After the city of Federal Way enacted a six-month moratorium on multifamily housing construction with an expiration date of December 7th, the council passed yet another moratorium in a 5-2 vote, extending the halt on new construction for another six months. This time, the moratorium is set to expire June 6, 2017.
A city council meeting is scheduled for February 8th to discuss the terms and status of the moratorium. Even if council members are unanimous in ending the moratorium, once it is in place, there can be no movement on it until it officially expires in June.
The first moratorium was approved by the city council in June of 2016. When it passed, the halt was the latest manifestation of a budding anti-growth movement in the city and the Puget Sound region. As part of the requirements of the moratorium, the city’s Planning Commission had to provide the city council proposals to consider the city’s development and design guidelines for multifamily housing projects going forward.
Under the state Growth Management Act, which is designed to reduce sprawl and encourage density, municipalities that implement a moratorium on new construction must do so for specific policy reasons. The municipality’s planning body must then provide its legislative body with specific recommendations to address those concerns.
The city council passed the original moratorium amid citizen uproar over ongoing pace of real estate development. Some residents argued to the council that further development of multifamily housing will increase the frequency of violent crimes in the city. In response, Councilmember Dini Duclos voted against the moratorium and said that residents have legitimate concerns that development will strain city resources.
“The problem has a lot to do with the school population,” says Duclos, explaining that residents are concerned that fast growth could reduce school quality and strain resources. Her objection to the moratorium was not the pause in construction, she says, but was based on the way that apartment dwellers were portrayed in public comment.
“There’s a lot of people coming in, and there’s a lot of apartments being built in Federal Way. I didn’t mind the moratorium so much. This moratorium came after we had a series of shootings and killings in the city, and it seemed at the time that people tended to equate multifamily housing with that. That really bothered me a lot,” stated Duclos.
However, Federal Way residents who addressed the city council denied that crime was the issue at hand, according to reports, and the moratorium specifically states that it is “not a reference to any recent crimes or criminal activity.”
Federal Way isn’t alone in the effort to halt construction of new developments. Issaquah was recently in a similar position as a moratorium on construction was implemented after homeowners began to feel dissatisfaction with the region’s growth and the changes that it drives into their communities. That six-month moratorium was put in place on September 6, 2016 and is set to expire this March, though the council may vote to extend it for an additional 12 to 18 months.
The current moratorium in Issaquah prevents new development from city review and permitting but still allows for vested projects to continue. Developments such as hospitals, schools, fire stations, city land and capital projects, approved projects that meet 40 percent affordable housing standards, single-family homes, remodels and tenant improvements and emergency repairs are exempt from the temporary ban.
There were several areas that needed improvement including architectural fit, urban design, vertical mixed-use, affordable housing, parking and district visions. To address some of those concerns, the city said it plans to hire a consultant to write guidelines for architectural design. The city also plans to take a look at approved current projects and assess whether any guidelines were missed in order to revise the code requirements to address the concern of urban design.
Overall, the city will be assessing its existing visions for new development by conducting community and property owner outreach and proposing an update to the planned vision. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for February 21, 2017 to discuss issues.
The developer of a large planned housing and commercial project in Black Diamond filed a lawsuit in December 2016 in King County Superior Court against three city council members who oppose the project. The lawsuit alleges more than 135 violations of the state Open Public Meetings Act. The lawsuit also asks the court to fine councilmembers $500 for every violation, or more than $67,500 a piece to be paid by the individual, not the city or the taxpayers.
The project, which gained approval in 2010, would include more than 6,000 homes and commercial centers on 1,500 acres.