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Mill Creek Planning Commission changes East Gateway Urban Village zoning code

The Mill Creek Planning Commission approved changes to the Mill Creek Municipal Code, which are intended to improve the development potential of the East Gateway Urban Village.
East Gateway Urban Village

At their September 20th meeting the Mill Creek Planning Commission approved changes to the Mill Creek Municipal Code, which are intended to improve the development potential of the East Gateway Urban Village.

However, the final decision on whether or not to implement the changes will be made by the Mill Creek City Council at the September 25th City Council meeting.

Mill Creek’s Community Development Department initiated the process to amend the Mill Creek Municipal Code Chapter 17.19, East Gateway Urban Village Zone District and the East Gateway Urban Village Design Guidelines.

The code amendments that have been approved by the Mill Creek Planning Commission are as follows:

  • Allow multifamily residential uses only above commercial uses, in the area west of 44th Avenue SE;
  • Eliminate the maximum 60,000 square foot ground floor area restriction for a single commercial building footprint;
  • Eliminate the minimum 400 dwelling unit requirement; and
  • Revise language to clarify Design Guidelines in regard to residential units in mixed-use buildings.

Public hearing comments

During the September 20th public hearing a number of Mill Creek residents expressed their displeasure with the plan to eliminate the 60,000 square foot commercial building restriction.

Sean Duffy said, “With the 60,000 square foot, I adamantly oppose that. I drive on State Route 96 (132nd Street SE) every day. The traffic is already horrible. It’s only going to get worse with a big store like Target there… Also I love the Mill Creek Town Center. I think it’s great. But I think putting something like Target in there is going to destroy all the small businesses. We talk about supporting small businesses and everything, but putting a store like Target that can undercut all those business and their prices will run them out of business… Having such a big store like that I worry it’s just going to destroy everything around there. All the nice houses that are built in the area.” Duffy also said that “delinquent kids” hanging out at the East Gateway Urban Village would cause an increase in crime.

Planning Commissioners don’t all agree with all changes

Planning Commissioner Charlie Gibbons supports putting a store like Target in the East Gateway Urban Village, but doesn’t like the original East Gateway Urban Village plan for mixed-use including residential.

Gibbons said, “My feeling is we will have too many residential pieces of property in this designated area. The traffic first of all won’t be able to handle it, and most importantly that is the only piece of property left that the City can get money from in taxes. We don’t make money on homes.”

In a seeming contradiction, Gibbons voted against eliminating the 400 residential dwelling unit minimum requirement in the East Gateway Urban Village. He voted for the other code amendments.

Planning Commissioner Ed McNichol supports the plan for mixed-use including residential, but doesn’t like changing the plan to allow a big box store to be developed.

McNichol said, “The issue that resonates most with me is the threat of cannibalizing the small businesses in the town center. If someone can go to a large box retailer and get their dog treats at a fraction of the cost of our two premium sellers in the city limits, that’s going to cannibalize our existing businesses… I do understand that going for a bigger larger store would satisfy the City’s need for revenue. But I would hate, at a momentary dip in our economy, to make a long lasting change to the character of our city that we can’t undo.”

McNichol voted against eliminating the 60,000 square foot ground floor maximum for East Gateway Urban Village buildings and for the other three code amendments.

Traffic issues

Scott Smith, the City of Mill Creek’s Engineer, explained that no matter what is built at the East Gateway Urban Village there would be an increase in traffic in the area based on the studies Mill Creek, Snohomish County, and the Washington State Department of Transportation have been conducting over the past few years. He pointed out that the development plan has been designed to minimize the effect of increased traffic by reducing the number of access points.

Smith said the studies show very little difference in traffic between commercial development and residential development. He also said that the studies show no difference in increased traffic between one 120,000 square foot retail building and two 60,000 square foot buildings.

Smith explained that the East Gateway Urban Village has a very good access management plan that will reduce the impact of increased traffic. He said that limiting the number of East Gateway Urban Village access points on State Route 96 (132nd Street SE) and interconnecting the traffic signals would optimize traffic flow.

Background

The City is counting on commercial development in the East Gateway Urban Village to help reduce a projected budget deficit. A large anchor store would greatly enhance the economic potential of this new shopping, office, and residential complex.

The East Gateway Urban Village is a planned shopping and residential center in the northeast corner of Mill Creek east of 35th Avenue SE, south of 132nd Street SE, and west of Seattle Hill Road. The vision is to have a Town Center-like development with a mix of professional office, retail shopping, and residential units on land that is now essentially undeveloped.

Mill Creek’s East Gateway Urban Village has been in the planning stages since the 2005 annexation of 553 acres in the northeast portion of the City. One of the intended purposes of the annexation was to include land that had development potential for increasing the City's retail sales tax base. The Mill Creek City Council approved the original master plan for a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development to serve that purpose in early 2008.

Due to recession-caused market changes, developers expressed little interest in the original plan. In 2010 the City of Mill Creek organized an advisory committee comprised of developers, architects, retailers, real estate market experts and brokers to review the master plan in light of the current market. In April 2011 the advisory committee suggested changes to the master plan including a larger format anchor (100,000 sq. ft. +), if the design is consistent with the vision.

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