Kent mayor fields questions, hears worries, over proposed development

Mayor Suzette Cooke speaks with residents of the Mill Creek neighborhood about their concerns over a proposed apartment development during a neighborhood meeting Thursday at the Kent Senior Activity Center.

Mayor Suzette Cooke speaks with residents of the Mill Creek neighborhood about their concerns over a proposed apartment development during a neighborhood meeting Thursday at the Kent Senior Activity Center.

Residents of the Mill Creek neighborhood in Kent have started a petition drive against a developer’s proposed six-to-seven story, mixed-use apartment complex because of the negative impact it could have on their neighborhood at the edge of downtown Kent.

Two dozen residents signed the petition at a neighborhood meeting Thursday at the Kent Senior Activity Center. Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke spoke as the featured guest at the meeting to present her goals and vision for the city. Cooke also agreed to answer questions about any issue the group wanted to discuss.

Most of the more than 30 residents at the meeting had one primary issue _ the proposed 170 apartment units that Seattle-area developer Robert Slattery wants to build on a 1.2-acre site on East Smith Street between Clark and Jason Streets. The complex would be called Station 601.

“That is not the right place for it,” said Mill Creek resident Angela Schultz in an interview after the meeting.

Schultz plans to help canvass the neighborhood of more than 400 residents to get more signatures against the proposed apartment complex before giving the petition to city officials. She was uncertain when the petition might be presented to city officials.

The neighbors object to such a large apartment complex next to their single-family homes.

“My parents would look at a wall out of their front window,” Schultz said.

Mill Creek resident Julie Brown told the mayor that the apartment complex would cause traffic problems and take away daylight from nearby homes because of its proposed height. She also raised the concern of the developer running out of money halfway through the project similar to the unfinished parking garage project at Fourth Avenue and West Smith Street.

“Should anything go wrong, what would we do with a giant building stuck in our neighborhood?” Brown said. “We’ve already seen that happen once.”

Cooke responded that it’s hard to predict what might happen with the project.

“How do I know that you will not end up with an albatross in your neighborhood? I don’t know the answer,” Cooke said. “It’s always a risk.”

Another resident wanted to know the reason city officials are considering a new ordinance that would give Slattery and other developers an eight-year property tax waiver to build multi-family, mixed-use projects downtown.

Cooke replied that the city needs to compete with other cities to attract downtown housing and the property-tax waiver provides incentive to developers to build.

“If you go to our neighbors in Auburn, Renton or Federal way, you get it because downtowns are looking to attract dense housing,” Cooke said of the proposed property-tax waiver. “The City Council can say no to this, but wait and see if anyone comes. It will delay development and you will see the continual decline of businesses downtown.”

The property-tax waiver is expected to be considered for approval next month by the Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee. If passed by the three-member committee, the proposed ordinance would then go to the full Council for approval.

“Until Kent gets enough population in the downtown core, there will be no growth,” Cooke told the crowd. “Businesses will see there’s no profit to be made because there are not enough people. We won’t see vibrant business move in without people.”

Other residents voiced concerns about the proposed apartment complex going up on the eastern edge of the downtown zone rather than near the core, such as closer to the Kent Station shopping mall.

Cooke told the residents they will be able to officially comment on the potential negative impacts of the proposed development once the permits are filed and the city’s approval process begins.

If all goes as planned, Slattery expects to submit building permits to the city by the end of August. He would like to break ground as early as October or possibly wait until next spring.

The Mill Creek neighborhood generally stretches north of Smith Street to James Street, and east of Central Avenue to Summit Avenue.

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