Federal Way Council issues moratorium on some city center development

City of Federal Way - Contributed photo
City of Federal Way
— image credit: Contributed photo

The Federal Way City Council recently enacted a six-month moratorium aimed at halting any proposed expansions or creation of a “retail establishment providing entertainment, recreational, cultural services or activities” within the city center.

At the June 3 Council meeting, assistant city attorney Amy Jo Pearsall explained what the moratorium means for the city.

“A moratorium is an emergency measure designed to preserve the status quo,” she said. “It would suspend the right of applicants to submit applications and obtain approval as well, while the City Council considers and adopts development regulations as the city responds to new or changing circumstances, like we have in our downtown core and frame at this time. It would also provide an opportunity to thoughtfully address the issue. It’s sort of like a timeout so more research can be done.”

In recent months, the city approved the Performing Arts and Conference Center project, along with the Town Square Park.

City spokesman Chris Carrel said the moratorium arose out of long-term discussions the current and past Councils have had regarding potential changes to city code to support the city’s vision for the downtown.

“There was a recognition that this section of the code is overly broad in a way that might lead to unintended consequences,” Carrel wrote in an email. “With economic development heating up, we have a brief window of opportunity to examine this section, and take a thoughtful approach to potentially narrowing the definitions in a way that supports the downtown economic development vision.”

But it appears the moratorium may have also been partly inspired by a company wanting to turn the old Top Food and Drug building at 31515 20th Ave. S. into a health club/spa-like business.

At the June 17 City Council meeting, Benny Kim, an architect for Callison Global, was the only person who spoke at the public hearing regarding the moratorium.

“I’m an architect for designing an indoor water park/spa facility at the former Top Food building,” Kim said of the 60,000-square-foot building. “The owner(s) acquired the building last year and they wanted to develop it. They wanted to build something like a spa/sauna, with some kind of service activity and water park component. That was the initial idea, but later it was redesigned, and is now more like a spa and a wellness center.”

Kim said the project he’s working on would make Federal Way “more dynamic, vibrant,” and would make Federal Way’s downtown a “landmark cityscape.”

“It will be like an urban oasis, or a meditative space. Instead of a bunch of office buildings, it’s a bit more variety, a bit more fun, and will help the city differentiate itself from others.”

Kim said that he and the interested parties he was representing at the June 17 meeting would be “willing and happy to work with the city,” so their project could fit more closely with the city’s vision for the city center.

With the June 3 approval of the moratorium, the zoning code amendments for the city center and core were transferred to the Planning Commission Work Plan, and assigned a high priority.

The city center core and frame encompass an area bound by Interstate 5 on the east and Pacific Highway South on the west, and ranging from 312th to 324th streets on the north-south axis.

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