Build up, not out

City officials are working through a development proposal that is expected to encourage businesses to build up instead of out.

The city’s Land Use and Transportation Committee earlier this month discussed a proposal to limit a business’ footprint — or the amount of ground on which a business is built — unless the owner wanted to take on associated mixed-use development.

City community development services director Patrick Doherty said city staff began working on the proposal about a year ago, prompted by the entrance of large discount retailers in Federal Way

Over the course of the year, the proposal has evolved to address not just discount retailers, but any business housed in a large, boxy, single-story, single-use building.

City staff were concerned that their plans for the downtown core — multi-use, multi-story buildings with some residential areas — would be prevented by an influx of large, boxy businesses.

“It’s not the best use of land given the comprehensive plan,” Doherty said.

City staff began to develop a plan to guide downtown growth that would govern incoming businesses, but wouldn’t necessarily limit them.

The proposed plan is to set a limit on the footprint a new building can occupy with the provision that the company can exceed that limit if other developments — particularly residential — are built into the plan.

“We get the economic benefit and they get the benefit of being part of our economic core,” Doherty said.

The proposal would allow the city to get some benefit out of large development sites as well as the planned residential development in the downtown core. With land values so high downtown, Doherty said city staff don’t expect residential developers would consider building there on their own.

But large retailers might be willing to build some residential areas as part of a big development project, thus moving the city toward its desired core concept.

Safeway did it in Bellevue at a site called Avalon on the Square. Safeway provides an anchor to the housing units it built nearby.

“This is the kind of thing we want to see,” Doherty said.

The plan is still in the Land Use and Transportation Committee, but after some further refinements, the committee will draft a report and take public comment.

Doherty said he expects it will go before the Federal Way City Council in a couple of weeks.

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