By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek. April 2015.
Over the past year a number of Mill Creek City Councilmembers have expressed concern that East Gateway Urban Village development is not proceeding in a way that generates sufficient tax revenue and too many multi-family residences are being built there.
While discussing the Primrose School development project in East Gateway Urban Village at the April 14, 2015, Mill Creek City Council meeting Mayor Pam Pruitt said “I think the entire concept of the East Gateway Urban Village has not maximized the revenue, that there have been mistakes and we have lost opportunities.”
Mayor Pruitt went on to say the East Gateway Urban Village zoning regulations failed to protect the site for a big box store, which would have generated "hundreds of thousand of dollars" of revenue for Mill Creek. She said failing to obtain a big box store for East Gateway Urban Village and the subsequent loss of revenue may result in tax increases for Mill Creek residents.
Councilmember Donna Michelson often said that her constituents don’t want more apartments to be built in Mill Creek.
In a June 2nd Mill Creek Comprehensive Plan discussion Community Development Director Tom Rogers talked about getting Mill Creek resident feedback regarding multi-family developments during a public process.
Councilmember Mark Bond said, “We can do a public process, but this discussion is being prompted by public output. I’ve been getting feedback from citizens that is like, ‘I don’t want more of this.'”
Donna Michelson commented, “I would not be happy to see an apartment building go up somewhere… I don’t know anyone who has come up to us and said, ‘Can we get some more apartments please?’ Not one person. All they say is, ‘No more apartments please.’ So we don’t have to have a public outreach to figure that out.”
Councilmember Bond replied, “That’s where I was going. You said it better.”
The June 2nd city council meeting was Mill Creek City Manager Rebecca Polizzotto’s first. After listening to the council’s discussion she said that she would come back with a staff proposal on how to move forward with East Gateway Urban Village zoning.
When City Manager Polizzotto returned with her recommendations on June 23rd she said that it was evident that the city council wasn’t prepared to discuss zoning, let alone make any informed decisions because they had never been given enough information.
She said, “The council really hasn’t been presented the data and the information for you to make that decision. So what we’re hoping to do tonight is to give you a plan that will give you the information to have that conversation.”
According to City Manager Polizzotto, one issue that has been driving development in the East Gateway Urban Village is that development regulations “depended on the market rather than zoning to control the mix of uses.”
“I’m not saying this is a negative issue or a positive issue, it’s just an issue that brought us to where you are today. The issue is that the EGUV development regulations did not structure allowed uses such that staff had tools that could control development.”
She also said that developers were not given economic incentives to make the East Gateway Urban Village Master Plan a reality.
One economic incentive example is the use of City of Mill Creek public funds to build the spine road that winds through the center of East Gateway Urban Village instead of making each developer pay for spine road construction through their property.
According to Mill Creek Community Development Director Tom Rogers, one of the early requests that Target made for building their store in East Gateway Urban Village was for Mill Creek to build the spine road for them. The Mill Creek City Council was unwilling to make this concession at the time, which may have been one of the reasons that Target did not proceed with their development project.
Mill Creek's Transportation Improvement Plan includes the following estimates for building the East Gateway Urban Village spine road:
- East Gateway Road - Church property - $2,000,000
- East Gateway Road - Dunn property - $2,000,000
- East Gateway Road at Seattle Hill Road Roundabout - $3,500,000
- East Gateway Rd west of Church property - $5,000,000
City Manager Polizzotto came to the June 23rd city council meeting with her four-phase plan for helping the city council review and update East Gateway Urban Village vision “to ensure its proper implementation” as follows:
Phase One – Conduct Economic Feasibility Study
A hired consultant will create a report to answer the following questions:
- Does the current East Gateway Urban Village Master Plan still function in today’s economy?
- How does a smaller anchor tenant affect the plan?
- What uses are economically realistic in East Gateway Urban Village?
- How would identified uses financially impact the City of Mill Creek?
Phase Two – City Council Policy Determination
The city council will review phase one results and select those uses it deems appropriate for Mill Creek.
Phase Three – Update East Gateway Urban Village Master Plan
When updating the East Gateway Urban Village Master Plan the following questions should be answered:
1. What development regulation changes are necessary to bring the vision to reality?
2. What infrastructure investment would Mill Creek have to make to bring the vision to reality?
- Pedestrian-friendly spine road?
- Town square public plaza?
- Viewing platform overlooking the wetlands?
Phase Four – Execute
Create an economic development initiative to actively pursue potential partners and then work with these partners to facilitate successful implementation.
At their June 23rd meeting the Mill Creek City Council authorized City Manager Polizzotto to begin phase one of her plan by writing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) document and then getting bids from interested consultants for this paid study.
At the same meeting the Mill Creek City Council also enacted an emergency moratorium on all East Gateway Urban Village development proposals until phase two of this plan is complete, which is anticipated to be December of this year.