Business

City coaxing downtown development

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

As part of an ongoing effort to woo office, retail and residential development into downtown Federal Way, city officials are moving forward with plans to conduct an environmental impact study in the city center core so future developers won’t have to.

The city EIS will save developers some money, but more importantly, it will save them time, said Patrick Doherty, the city’s deputy director of community development for economic development.

In a project costing several million dollars, an environmental impact study isn’t considered a big-ticket item, Doherty said. But the time delay in hiring someone to do it and then the uncertainty of whether the city will approve it or not pending more mitigation work can tack weeks, months or years onto a project, he added.

City officials conducted a market study about 18 months ago that surveyed developers and business leaders, who said they would be more inclined to launch projects in Federal Way if the city made development less cumbersome.

In response, city officials came up with a program to ease developers’ moves into Federal Way, including several internal measures, like better customer service and better communication among departments, no more changes mid-project, a streamlined, expedited permit process, tax incentives and a city-conducted EIS in the downtown core.

The city plans to spend about $200,000 to conduct the EIS as part of the multi-pronged program to bring developers downtown. Officials are looking at three study options:

• Conduct the EIS with a plan to focus the majority of future development in the vicinity of South 320th Street between South 316th and South 324th, with reduced density directed to the north between South 316th and South 312th.

• Do the EIS with a plan to evenly distribute density between 312th and 324th.

• Do nothing. In other words, the city would not conduct the environmental assessment, and the market would progress as expected in the city’s comprehensive plan.

Providing some degree of environmental assessment is expected to provide significant development, based on information from the market analysis and conversations with business owners and developers, Doherty said.

City officials didn’t provide precise data on just how much development might occur if the city didn’t do the environmental assessment but approved other parts of the program, including the multi-family development property tax cut and the streamlined permit process enacted last year.

Still, officials estimate about 220,270 square feet of additional retail development downtown under the “do nothing” alternative, and 750,000 square feet of retail development if it conducts either level of environmental assessment.

Officials don’t anticipate an increase in the amount of office development — the office market is soft across the country — if they conduct the EIS. But they do anticipate an increase of 600 rooms of lodging with the EIS and only 100 rooms under the “do nothing” alternative.

City officials identified a potential increase of 270 residential units under the “do nothing” alternative and 750 units with the EIS.

By doing nothing, the city wouldn’t anticipate any civic or institutional development or structured parking downtown. With an EIS, the city would expect 100,000 square feet of civic or institutional development and 750 structured parking stalls.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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