will have at least one more workshop in July and then hold a public hearing about the rezoning options.

"If this is to be sold, will it achieve one of the council's goals to connect the city to the river?" Watling said. "What will it look like to have a river view, river walk type of development with public access and mixed use, restaurants and a closer more formal relationship with the river? That's the type of project sought here. Something that provides a gateway to the west side of the city and a continued public relationship to the Green River Trail and the (18-hole) golf course."

The par 3 sits next to the Green River with stunning views of Mount Rainier. A developer told the council in November the site could feature retail shops, public open spaces, a hotel, apartments and possibly condos.

City Planning Director Fred Satterstrom told the board a group of residents opposed the potential sale in letters to the editor as well as public comments to the council.

"A lot of people lamented the potential loss of the par 3 golf course," Satterstrom said. "They expressed their dissatisfaction with the city council.  I think that mood has changed a little bit but we all lament the loss of any open space. But the flip side of that is we may ultimately gain a tremendous development that the city will be very proud of. But that's all speculative at this point."

Board member Barbara Phillips responded to why people opposed to the sale haven't been as vocal lately.

"I think that's why people have dropped off because they feel it's a lost cause, a done deal so there's no energy," Phillips said.

City staff presented the board with four options about how to rezone the property. Staff will recommend next month to the board the best option.

• Option 1: Rezone as midway commercial residential (MCR).

Allows mixed use of retail, office, hotel, multifamily (apartments, condos) housing. Prohibits auto-oriented businesses such as auto repair, car sales and drive through. A 200-foot height limit allows flexibility of design.

• Option 2: Rezone as general commercial mixed use (GC-MU).

Allows broad mix of uses, multifamily residential must include 5 percent commercial. Nearly all commercial uses are allowed as well as outdoor storage.

• Option 3: Rezone as medium density multifamily residential (MR-M).

Multifamily residential is primary allowed use. No commercial allowed. Multifamily would be a natural extension of similar zoning to the east.

• Option 4: No action.

Retains as low density. Agriculture and open space uses allowed. No commercial allowed. Open space comprehensive plan land use designation would remain.

City staff also is in the process to compile a request for qualifications to see what developers are interested in buying and developing the property.

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