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Federal Way residents voice concerns over proposed ‘High Point’ project at meeting

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: File photo

50 to 60 community members discussed their concerns about the proposed “High Point” mixed-use project slated for the former bus barn site at South 320th and 11th Place South, during a meeting Tuesday night at Mirror Lake Elementary.

DevCo, the Bellevue-based developer hoping to bring the project to life, has plans for 15 buildings containing 308 dwelling units, 19,196 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, and 10,807 square feet of ground-floor common space. The buildings would range between 3-6 stories high.

This large development has many neighbors in the adjacent single-family residential areas concerned, and they ensured their voices were heard on Tuesday night.

“I live directly behind the project. My house has the most foliage around it,” said local resident David Collins. “I like that privacy. I don’t want people viewing my backyard because I like to sit in the backyard and have a cigarette in my underwear. I want my privacy back.”

According to Collins, his residence would be directly behind the two largest 6-story structures planned for the project. The early schematic designs on the project show plans for landscaping to help obstruct those views, but Collins scoffed at the idea, saying whatever trees or shrubs planned would take years to grow in and become an effective privacy screen.

Patrick Doherty, the city’s director of economic and community development, attempted to allay Collins’s concerns, saying that the design diagrams at the meeting made it difficult to judge proper distances.

Doherty noted that the distance between the building and Collins’s property would be 160 feet or so, and asked audience members to picture Pacific Highway South, saying that 160 feet would be Pacific Highway South from edge to edge with a couple of extra lanes added on each side.

Leah Boehm-Brady took the opportunity to ask why this development is being placed at the specific location in Federal Way.

“Paul (Green, of Azure Green Consultants, the consultant firm working with DevCo on the project), I was reading about another one of your developments in Issaquah. It’s on 10 acres and has 200-something units. Why are you trying to jam such a development in at this location … when you’re willing in Issaquah, a more high-scale place, to give more space?”

Green said that Azure Green and DevCo are just “working within the zoning and the rules here.”

“In fact, we could do 70 foot tall buildings on the whole site and put twice as many units on the site because of the zoning,” Green said. “We’re way under the allowed (maximum) we could do on the site.”

DevCo owner Jack Hunden also took the time to speak to what his company is doing in Federal Way, and why.

“Federal Way is a unique community for us, in that it hasn’t had a significant amount of apartment development for 20 years,” he said. “And we think there are unmet needs here in the city of Federal Way …We’re in the business of providing housing for people. We ... take pride in the projects we build, and the projects we’ve constructed and the needs we’ve fulfilled.”

“These are going to be high quality projects, which, in the long run, we hope will contribute to the overall success of the city and it’s ability to attract a more diverse mix of incomes for the city,” he added.

Perhaps the most pressing question on the concerned residents’ minds was what, if anything, could be done to stop this project in its tracks. As it sits right now, the project is still in the earliest stages of the permitting process, and had somewhat stalled because of a request the city made in November, according to Matt Herrera, associate planner for the city. The city is still awaiting a response from DevCo and its partners.

But the city’s hands are tied for the most part, said Mayor Jim Ferrell.

“At the heart of this … It’s zoned this way. Once the policy decision of what goes on the property … once the property is zoned and an application is made, the city has a very limited role in what we can do,” he said. “We can’t go back and say, ‘We don’t need you’ (to a developer/applicant). What we can do right now is make sure the developer complies with the letter of the law. If this (project) happens, we’re here to make sure that it doesn’t have the kind of impact that will detract from your quality of life, that there are protections and mitigations. If they comply with the letter of the law, the only thing we can do is make sure the impacts to the community are addressed.”

A number of those in attendance raised the question of changing the zoning, with Doherty, Ferrell and others saying that would require a change of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The city is currently undergoing a major update to the Comprehensive Plan, however there is not much the city can do to turn back DevCo’s plans for the site.

Some attendees remained frustrated, even after a number of presentations and the ability for audience members to pepper both the developers and city staff with questions.

Kari Jones, one of the nearby residents who attended, said she hopes that the energy felt on Tuesday night will continue going forward.

“I hope you remember this is a community … Think of our home and our hometown,” she said, addressing Hunden and other members of the development team. “I’m excited to feel the energy and the desire to see this city turn around. I want my daughter to feel proud of being from Federal way. I hope that this energy continues for the future, and I hope that future projects come to the table, so that we as a community can see what’s going on. Because, it sounds like, as a community, there are some really exciting changes coming.”

 

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