Federal Way seeks zoning amendment for larger health clubs

Federal Way staff is asking the city council to consider a code amendment that could allow for larger health clubs in the city's neighborhood business zones.

The request spawned from a variance request by 24-Hour Fitness. The health club business is geared to move into the old Albertsons building at 33620 21st Ave. S.W. However, the building is located in a neighborhood business (BN) zone; health facilities larger than 25,000 square feet are not permitted there. The space is 43,061 square feet.

A hearing examiner denied 24-Hour Fitness' variance request last month, upon staff's recommendation. Though staff wished to see the vacant building occupied, variances are generally only granted upon special circumstances, none of which applied to the standing storefront. The location is a good fit for a health club, but city code restricts the building for that use, community development director Greg Fewins said.

"It has that crazy limitation in size that has been the stumbling block," he said.

Generally, BN zones are intended for smaller businesses, so as to keep with the character of the surrounding residential area. However, the BN zone, located at 21st Avenue Southwest and Southwest Campus Drive, differs slightly from the city's 13 other BN zones.

The 45.57-acre area is drastically larger than any of the city's other neighborhood business zones. Businesses such as Fred Meyer and Safeway, though they are not small in size, are permitted because they were in place before the zoning was established, Fewins said.

Amending the code would require a change in the 2009 Planning Commission Work Program. The city council has a few choices in how it can approach the matter. First, it can agree to amend the code, allowing for larger health clubs in all of the city's BN zones. Second, it can choose to treat the 21st Avenue Southwest/Southwest Campus Drive zone differently than its other BN areas and permit for larger fitness clubs only within this specific BN zone. Third, it can make adjustments to the code that welcome new businesses to move into empty storefronts within BN zones without having to meet size restrictions. The council can also chose to keep the code as-is.

Fewins prefers to see the city council open all its BN zones to larger health facilities. If the city council chooses to move forward with staff's recommendations and makes the amendment a top priority, the code could be rewritten within three months, Fewins said. 24-Hour Fitness would begin its permitting process immediately following the code's amendment, he said.

The health club giant applied to occupy the space December 2008. There is enthusiasm on 24-Hour Fitness' part to move into and improve the space, which has stood empty since Albertsons' business license expired in December 2006. City staff is also eager to see the building inhabited.

"Everybody would like to see that storefront occupied," Fewins said.

Prior to 2001, fitness facilities were completely restricted in BN zones. That year, the city council amended the city code, making way for fitness clubs up to 7,500 square feet within BN zones. Later in 2001, city codes were altered once again to give consent to fitness facilities up to 25,000 square feet.

Neighborhood business zones also restrict restaurants to 7,000 gross square feet; fast food establishments to 5,000 square feet; private clubs or lodges to 10,000 square feet; entertainment, recreation or culture-based business to 25,000 square feet; and other retail and self-storage to 40,000 square feet.

City council will likely make a decision on the amendment at its Dec. 1 council meeting.

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