News

Not in our downtown

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

The Federal Way City Council passed a surprise ordinance Tuesday to temporarily limit the kinds of development that will be permitted downtown pending the results of a lifestyle market analysis currently underway and a review of the types of business that should be allowed in the city center.

Among the business types that fall into the newly restricted class are “big box” retail, strip malls, drive-through businesses, casinos and card rooms, check cashers, thrift stores, pawn shops and businesses selling groceries, produce, hardware, gardening supplies or similar items.

The temporary ordinance doesn’t affect permits that have been approved by the city’s Department of Community Development, nor does it affect any type of development not on the list of prohibited uses.

The interim zoning ordinance impacts just the area bordered by South 312th Street, South 324th Street, Pacific Highway South and Interstate 5.

Council members wouldn’t say if the temporary ordinance was the subject of a June 1 executive session called to discuss potential litigation.

Last Tuesday, they voted 5-2 in favor of the ordinance, which supporters say is simply a pause to allow the council to see some development recommendations and review city zoning codes before being faced with any large development plans.

“The intention is that there are various provisions within our zoning code that not only allow but encourage zoning typologies that are contrary to our comprehensive plan,” Councilman Eric Faison said. The temporary zoning ordinance “is kind of a time-out to allow us to look at our code and to address our issues.”

In addition to the temporary bans, city officials said they want to revisit the types of uses currently allowed under the city center zoning to make sure they jibe with the comprehensive plan. Some on the council have voiced concern that the allowed uses run counter to the vision the city established for the downtown core.

The Leland Group, the consultant hired by the city last year to conduct a market analysis of whether city could support the kinds of mixed-use development officials want, is expected to come back later this summer with recommendations. Until then, city officials don’t want to receive permit applications for projects that might ultimately undermine their redevelopment goals.

The city was in the process of notifying the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce last week about the new business restrictions. A public hearing on the issue will be held in August.

The chamber’s chief executive officer, Tom Peirson, couldn’t be reached by the Mirror for comment.

Councilman Jim Ferrell acknowledged the perception of a lack of public process — a shortcoming the council has been accused of before — but said the council had good reason and, ultimately, is complying with the law.

“If we were to do the public process first, anyone could have walked in and filed an application and ultimately” been approved, he said. “It would have been impossible, impractical and unworkable” to do it any other way.

He nodded to the public hearing coming up in August, when citizens will be able to weigh in on the matter. “There is going to be a full public process,” he said.

Faison agreed. “The action was taken in accordance with state law at an open public meeting,” he said, adding he wants citizens to focus on the issues — the types of business uses allowed downtown — rather than the process.

“The uproar I hear is not that any of the (businesses banned) in the ordinance are ones we’d want downtown,” he said. “The argument I’ve heard is we didn’t consult the chamber. That goes back to the spirit and the letter of the law. I really think some of the negative comments I’ve heard are really about the process and not the (businesses) on the list.”

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

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