Northwest quadrant in Maple Valley on the verge of permanent business zoning plan

One chapter in the northwest quadrant saga has closed. The next chapter is about to begin.

One chapter in the northwest quadrant saga has closed. The next chapter is about to begin.

At its Feb. 13 meeting the Maple Valley City Council approved an ordinance to extend the temporary business zoning in the northwest quadrant of the Four Corners Subarea plan.

This time, however the extension’s only until May, when the Planning Commission is expected to finally present a permanent business zoning plan for the council to adopt.

The subarea plan is a long term community development piece of the city’s comprehensive plan and is intended to provide a blueprint for future development of the Four Corners area. The northwest quadrant has been subject to greater debate than the rest of the plan.

After nearly six years of delays, Mayor Bill Allison said, adoption of zoning for the northwest quadrant can’t come soon enough for all parties involved.

“The process has taken way too long,” he said in a telephone interview. “That’s the frustrating part. It’s frustrating for the property owners. It’s frustrating for City Council and for staff. This has been a situation that has been frustrating to the entire city.”

The last extension of the interim zoning occurred on Feb. 28, 2011. In his report to the City Council, Community Development Director Ty Peterson said that a final extension was necessary for the Planning Comission to complete the zoning code.

The northwest quadrant saga first began in June 2005, when the city authorized the establishment of the Four Corners Subarea Plan as part of the new comprehensive plan, which affects the properties located at the intersection of the Maple Valley Highway and Kent-Kangley Road.

The primary purpose of the subarea plan, City Manager David Johnston said, is to create new zoning for commercial development, with the idea of having what he called “festival retail” located near the Legacy site which is a 56-acre city-owned property Maple Valley purchased nearly a decade ago.

“The idea was combining a walkable retail community where people could live above retail and take advantage of developing some community amenities,” he said in a telephone interview.

The new zoning code changes, however, would affect existing business and property owners. While zoning for three of the four quadrants were adopted, the northwest quadrant was delayed due to disagreements between the city and existing property and business owners over the new zoning code. Interim zoning was adopted in the meantime.

Property and business owners have argued that the new zoning would limit the expansion of their existing business uses, as well as negatively impact the value of their property.

“I can’t believe somebody can be in business for 25 years and then have these group of people, none of whom have been self employed, have our future in their hands,” said Leslie Westover in a telephone interview. “That’s pretty crappy. So it certainly affects what’s going to happen to our retirement.”

Westover owns Westover Auto Rebuild with her husband, Bill. She added that she hopes the permanent zoning code will allow their business to be switched from non-conforming to conforming.

Others, such as Jeff McCann, have voiced similar concerns over the issue of zone conformity. At the Planning Commission’s Jan. 11 meeting, McCann stated that “There needs to be a clarification from staff of the difference between conforming and nonconforming businesses and what owners could do if they sell their business and what they could do under an expansion.”

Under the current plan, certain business use would no longer be allowed to be built in the area, which Johnston stated is an unpleasant necessity.

“In essence, that’s what happens in a growing community, in a changing community,” he said. “It doesn’t just happen in Maple Valley. It happens in cities across the country. The public process is still available for the final product, but as I say whenever there —  no one likes to hear this — whenever there is a public decision made, somebody is affected. When there’s a land change, somebody’s affected. So somebody is affected positively and negatively in public decision. The process is to balance out the benefits of the wider community for the citizens as a whole against the rights of property owners and that’s a balancing act that all cities play when they do land use decision making.”

The extended length of the temporary zoning has also been criticized, as it has been in place for roughly three years due to repeated extensions by the City Council.

“It’s bad news for the city if a group of property owners were to push the issue,” Westover said. “This is not the way things are supposed to go.”

Ultimately, it got to the point where the city faced legal liabilities if they delayed permanent zoning any further, according to Johnston.

“We’re obligated for the benefit of all the citizens to make sure that liability has been mitigated,” he said.

Allison said he hopes when the topic is brought back to the City Council in May, the city will finally be able to adopt permanent zoning.

“I believe we need to have our decision about where we are going to go by the end of May,” he said. “The property owners deserve that understanding so that they can move forward with their lives and their property.”

Johnston stated that there is still a lot of work to be done on the subarea plan.

“The process isn’t over,” he said. “Later this year we will resume the process at the northwest quadrant and the legacy site on its own. This chapter is closed.”