By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.
The Mill Creek City Council unanimously approved the Vintage at Mill Creek development agreement at their regular October 6, 2015, meeting. The vote was originally scheduled for September 8th, and rescheduled for September 22nd, but working out the development agreement’s final details took longer than anticipated.
At the October 6th meeting Mill Creek City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto explained that it wasn’t up to the Mill Creek City Council to determine whether or not the proposed development meets Mill Creek’s municipal code and regulations on parking, right-of-way, and land use issues.
“Under our code, the purpose of the development agreement is to allow the Council to negotiate items that may not be in the code, or may be ambiguous in the code; but can’t contradict the code. The binding site plan is not before the Council. That goes before the hearing examiner and then that is appealable to the Council,” said City Manager Polizzotto.
The next step in the approval process is for Mill Creek’s hearing examiner to review the detailed binding site plan to make sure it conforms to Mill Creek’s municipal code and regulations, as well as the city council approved development agreement.
Mill Creek’s hearing examiner will conduct another public hearing as part of this review.
Vintage Housing proposes to build an affordable senior housing development consisting of two five-story mixed-use residential buildings and three single-story parking/storage buildings on about four acres in Mill Creek’s East Gateway Urban Village.
The two multi-story buildings will contain 216 affordable senior housing apartments with private exterior decks on the upper floors.
Vintage Housing planned 15,539 square feet of combined residential-use and commercial-use space on the ground floors of the two multi-story buildings.
Since residential-use of ground floor space is not normally allowed in the East Gateway Urban Village, a deal was negotiated between Vintage Housing and the City of Mill Creek.
At the Mill Creek City Council’s September 1st meeting City Manager Polizzotto announced that Vintage Housing had agreed to include a 2,800 square foot Mill Creek Senior Center and a 500 square foot Mill Creek Police satellite office as part of the ground floor space at no cost to Mill Creek or the Northshore Senior Center, who now operates the Mill Creek Senior Center.
As well, Vintage Housing agreed to make the ground-floor residential-use salon, fitness center, and common area kitchen available to Mill Creek Senior Center members. A total of 2,500 square feet of dedicated space will be provided for these uses.
Northshore Senior Center has been operating the Mill Creek Senior Center in the city’s Annex Building for a number of years. Because the space is limited, many of the usual senior center activities are not possible there.
The combined space in the proposed Vintage at Mill Creek that will be available for Mill Creek Senior Center will allow many more programs to be offered.
At the October 6th meeting Councilmember Mike Todd explained the city council’s role in the development process, “I think the main decision we are making as a city council is that we are saying ground floor residential uses are going to be allowed to the developer in return for them giving us and the senior center an opportunity to have a rent-free lease. That is the exchange we are making and the reason we have to act on that is because that is not in the EGUV (East Gateway Urban Village) regulations.”
“There is nothing in the EGUV regulations that says they can have ground floor residential uses. We’re making that exception and the trade off is this wonderful opportunity to have an economical approach to a precinct station and a senior center. I think that’s great.”
Most of the public comments received by the city council from Mill Creek residents at the Vintage at Mill Creek’s September 1st public hearing were negative. Many Mill Creek residents don’t want the city council to allow any more apartments to be built in the city.
At the October 6th meeting Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw expressed his perspective as a land use attorney and city councilmember, “As many of you know I have practiced (law) in land use for nine years and have been in the business for twelve. I think what we heard at the public hearing and what we have heard highlights the dilemma and the challenges in dealing with these land use issues.”
“We have jurisdictions like the city that spend a lot of time going out and developing the development regulations and comp plan provisions and design guidelines to set the framework for how areas can develop. And based on those guidelines an applicant or property owner comes along with a proposal for the city to consider. And often times what happens, which is frustrating to the citizens, it’s frustrating to the developer and it’s frustrating to the city is suddenly when that land use sign goes up the neighbors realize what’s going on, ‘Why are we having five story buildings built next to us?’”
“And unfortunately I understand the comments and the concerns, but those decisions were made seven or eight years ago by prior councils. There is nothing that we can really do about that as a council.”
Mayor Pro Tem Holtzclaw went on to say he believes the Vintage at Mill Creek development agreement is the result of a fair and balanced process. “With that said, I think the staff and the applicant have done a pretty good job. From the limited information that we have in the proposal in front of us, it looks like they have taken those comments that we heard into consideration,” he said.
“In closing, I think I’d like to thank and applaud the applicant. This is a great opportunity for us. As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, we’re getting a senior center out of this or the opportunity for a senior center, assuming they can get a lease. And we’re getting an east precinct for our police department. Those are great wins for our city, so I will be enthusiastically supporting this motion.”