Sammamish zoning change limits potential sale value of Baker property

A recent emergency ordinance the Sammamish City Council put into effect on Sept. 5 could be a roadblock in the plans for The Arc of King County, a nonprofit organization that serves people with developmental disabilities.

The Arc of King County planned to sell a donated 1.5-acre tract of land in a subdivision on 242 Ave. SE, Sammamish. The intent behind selling the property was to help fund their current and future operations.

The six-month emergency ordinance, which applies a more strict density zoning to the lots and tracts throughout the entire city, reduces the amount of housing developments that could possibly be built, lowering the potential sale value of the Arc’s property.

Stacy Gillett, executive director of The Arc, said the tract was zoned for 4.8 lots under gross density, but under net density only a single development would be permitted. That zoning difference would reduce the value of the property from approximately $1.6 million to $500,000.

The zoning difference is the result of a change the city made to development density more than a decade ago. In 2005, the city of Sammamish adopted code, applying net density zoning to subdivisions instead of gross density, which was the type of calculation used before.

Jeff Thomas, community development director for Sammamish, said net density is more restrictive because it takes into account environmentally sensitive areas, buffers and future road right of ways, which lead to less dense development.

Gillett said the house and property belonged to longtime Sammamish residents Earl and Minnie Baker, as well as their son Ed Baker, who was one of the first special education students to go through the Issaquah School District. In 1916, the family moved to the Sammamish area because the Seattle School District refused to serve Ed. Minnie took care of Ed until her 90s, when she put the property in a trust to provide resources for him to live out his life on the farm.

Gillett explained that after running low on funds in the 1990s, much of the property was sold and has since been developed as “The Laurels.” The Arc had provided services to Baker for many years and when he passed away in 2013, the land was donated to the organization.

When The Arc began looking into selling the tract of land at its originally assessed 4.8 lots, the city informed them that with net density, the land would only allow one housing unit.

According to the city, the vesting for The Laurels expired in 2013, meaning any possible development on the Baker property would be subject to net density restrictions. Thomas said the city applies net density to lots and tracts, and that while net density indisputably applies to lots, applying the 2005 ordinance to tracts was an interpretation of the original intent of city staff.

That interpretation came under fire when The Arc made a formal request for a director’s code interpretation from the city. Thomas said that in 2016, the city’s interpretation of net density applying to tracts was appealed to the hearing examiner who sided with the city. That decision was then appealed to Superior Court where the judge said that tracts were not lots and that net density would not apply.

“The Superior Court judge issued an order saying that the section of code we relied on to apply wasn’t specific enough spelling out that code in applying to tracts,” Thomas said.

The emergency ordinance to apply net density to lots and tracts, was put in place to allow the city to develop an amendment to the Sammamish Municipal Code that clarifies that tracts are intended to fall under net density.

“The current council believes the legislative intent was to apply equally to all lots and tracts,” Thomas said. “The emergency ordinance was to close that loophole to make sure tracts are being specifically called out in that code, so if a tract was proposed it would be subject to net density.”

Now the city is undergoing a regular legislative review process to form an amendment to the code. As part of the process, they held a public hearing on the issue at their Oct. 3 council meeting. Gillett and representatives from The Arc, along with several Sammamish citizens, spoke in favor of allowing the tract to remain at 4.8 lots in order for the organization to make as much as possible in a sale to fund their disability support services.

The council has not yet made a decision on the amendment, which is still in development with the Planning Commission.

The Baker house, built in 1908. Photo courtesy of Sammamish Heritage Society

The Baker house, built in 1908. Photo courtesy of Sammamish Heritage Society