At the September 25th city council meeting the Mill Creek City Council voted unanimously to amend the East Gateway Urban Village chapter of the Mill Creek Municipal Code to encourage development. The following amendments were proposed by the Mill Creek Planning Department and have been approved by a majority of the Mill Creek Planning Commission:
- Allow multifamily residential uses only above commercial uses, in the area west of 44th Avenue SE. This is being done to preserve the multi-use vision of the East Gateway Urban Village in the current economic climate where there is much more demand for multi-family residential development than there is for commercial development.
- Eliminate the maximum 60,000 square foot ground floor area restriction for a single commercial building footprint. This is being done to allow a big box store such as Target to be built in the East Gateway Urban Village. Any development proposal will still have to be crafted to comply with Mill Creek’s stringent aesthetic and environmental land-use requirements.
- Eliminate the minimum 400 dwelling unit requirement. This is being done because Polygon Northwest Home Builders has already submitted a binding site plan for the property east of 44th Avenue SE that practically meets this residential requirement, as well as providing three 10,000 square foot commercial buildings.
- Revise language to clarify the East Gateway Urban Village Design Guidelines in regard to residential units in mixed-use buildings. This is being done because the text in question is awkwardly written and could be considered inconsistent with the East Gateway Urban Village Illustrative Plan and Mill Creek’s development regulations.
Like most cities, Mill Creek is in tough economic times with expenses greater than revenue and a shrinking cash reserve. Without additional economic development, large tax increases and service cuts will be required to balance the budget.
Mill Creek’s recently passed Strategic Plan calls for a goal to increase economic and employment opportunities including the development of the East Gateway Urban Village.
The Mill Creek City Council has mixed feelings about allowing a big box store to be built in the East Gateway Urban Village. Part of the reason the City annexed 553 acres in the northeast portion of the City in 2005 was to prevent uncontrolled development of a portion of the property including big box retail such as Wal-Mart stores.
At the September 25th council meeting Councilmember Bart Masterson asked if eliminating the 60,000 square foot maximum ground floor footprint would again open the door for a Wal-Mart to be built. Mill Creek Planning Director, Tom Rogers, said, “It would be open to anything that meets our regulations. So Wal-Mart or Target or Kohl’s, we are not allowed to discriminate or treat different tenants differently based on who they are.”
Councilmember Mark Bond was worried about what might happen without the 60,000 square foot maximum, ”If a large store goes in there, there is good and bad associated with it.” Bond is afraid a big box store might negatively affect small businesses.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Nielson said there is a flip side to everything, “If we don’t do something we are going to get apartments. And the community does not want apartments. We’ve heard that too. It’s emotional. It’s always emotional. The question here before this council is how do we keep the stability of this community and the levels of services that people want, and are willing to pay for, I believe, from our Strategic Plan. So I think what we are trying to do here is create a tax opportunity for our citizens not to be taxed out of their houses.”
Mayor Mike Todd said he was on the council in 2005 during the annexation and subsequent building regulations. Todd views the effort to establish a 60,000 square foot maximum was to keep Wal-Mart out. However, he believes that times have changed and economically a big box store makes sense, “We want a mixed use vision and some control… Economically it makes sense to have some bigger anchors out there to support the small stores, because small stores themselves won’t make it.”