News

Density and traffic taunt 356th St.

By AILEEN CHARLESTON, The Mirror

Several residents along South 356th Street in Federal Way plan to fight any proposed rezoning that increases density and threatens their quality of life.

Every year, the Federal Way Department of Community Development Services accepts requests for changes to the comprehensive plan and zoning maps of the city.

A request the department received from two property owners, as part of the 2006 amendments, was geared toward a possible increase in single-family residential zoning for the area located south of SW 356th Street and west of 1st Avenue South. That area is presently zoned for one unit per 15,000 square feet. The request calls for potentially higher density that will allow developers to construct houses on smaller lots.

Mayor Jack Dovey said that when he served as land use chairman for the city, developers and citizens asked every year to get property rezoned specifically in that area.

“Three years ago, my committee made the decision that instead of looking at each property individually, we would get the whole area and perform a study,” said Dovey, noting that the present study focuses on transportation, surface water management and density, among other things.

“This has nothing to do with developers,” Dovey said. “What happens is that anybody can come forward and say, ‘Would you look at my land? I’d like to rezone it.’ We continually get two or three requests a year for this area.”

Dovey said that after a period of listening and debating, the Federal Way City Council will decide whether to continue the study in this area.

“We’re probably six to eight months out before we make a decision,” Dovey said.

The area being studied is approximately 100 acres, said Margaret Clark, senior planner for the Department of Community Development.

This year, the department notified by mail 467 of the area’s property owners about a public meeting that took place March 5. About 70 people attended that meeting, with 60 of those people against the change in zoning, Clark said.

Property owners Bill and Edith Mullins’ immediate reaction was to oppose the proposal. In a short period, they were able to gather 183 signatures from surrounding neighbors who were also against rezoning in the area.

“Everybody that we went to, except for very few, were ready to sign the petition,” Bill Mullins said.

“We were quite surprised to see how many people felt the way we did,” Edith Mullins said about the March 5 public meeting. “The reason we and other people have chosen to oppose this is because here it still feels like the old Seattle used to feel before everything got built up.”

Bill Mullins said that while he and his wife were circulating their petitions against the rezoning of the SW 356th area, some people’s reactions were doubtful because they thought it was just not worthwhile.

“There’s some doubt and some real skepticism about the council,” he said. “We like to think that if they really hear the voice of the people, they won’t rezone.”

After the March 5 public meeting, property owners received another letter inviting them to attend the March 18 City Council meeting to present their case.

During the March 18 Federal Way City Council meeting, more than 10 people spoke against the rezoning of 356th Street, while only four — which included developers — spoke in favor of it.

Major concerns for most property owners who attended the March 18 meeting had to do with wanting to keep the countryside environment of that particular area. They also were against the threat of having more traffic created by the construction of new houses.

Property owner Nancy Bartley, who spoke about her opposition during the council meeting, expressed her concern about the effects she believes the rezoning will have on quality of life in her neighborhood.

“Leaving the zoning as it is is a win-win situation. Putting more houses will only increase the number of problems,” Bartley said.

Bartley said the city has enough problems and that downsizing the area would only generate more.

“Basically as I see it, for the people who have purchased the large pieces, there’s nothing that stops them from developing their land as it is, but these are people who don’t even live in the community and are not going to be impacted at all,” Bartley said.

Steve McWilliams, who spoke in favor of the 356th rezoning during the council meeting, owns 4.3 acres of land in this area. He said that blocking this proposal would only be closing the door to affordable housing.

“Getting smaller houses will appeal to a broader section of the market, not only to meet needs of the broader population, but to provide affordable housing that will create a strong customer base for other services, like retail and restaurants,” McWilliams said. “Growth is still going to occur.”

If the city is prevented from increasing density in this area, people are going to find housing farther away, and this will increase commutes, pollution and the cost of living, McWilliams said.

“Having more houses in the area is going to increase the tax base for Federal Way, which will allow more money to improve schools, parks and protection,” he said.

Bartley, on the other hand, believes that by having more people, there will be more demands for new schools and more requirements for new taxes that, in the end, will only benefit the developers.

“If he wants to build economic housing, let him build it, but don’t make us hostage,” said Bartley in reference to Steve McWilliams’ comments about the advantages of building affordable housing in that area.

“With any kind of urban congestion comes urban problems, and with this inevitably comes crime, which are things that decrease property value,” she added.

McWilliams stated, however, that development is going to occur one place or another, and that the strongest argument that most people have is their fear of traffic.

“It’s an emotional situation for these people,” McWilliams said. “If you take the fear from it, it will be a good thing,” he said at last Tuesday’s council meeting.

Ron Tremaine, who is both a developer and property owner near the SW 356th Street area, said that most people who live here also had someone develop their land.

“People complain that they’ll be cutting down trees. If you see pictures of the neighborhoods where many of these people lived 30 to 40 years ago, what you see is trees. They didn’t mind people cutting them so they could live there,” Tremaine said. “Now where the economy is now, you can’t afford to put homes in 15,000-square-foot lots.”

Contact Aileen Charleston: acharleston@fedwaymirror.com

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