M aple Valley planners are in a bind.
They have drawn up a vision for a pedestrian-friendly city center just north of Four Corners — with a civic center, park space and retail area featuring shops and eateries with outdoor seating and wide sidewalks.
Problem is, other types of businesses are already located there. And the owners of the auto repair shops, storage facilities and others are angry that the city is changing their zoning.
“I have been to every city council meeting and every planning commission meeting to make sure they didn’t pull a fast one,” says Leslie Westover, who owns Westover Auto Rebuild with her husband.
Their concerns have delayed the city’s action on its vision for a couple years — until now. Director of Community Development Ty Peterson has tweaked the zoning changes to help satisfy some of them.
You are destroying our livelihoods.
The Maple Valley Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 15, and then vote on whether to recommend that City Council convert the acreage in the northwest quadrant of Four Corners — behind Johnson’s Home and Garden — to a “Central Commerce” zone, opening it up to developers who may want to build shops and restaurants.
The commission held an open house last night, Feb. 1, to discuss the plans.
No existing businesses would be forced to leave under the Central Commerce zone. But originally all of them would have been listed as “nonconforming,” a designation that they say hinders both their ability to expand and to obtain financing.
Peterson changed that designation for some of them. The revised Central Commerce zoning rules revealed last night now list vehicle repair shops as conforming, as long as they are no larger than 1 acre with buildings limited to 9,000 square feet.
The original Central Commerce zone would not have allowed auto repair shops in part because of concerns that they would interfere with the development vision, which would incorporate more densely spaced, pedestrian-friendly retail and services, Peterson says.
The Central Commerce zone still does not allow self storage and heavy equipment sales and storage to be conforming. Commissioners last night agreed that these uses just don’t “fit the vision” for development, according to Brennan Taylor, commission vice chair.
“I know you are trying to make the city better, but you are destroying our livelihoods,” Grace Won of Maple Valley Mini Storage told the commission last night.
Planning Commission Chair Glenn Akramoff urged his fellow commissioners to move forward in order to “reserve an opportunity to create that future vision.”
In fact, if the commissioners don’t take action, they could face another bind: Interim zoning rules that have temporarily replaced the original Business Park zone expire at the end of this month.
If they expire before the City Council approves the permanent change, the site converts back to Business Park, and all of the existing businesses will be listed as conforming. That would be great for them but would prevent the city from attracting a retail developer.
If a permanent Central Commerce zone passes, however, the city can then look ahead — beginning in 2013 — to deciding how best to incorporate the “legacy site” into a complete civic center plan. The legacy site is the name for about 50 acres of wooded land that the city bought years ago just north of the zoned area in question and directly across from Rock Creek Elementary School.
The sale of the legacy site required the city to reserve half of the acreage for public use, so the city envisions parks and civic spaces there in addition to city offices and retail. The idea is to use pedestrian-friendly walkways to connect the legacy site, the new zoned area and the existing shopping centers in Four Corners. Also, all of this acreage is bordered by the Cedar to Green River Trail on the west, adding more accessibility.
City Council member Erin Weaver, who served on the Planning Commission when the original master plans for the site were drawn up in 2009, says allowing commercial development will bring in sorely needed tax dollars for Maple Valley.
“We need it. All of our tax base has come from homes,” she says. “Plus people want it. They want nice restaurants.”
If the new Fred Meyer complex being constructed across the street is successful, Weaver says she hopes it will draw other developers to the northwest quadrant.
“If retailers and developers start noticing the dollars being spent … then maybe this will start happening,” Weaver says. The Central Commerce zoning change effectively opens the northwest quadrant if developers come knocking.
But Westover remains frustrated, saying the city specifically recommended to her and her husband that they build their auto repair shop on that site just 12 years ago — because it was zoned Business Park.
The couple is counting on selling the shop in the future to pay for their upcoming retirement. Even with the new zoning tweaks now listing their shop as conforming, they will be limited in their ability to expand and face possible landscaping and parking mandates.
“Even if they made another place in the city for us to go,” Westover says, “it would be a huge investment, and we would have to stick around another 20 years to pay it off.”