A developer’s proposal to build 150 townhouses in southeast Kent came to a halt when the City Council voted 4-3 against an ordinance to amend the city’s comprehensive plan land-use map to allow housing on a 13.2-acre site.
But the halt could be temporary as the council after its March 2 vote agreed to consider the measure again at its March 16 meeting. A few council members said they wanted more information about the land-use change and more time for residents to talk about it.
Bellevue-based Oakpointe Communities requested the city change the land use to low density multifamily from urban separator as a first step toward building the units.
Oakpointe constructed the Bridges housing development on the 155-acre site along 124th Avenue Southeast between Southeast 288th and 304th streets and initially planned 75,000 square feet of commercial development, which never took off. So now the company wants to build townhouses rather than retail, which was allowed under the planned unit development.
Council members Marli Larimer, Satwinder Kaur, Zandria Michaud and Les Thomas voted March 2 against the ordinance. They said they wanted more information about the project’s impact on nearby residents and wetlands as well as more chances for public comment.
“I felt like the council hadn’t heard from residents, tonight (March 2) was the first time,” Kaur said. “I understand city (public notification) code says (mail notices) within a 300-foot radius (of the proposal), but it would be better to notify the whole neighborhood. We need to hear from residents. We heard from Oakpointe.”
The 155 acres is part of a “municipal island” in Kent with about 380 homes and 1,000 residents. The land is surrounded by properties that are in the Auburn city limits. Auburn Moutainview High School sits near the development.
Several residents spoke at the virtual council meeting against the townhouses. They have concerns about increased traffic, nearby wetlands and whether Auburn might annex the land and need to make land-use decisions.
Discussion started in 2019 to heat up about Auburn annexing the Bridges development. That caused Oakpointe to delay its proposal for townhouses in case the property changed cities. But Auburn hasn’t shown any progress in annexing the area so Oakpointe decided to ask Kent for the land-use change.
Council President Toni Troutner, Bill Boyce and Brenda Fincher voted in favor of the proposal after the council discussed the measure for more than an hour.
“I’m all about process,” Boyce said. “It’s important that the process is followed and it has been followed. We have guardrails in front of us. One is the Land Use and Planning Board and they approved it unanimously. We also have staff provide data, and they recommend we move forward. …I’m confident it’s legal. The (police) chief (Rafael Padilla) talked about making sure police support the area. And one of most important things is Auburn staff are in line with the comprehensive plan of this development. They like where we are headed.”
Larimer said she opposes the land-use change for several reasons, including using wetland zoning buffers (of 25 feet) set in 2004 when the development first came to the city rather than current wetland buffers that require a lot more space (150 feet) between the wetlands and developments.
“I’m not against revisiting, but I feel rushed,” Larimer said. “And a development using 17-year-old standards concerns me.”
Larimer also questioned whether residents received enough public notice about the change. She said she had concerns about the conversations between Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus as recently as March 2 about whether the property might be annexed by Auburn.
“For Auburn not to make an on-the-record statement is a red flag,” Larimer said.
After the measure failed, Thomas motioned to table the proposal indefinitely, which meant it could return to the council at its next meeting or later if the council wanted more time.
That action failed 4-3, with Boyce, Troutner, Fincher and Michaud against it.
Troutner opposed any further delay in the project.
“We have seen this, and many of us have met with (developer) Brian Ross,” Troutner said. “We have a liability and we should move forward with this. We have spent enough time on this, we need to move on.”
Assistant City Attorney Adam Long told the council it will have to make a decision to either approve or deny the land-use change. City staff plans to return March 16 with proposals for approval or denial, depending which direction the council wants to go.
Matt Gilbert, city deputy director of Economic and Community Development, said the change would only allow housing to be an option. Oakpointe would need to file specific development plans with the city to build townhouses and that’s when traffic, wetlands and other impacts would be considered.
Ross, CEO of Oakpointe, told the council that a commercial development (coffee shop, gas station) is no longer viable economically so that’s why they asked for the rezone.
“It will result in less traffic and more open space than the previously approved commercial plan,” Ross said.
In 2010, several Auburn residents testified before the city of Kent hearing examiner in opposition to the Bridges development because the initial plan included about 75,000 square feet of commercial development.
The city of Kent bought the property in the 1980s for a water reservoir to meet the city’s future needs. But the city found another water source and sold the property to the Kirkland-based YarrowBay Group. The development was initially known as Verdana but later changed to the Bridges when built by Oakpointe Communities, formerly known as YarrowBay.
Oakpointe is the same developer building the LakePointe Urban Village in Covington that will feature 1,500 residential units and about 850,000 square feet of retail, hospitality and office space.
Oakpointe also received a $760,000 settlement from the city of Kent in 2016 after the council approved and then later terminated the sale of Pine Tree Park after residents complained about the sale. Oakpointe planned to build 64 homes on 10 acres near 114th Avenue Southeast, south of South 274th Street.