Kent City Council to act on property-tax waiver Tuesday

A rendering shows what a developer Robert Slattery’s proposed six-to-seven-story apartment complex might look like at the north side of East Smith Street between Clark and Jason Streets. The project could be eligible for the city’s proposed property-tax waiver of eight years.

A rendering shows what a developer Robert Slattery’s proposed six-to-seven-story apartment complex might look like at the north side of East Smith Street between Clark and Jason Streets. The project could be eligible for the city’s proposed property-tax waiver of eight years.

A Kent City Council committee Monday unanimously approved a proposed ordinance to give downtown developers of multi-family, mixed-use housing complexes of 30 or more units a property-tax waiver of eight years. This means it’s now up to the full City Council to give it the thumbs-up, or down.

Council members Elizabeth Albertson, Tim Clark and Jamie Danielson, of the Planning and Economic Development Committee, voted 3-0 Monday to move the measure on to the Council. The ordinance will be up for Council action Tuesday.

“I think it’s important that we encourage development in our downtown core,” Danielson said after the committee meeting. “My hope is that we end up with some nice properties to get the downtown area revitalized.”

City officials want developers to build apartments downtown in an effort to meet requirements under the state Growth Management Act. GMA requires cities to provide denser urban housing, to cut back on urban sprawl, as well as to provide nearby residents to shop at local businesses.

“I think a (apartment) project would be a great advantage to me as a small-business owner,” said Mychal Boiser, owner of the downtown Kona Kai Coffee shop, to the committee before its vote.

There have been no large multi-family housing projects built downtown except for three senior-citizen apartment complexes in the 1990s.

As it is proposed now, the waiver would apply only to the value of new housing units, meaning developers would still pay taxes on the land and any commercial space they create. To receive the waiver, developers must build the complexes in a downtown-specific area, from Willis Street north to Cloudy Street, and from the east end of Titus Street west to State Route 167.

Ben Wolters, city economic development director, told the committee Monday the city needs the waiver to give developers incentives to build in Kent. He noted that other nearby cities provide such waivers to developers of multi-family, mixed-use housing complexes, and Kent needed to be current to entice those developers here.

“We have competition in the area and most of our surrounding communities have this (property-tax waiver) in place when they present their downtowns to developers,” Wolters said. “There’s not a lot of building now, but developers are looking. I want this tool in place so we can compete for their dollars and bring them here.”

Bob Cryan, a Seattle real-estate agent, told the committee, in an analogy, that Kent’s attempt to compete against other cities for developers without a property-tax waiver would be similar to Kent auto dealers trying to compete against surrounding auto dealers – with one huge disadvantage.

“You’re the only ones selling without steering wheels,” he said.

Cryan is a partner with Bellevue developer Robert Slattery. They want to build a six-to-seven-story apartment complex along East Smith Street across from the Kent Senior Activity Center on the eastern edge of downtown. That project, which has yet to be submitted to the city, could qualify for the tax waiver.

Matt Gilbert, a city planner, told the committee that the ordinance would require developers to build residential parking in a structure underground or under buildings. The ordinance also requires that street-level activity must exist for either commercial or residential uses; and the mixed use of retail or offices must be on the first floor with residents living above.

Councilmember Danielson said she wanted to see Kent fostering innovative living spaces, but the first step is bringing developers to the table.

“We tried to do everything we can so that what goes in is not a traditional apartment,” Danielson said. “We want to get a mixed-use, higher-end apartment. My real hope is that the condo market turns around and they can build those. But we need building to start happening.”

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