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City reviews low-income apartment proposal at former 'bus barn'

A new development that includes 308 multi-family housing units has been proposed at the Federal Way School District
A new development that includes 308 multi-family housing units has been proposed at the Federal Way School District's former transportation center at South 320th Street and 11th Place South.
— image credit: Mirror file

Opposition to a proposed low-income apartment complex at the site of Federal Way Public Schools' former "bus barn" at South 320th and 11th Place South has been vocal since the plans for the development were made known in August.

DevCo Inc., the Bellevue-based developer, has plans for 16 buildings containing 308 dwelling units, 18,440 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, and 10,294 square feet of ground-floor common space for residents.

Many residents feel that this kind of structure would have a severe impact on traffic along South 320th Street and have a detrimental impact to single-family neighborhoods in the vicinity.

Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest gave a brief update on the issue to the Federal Way City Council during the Oct. 1 meeting, saying the city's hands are tied in some respects, and also that it appears DevCo Inc. may have played some games with the city regarding this particular project.

"The city cannot stop the proposed development by retroactively changing the zoning regulations," Priest said. "The city did not learn of the developer's intent to construct low- to moderate-income apartments until after (DevCo) submitted a completed land use application…Patrick Doherty and I personally met with the CEO of DevCo to tell them we were extremely disappointed that the housing would be low- to middle-income and not mixed levels (of income), and (that we were) disappointed they informed the city so late in the process."

DevCo is a private for-profit company whose president, Jack Hunden, has specialized in building affordable multi-family rental housing for nearly two decades. DevCo has built 15 low-income housing developments all over the state.

Just like with previous projects, DevCo is applying to the Washington State Housing Finance Commission (WSHFC) to secure funding for the Federal Way apartments. DevCo projects that have utilized the commission's housing credit program include The Seasons Apartment Homes at Lea Hill Village in Auburn, which opened in 2008, and Heatherwood Apartments in Mill Creek, which opened in 2004.

The Housing Finance Commission will hold public hearings for each project funded. The city intends to "submit a letter to the Housing Finance Commission describing in more detail the city's comprehensive plan policies," and also would "describe the city's efforts for redevelopment of the downtown and describe the cumulative effect of the four recent proposals (the city has) received," the mayor said.

City's report

The city prepared a report to outline some of its concerns regarding DevCo's proposed projects in Federal Way. Some of the points include:

• Because of DevCo's efforts to seek funding from the WSHFC, units are required to be "made available to households earning no more than 60 percent of the median household income in the county." According to the city, this is about 90 percent of the median household income for renters in Federal Way, which would roughly translate to $900 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.

• Federal Way already has 14,121 renter-occupied housing units. According to the city, "Countywide planning policies do not distinguish rental or owner occupied housing. The City of Federal Way should supply 16 percent of housing units for those citizens earning 51-80 percent of the area median income in King County ($36,000-$56,450)." The city already "exceeds the Countywide Planning Policy and provides 35 percent of housing units for those earning moderate incomes for a total of 11,996 housing units."

• Because of the already well established stock of housing for low- to moderate-income owners and renters, the city feels it is "far in excess of its required level of affordable housing within this bracket … such a large additional influx of housing within this bracket would be detrimental to the long-term needs of the city."

FYI: Affordable Housing Council

Mayor Skip Priest, who is running for re-election, has been endorsed by the Affordable Housing Council.

The council is a political action committee by the Master Builders Association of Seattle and Snohomish Counties. The council has also donated $900 toward Priest's campaign, according to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).

The council consists of 21 members who are builders in King and Snohomish counties. The aforementioned DevCo Inc. is not a member.

The Affordable Housing Council interviews candidates for endorsements. Priest was also endorsed by the council during his days as a Republican state representative.

As the name suggests, the Affordable Housing Council assists housing-friendly candidates. Under this umbrella, housing includes single-family and multi-family developments, according to council president Jim Potter.

Potter noted that "affordable housing" has developed an elastic definition in recent years because the term is sometimes seen as a negative euphemism for low-income housing. The council defines the term in its literal sense as "all housing that is affordable."

Priest told The Mirror that DevCo's proposed multi-family project doesn't meet the city's vision for housing in the downtown area, but that there is nothing the city can do to stop the development's construction. He said the city must create incentives for more upscale developments such as condos, and that arbitrary barriers have the potential to keep developers out of Federal Way.

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— Federal Way Mirror editor Andy Hobbs contributed to this report.

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