By Mitchell Roland

Following an hour and a half long discussion during Tuesday’s (March 2, 2021) Kent City Council meeting, a motion to amend a land use designation failed, though a vote to table the proposal indefinitely also failed.

The proposed amended designation
The 13.2 acres of land is located on Lea Hill, near Hazelwood Middle School and Auburn Mountainview High School. While the land is in Kent, it is an enclave surrounded by Auburn. Though the proposal was originally docketed in 2018, it has been delayed due to potential land annexation by the city of Auburn.

Mayor Dana Ralph said Thursday’s action is not related to the potential annexation and is a separate discussion.

As annexation talks began to fizzle, Oakpointe, the developer who made the designation proposal, requested that the review process move forward this year. Gilbert said under Kent’s adopted rules for comprehensive land planning, the city is obligated to decide “one way or another” on the proposal.

The proposal during the city council meeting was to approve the amended designation, which would allow a proposed project to be submitted. If the designation is amended, the next steps would include a proposed zoning change, a Hearing Examiner recommendation and construction permits.

This proposal would change the land in the comprehensive plan land use map designation from urban separator to low-density multifamily homes. The property, which is four parcels, is unique in Kent, as it is the only designated urban separator in the city where commercial development is also allowed.

According to Matt Gilbert, Kent’s deputy director of economic and community development, an urban separator is used for “low-density lands that define community identities and boundaries; protect adjacent resource lands, rural areas and environmentally sensitive areas; and create open space corridors within and between urban areas that provide environmental, visual, recreational and wildlife benefits.”

Gilbert said during the meeting that the proposed action intended to allow housing on the four parcels of land.

“This action would add housing to that allowed list of uses, that’s all,” Gilbert said.

Any proposal to re-zone the land would need to be approved by the city council. Possible zones include single-family housing with eight units per acre, low-density multifamily housing, medium density multifamily or townhomes.

“Those zones really allow for a range in densities, residential densities, between eight and 16 units per acre,” Gilbert said.

Oakpointe has expressed interested in building townhomes on the property.

The concerns of city councilmembers and the public
A motion to amend the land use designation failed by a vote of four to three. Councilmembers Toni Troutner, Bill Boyce, Brenda Fincher supported the motion, while councilmembers Satwinder Kaur, Marli Larmer, Les Thomas and Zandria Michaud opposed it.

Among the concerns public commenters made is the potential disturbance to several wetland areas on the property. Gilbert said

“There is sort of a double protection of city ownership and wetland regulations that will be respected as development takes place,” Gilbert said.

Several councilmembers expressed concerns about how many nearby residents were notified about the proposal. Gilbert said the city is required to notify any property owner within 300 feet of the land, though he did not know the number of notices that were mailed.

“I’m wondering, 300 from this property, does that even include all of the housing in the bridges?” Michaud asked.

The next steps
While the council did not have to make a final determination Tuesday night, ‎Assistant City Attorney Adam Long said they did have to make one in the same time frame as comprehensive plan amendments.

The consensus of the council was to take up the proposal again at their meeting on March 16, after staff members gather additional information to answer councilmember’s questions.

Gilbert said if the council wants to hear additional public comments from residents who live near the land, it could take longer than two weeks to gather. Gilbert did express confidence that staff would be able to address the other questions of the council in time for the next city council meeting.

A motion by Councilmember Les Thomas to table the action indefinitely failed by a vote of four to three. Thomas said the council could take it off the table in two weeks, and that it would be “an easy solution to this.”

“I’m afraid it’s not sufficient time to get input from the residents of that area, within a two-week period. But I may be wrong,” Thomas said.

The three councilmembers who supported the motion to table the matter indefinitely were Thomas, Kaur and Larmer. Councilmembers Boyce, Fincher, Michaud and Troutner opposed the motion.