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Snoqualmie Ridge office park rezone plan disputed

SNOQUALMIE - Business owners on Snoqualmie Ridge were miffed last Monday night as the Snoqualmie City Council contemplated an amendment to the Ridge development standards that would allow for more retail uses in the business park.

A rumor that grocery store investor Pete Ferren would back away from his plans for the Village Food Market on Snoqualmie Ridge if the amendment was approved brought a standing-room only crowd to the packed fire station conference room.

Mayor Fuzzy Fletcher explained that the action is not a zoning change as had been rumored, but an "amendment of allowable uses." After some two hours of debate, the council decided to table the amendment for eight weeks, at which time the results of the latest retail analysis for the city will be completed.

Ferren said he was not planning to change directions on the grocery store, but may need to do another study if the amendment is approved.

"We're moving forward, we're just double checking our figures. Rumors had it as 'we're gonna go if,'" said Ferren, who was concerned about major drugstores or gas stations going into the area because both carry many grocery items. He said the market is not mature enough to handle so many options.

"We were of the understanding that this would be the only grocery store in the market."

The area in question includes nine acres along the Snoqualmie Parkway in the existing business park, which has had little success attracting tenants over the years.

Opus, the real estate developer that owns the land, requested that Chapter 13 of the Snoqualmie Ridge Development Standards for the business park be amended to allow for retail uses in addition to business park uses on lots 11 and 12. The amendment would add a provision to the Snoqualmie Ridge Development Standards to allow for retail uses on only the two lots in the existing business park. The provision also includes an allowance for gasoline sales on just one of the lots.

The land is zoned mixed use, which means the city has a lot of room to make changes to it, said Councilman Matt Larson. Technically, approval of the amendment would be an expansion of allowable uses in the business park, Larson said, and the move doesn't require the same process of public hearings that rezoning does.

"The fear is that in the short term, the lack of houses could break [business owners'] backs," Larson said. "The city's dilemma is if we don't grab the opportunity to reprogram the land now, we may not have the opportunity a few years down the road. We need to balance future needs with short-term needs."

Planning director Nancy Tucker said the idea first came forward in discussions on Snoqualmie Ridge Phase II. "Being such a large project we were looking out to the 2022 build-out. We wanted to make sure we had enough retail for shops and services and make sure we're not leaking sales to North Bend and Issaquah. We thought if we do need it, the best place would be the business park because there's not much activity there."

The development standards for the potential retail site mirror the development standards for the current neighborhood retail area except that it allows for some larger buildings in the business park, Tucker said.

The Walker Family Trust, a developer interested in the new retail area, became involved with the project in November when QFC pulled out.

"We had been approached by the city and explored the opportunity of a grocery store, but currently Snoqualmie is not big enough for two grocery stores," said Tony Vierra, a Walker Family Trust representative. "We immediately backed away. We have not had a discussion or considered a gas station or convenience store. We are in the 'what if' stage. We're just beginning discussions with potential retailers," Vierra said.

Brandon Wright, owner of Bibo Coffee Co., has become the spokesperson for Ridge business owners. He feels the city wants more retail to create additional revenue in an era of budget shortfalls. "We're on the front lines of Snoqualmie's economic development. It's particularly disturbing to us that we've never been approached to participate in any of these studies."

Wright said many of the business owners moved to the Ridge because they thought the city would be very careful in how it allowed the land to be developed.

"A lot of us are paying the rents that we are because of the promise of exclusivity. We knew 2,500 homes wouldn't be enough. We're not dealing in waves of people. We're dealing with individuals," he said.

Business owners were also unhappy with the way in which they found out the amendment was up for action - through a flyer handed out at Bibo Coffee Co. Council members agreed that better communication was needed between city staff and business owners.

"There was a disconnect," Larson said. "It's not good for the Walker Family Trust to move forward either with potential acrimony."

The City Council chose to table the amendment until the completion of another market analysis, which will look at demand 5, 10 and 15 years into the future through 2022.

The study will take 45 days to complete, at which time the City Council will examine the results and hold a public hearing before voting on the amendment. The study results will be presented at a future City Council meeting in about eight weeks.

Staff writer Melissa Kruse can be contacted at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at melissa.kruse@valleyrecord.com

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