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Interchange growth on the back burner: County comp plan changes omit proposed I-90 Snoqualmie retail site

Snoqualmie won’t be expanding its retail sector any time soon, even if it wins an upcoming legal appeal of a King County decision.

The city of 11,000 people has twice attempted to expand its urban growth area, or future annexation boundaries, to include 85 acres along Interstate 90 at the Highway 18 interchange.

That land, now zoned as rural, would have become a retail development serving the still-growing community, in Snoqualmie’s most recent proposal to modify its UGA through the King County Comprehensive Plan.

However, when the King County Council adopted its four-year update to the comp plan on Dec. 3, Snoqualmie’s request for this property was denied, says City Attorney Pat Anderson.

“We’re quite disappointed,” Anderson said the following week. “All that would have done would allow us to start a process.”

Specifically, Snoqualmie’s request was not to add the land to the city’s UGA now, but to allow for the possibility of it before the county’s next comp plan update, scheduled for 2016, Anderson said. Between the time the land was added to the city’s UGA and its eventual annexation and development, Anderson said there would have been a “long and arduous process.”

The county’s decision, says Anderson, shows “willful disregard” for the state of Washington’s Growth Management Act, which calls on counties and cities to plan for growth, including the development of sufficient retail and other services to support the population.

“It puts a big crimp in our ability to do that,” Anderson said, of the county’s rejection of their request.

Snoqualmie just doesn’t have the space for that type of development right now, both Anderson and City Planner Nancy Tucker say.

“We had every lot in the city and in the urban growth area looked at for suitability for retail,” Anderson said. Historic downtown is prone to flooding, Snoqualmie Ridge is governed by a master plan, and the recently annexed mill site is too remote for a successful retail project.

“There isn’t any other location within the city that isn’t already developed, or subject to a development agreement,” said Tucker.

Concerns about both the visual impact of a retail development on that spot and the types of retail it would house were raised at a Dec. 3 public hearing on the issue, and Tucker explicitly addressed some of those concerns.

“We are not looking at major big-box retail,” she said. “Our interest is in having sufficient area, and well-located for retail… it would allow for retail development, a grocery store, a hardware store, maybe a pharmacy.”

Regarding how the development would look, Tucker said the county was concerned with maintaining “the undeveloped character” of the site. She also said the consortium of property owners, which requested the comp plan amendment with the city’s support, would take on that responsibility.

The land is owned primarily by three parties, Mike Griffiths, Puget Western, Inc., and the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital District.

Anderson said the city plans to file an appeal on roughly 20 issues related to the GMA in the county’s comp plan in January, and hoped to have a decision by May. A successful appeal would invalidate the questioned sections of the comp plan and refer them back to the county for revision.

Snoqualmie’s other comp plan amendment request, the removal of roughly 68 acres of land from its urban growth area, was approved.

The land is an active mining site, currently leased through 2099, and therefore not subject to any urban growth within the next 20 years.

 

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