City Council approves development agreement for The Farm
Last updated 4/4/2019 at Noon
The development agreement for the mixed-use development known as The Farm provided a rare opportunity for members of the Mill Creek City Council to take opposing sides on the proposed use for one of the last remaining undeveloped parcel in the city.
The council eventually approved the agreement on a vote of four in favor, two opposed and an abstention by Mayor Pam Pruitt who expressed frustration at what she interpreted as pressure to approve the measure.
The split decision came after a ruckus public hearing on Tuesday, March 26, that filled the council chambers with residents who expressed unresolved concerns with the complex.
When fully developed, The Farm is projected include almost 400 workforce apartment units and 100,000 square feet of commercial space on 17 acres of land adjacent to 132nd Avenue SE along the northeastern border of the city.
Groundbreaking for The Farm by Vintage LP is still at least three months away, according to Tom Rodgers, the city’s planning manager. Rodgers said a hearing examiner must approve that the development fits the guidelines established for the East Gateway Urban Village (EGUV) before it is turned over to city staff to be implemented.
The public hearing portion of the evening last month was dominated by what was perceived to be a negative impression of renters. Homeowner Shawn Duffy said it seemed impractical to fill the commercial area with high-end restaurants and up-scale retailers when the people who live above the commercial space cannot afford to shop in the stores or eat at the restaurants downstairs.
According to Ryan Patterson with Vintage Housing, the term workplace housing for The Farm indicates the rents will be matched to people who make 60 percent of the median income for the surrounding community.
“Workforce housing,” said one member of the audience, “means the apartments are intended for the workforce that will be employed in the retail and services business in the commercial portion of the development.”
The residential units are expected to add 827 residents to the population of Mill Creek of more than 20,000. The proposed structures will occupy approximately 12 of the 17 acres on the site.
The remainder of the space will be set aside for surface parking, open space and areas set aside for public events.
The Farm is projected to generate more than $900,000 in one-time revenue for the city from construction permits and sales tax revenue. The completed complex is expected to add $500,000 per year in ongoing sales tax revenue from increased property and sales tax for the city.
Opposition to the development agreement came from Councilmembers Vince Cavaleri and Stephanie Vignal.
Cavaleri, works full time as a deputy with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department, disputed the city’s assessment that the additional people and traffic would not require the city to hire more officers.
“With overtime and vacations, the city will probably need to add the equivalent of 3.75 officers,” Cavaleri said. “The congestion on 132nd will be a nightmare. And that’s just from the additional population.
“It’ll be even worse when you add in traffic from people outside the area coming to shop or dine at The Farm.”
Cavaleri also criticized Everett Public Schools for accepting mitigation in the form of funding from the developers to offset the new students who will be squeezed into already crowded classrooms at local schools.
“Schools always need money, so I can understand why they signed off on the proposal,” he said. “What this tells me you can do whatever you want, as long as you write a big enough check.
“I despise that kind of government. That’s one of the reasons I ran for office.”
Given the option, the councilmember said he would have voted for more parks rather than what he fears will become vacant storefronts. The veteran member of the council has already committed to running for re-election in 2019.
Vignal was more concerned with the potential environmental impact to Penny Creek and Thomas Lake from the reduced buffer zone negotiated by the developers.
“Why do we even bother to write regulations to protect the native wetlands if we’re going to ignore them at the first opportunity?” she asked her colleagues on the council.
Vignal was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council in February after serving as a commissioner on the city’s Parks and Recreation board. She has made it clear that she intends to run for a full four-year term on the council when voters go to the polls in November.
Anther councilmember who is also expected to be on the ballot this fall is John Steckler. The semi-retired businessman voted with the majority to approve the development agreement.
“This may could cost me the election,” Steckler said after the critical vote. “We may not be happy with what the developer has proposed, but our hands are tied because he did follow the guidelines laid out in the zoning code and met all the requirements the council mandated when the EGUV was established in 2008.”
Steckler said he liked what he saw when he visited similar developments in White Center and in Ballard. He was especially pleased with the additional roadway the developer agreed to install at their cost when the spine road through the development is put down.
Councilmember Mark Bond reaffirmed the council’s decision, saying he likes proposal more every time he looks at what the area may eventually look like when the construction phase is complete.
Mayor Pro Tem Brian Holtzclaw reminded the council that fire and police protection were addressed during previous council meetings. He added that traffic mitigation proposed by the developer with additional access points could actually improve the flow of traffic on the busy state highway.
Holtzclaw and Councilmember Mike Todd recalled that the East Gateway area was annexed by the city and the EGUV was established in response to the possibility of a Walmart being built along the former border of the city.
“We had three options,” said Todd. “We did not want strip malls and we could not compete with the big box stores in Lynnwood. Our best option was a mixed-use development. And that’s the plan we have pursued for more than a decade.”
Todd said the city could not violate the law by proposing developments that do not fit within the city’s own guidelines.
Teresa Logsdon, who lives in The Vintage senior community just north of the proposed development, defended renters. She told the council that individuals and families who rent their homes are also committed to a quality community.
She said renters come from a wide spectrum of the population, including people who can afford to own a home but choose to rent to fit their lifestyle.
Logsdon generated a laugh from the crowd when she said seniors undoubtedly utilize more calls for the emergency responders at Fire Station 7 than any other segment of the community.