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QFC store far from a done deal city says
SNOQUALMIE - Snoqualmie officials are cautioning the public that a proposed QFC grocery store in the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood is far from imminent.
City officials were surprised when QFC announced last month that it was planning to build a store in the Snoqualmie Ridge retail area since they had earlier expressed concerns to the company regarding preliminary renderings of the business that were presented to the city.
"The design presented by QFC doesn't meet any of the adopted development standards," said city planner Nancy Tucker at a Feb. 23 City Council meeting.
The city reviews all plans for development in the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood for consistency with adopted development standards. The Snoqualmie Ridge Development Standards, including the neighborhood center retail area standards, were jointly developed by Snoqualmie staff and Snoqualmie Ridge developer Quadrant Corp. prior to breaking ground on the retail area. Those standards were then reviewed by the city's Planning Commission and approved by City Council.
For the retail area off Center Boulevard, Tucker said the city and Quadrant envisioned a pedestrian-friendly, neo-traditional development that would separate it from other suburban shopping areas on the Eastside. The primary principle behind the standards was that businesses would welcome foot traffic and be built out to the street with parking in back. Other standards address architectural development features such as storefront design and a requirement that every storefront must have an entrance for customers on Center Boulevard.
"We were very clear [when the development standards were written] that we didn't want the suburban model," Tucker said after the meeting.
Tucker said those standards were developed with a future grocery store in mind for the four-acre lot. Quadrant and their retail consultant team, including a shopping center developer and architect, were involved in the creation of the retail area development standards. The standards include provisions for a larger building (the grocery store) on one block, and there is also a provision that allows for deviations from standards, provided the principle development intent is upheld.
When QFC's plans were presented to the city, Tucker said they were not close to the development standards. The grocery store was set back behind a parking lot and had a gas station on the corner of Center Boulevard and Kinsey Street, an area Tucker identified as the heart of the neighborhood center retail area and a key corner for pedestrian orientation and activity. Tucker said the problems were not minute and went against the core principles of what the city and Quadrant came up with to govern development in the retail area. After communicating this to QFC, Tucker said they came back last month with some small revisions that were still a far cry from what is required by the standards, what was envisioned by the Mixed Use Final Plan for the Snoqualmie Ridge development and what was proposed by Quadrant (then the Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co., or WRECO) in its application. Since the development standards are enforced as city code, Tucker said her staff couldn't sign off on the QFC plans unless the Planning Commission and City Council change the standards.
Although the development standards are stringent, Tucker maintained they are not prohibitive. Two years ago a grocer from Seattle expressed interest in opening a market. Tucker said the plans presented to the city had some architectural style issues, but they actually went above and beyond what was called for in the development standards with second-story uses above the grocery store and underground parking. The proposal did not make it through Quadrant's New Construction Committee and the deal never happened, but Tucker said a grocery store can be built on the site in a way that meets most of the standards and supports the stated intent for the retail area.
Mark McDonald, owner and developer of the retail area, disagreed.
Although there was a shopping center consultant present at the creation of the development standards, he said, there was no grocery store expert who gave input. The city will, said McDonald, have to take into account the needs of a grocery store, needs that can't be met by having a store come up to the street.
"Operationally, it [having the storefront on the street] doesn't work," he said. "It just flat out doesn't work."
With the exception of the placement of the building, QFC's store will meet all the development standards, he said. After working with the city on the present retail area, McDonald said no developer has a more vested interest than he does in how the retail area looks and functions. He is also of the opinion that any store QFC builds will be aesthetically pleasing.
"We don't want a concrete jungle," he said. "We want a village."
The placement of the grocery store at the back of the lot could be a benefit to design as well as safety, McDonald said. A store located on the back portion of the property, which is about 10 feet lower than the front of the site, would preserve the viewshed for the retail shops on Center Boulevard and allow people to safely walk around the area.
McDonald said he has been working for four years to get a grocery store to come to the retail area and that no other stores were interested in building. Although he said there could be more interest in five to 10 years with more buildout in the area, the sacrifices needed to get a grocery store could be too great for other chains.
"QFC is it," he said.
Councilman Matt Larson said waiting could be a prudent step if the present plan does not meet the development standards. He emphasized he is a proponent of a grocery store in the retail area but said that he and other Snoqualmie Ridge residents he has spoken with support the pedestrian-friendly plan that would bring the storefront up to the street.
"To my pleasant surprise, most residents took the long-term view," he said.
At the Feb. 23 meeting, Larson said Snoqualmie wasn't expecting a grocery store for another couple of years anyway, and that waiting for a more pedestrian-friendly plan would be in the city's long-term interest.
Councilman Nate Short said he would like to see all the parties come together and figure out a way of keeping QFC interested in coming to Snoqualmie. He said revising the development standards may be a step the city has to take in order to make sure it can welcome a grocery store.
"My concern is that we have a great grocery store chain," Short said. "Did anyone really ask, 'Does it [the development standards] make sense for a grocery store?'"
Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher said the standards Snoqualmie has in place do allow a grocer to build a 40,000-square-foot store, with a gas station, which is the size QFC has in mind. He said whichever grocer decides to come to Snoqualmie will have to follow the development standards, as have all of the retail shops in the retail area.
"I don't feel it is right for the developer to circumvent the city," Fletcher said.
Tucker said the city is working with an architect who does grocery store development to explore alternatives for placing a grocery store on the site and the city will be meeting with representatives from QFC in coming weeks.
"We have to be given some options that will allow us to build a full-service grocery store," said Dean Olson, a spokesperson for QFC. "Back and forth dialog is not uncommon for this kind of thing."
Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at