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City code revision opens door for 24-Hour Fitness and vacant building

A revision to the city code opens the door for a health club to occupy the vacant Twin Lakes Albertson’s building.

The code revision on March 2 stems from 24-Hour Fitness’ 14-month pursuit to take root in the building, located at 33620 21st Ave. SW, and city staff’s desire to see a long-deserted space occupied. The code revision sets apart the Neighborhood Business (BN) zone located near 336th Street and 21st Street Southwest. The code revision lifts restrictions on the size of health clubs in this zone.

Neighborhood business zones are intended for smaller businesses, such as mom-and-pop shops, rather than large-scale projects, associate planner David Lee said in October. The idea is for businesses and residential spaces to compliment one another, he said.

But the BN zone at South 336th Street is a bit different. This is the largest BN zone in Federal Way and it’s home to buildings that were erected prior to Federal Way’s incorporation. Unlike other BN zones, this area tends to offer fairly large tenant space, community development services director Greg Fewins said.

Long-awaited outcome

The change in code came from an attempt to fill empty retail space. 24-Hour Fitness applied to move into the old Albertson’s building — 43,061 square-feet — in December 2008. It was not allowed to progress due to size limitations placed on health facilities in BN zones. Prior to March 2, city code permitted health facilities up to 25,000 square feet in (BN) districts. Besides 24-Hour Fitness, there has been little interest from other tenants wishing to occupy the building, Fewins said. It has stood empty since 2006.

“They’ve had trouble finding a user for that space,” he said.

In October, 24-Hour Fitness requested a zoning variance in hopes that would clear the way for the business to move into the Twin Lakes building. A variance is generally granted in special circumstances, Lee said: For example, if a project is slightly larger than that permitted in a zone, or if the property contains wetlands or a steep slope that makes construction more difficult. 24-Hour Fitness didn’t meet standards for a variance, and staff recommended a hearing examiner deny the fitness facility’s request.

“This is one we really struggled with. We really wanted to help them out,” Lee said in October. “We studied this pretty long and hard and we just couldn’t give it to them just to give it to them.”

In November, staff asked the city council to pass a code revision that would adjust size restrictions on health clubs in the city’s largest BN zone. The location is a good fit for a health club, but city code prohibits the building for that use, Fewins said at that time.

“It has that crazy limitation in size that has been the stumbling block,” he said.

Peter Berkowitz, 24-Hour Fitness vice president of real estate and strategy, said his company is happy the code revision was approved and wishes to continue providing services to individuals south of Seattle. Berkowitz cautioned the move to the old Albertson’s building is not guaranteed, but if things go as planned, the 21st Avenue building could be home to Federal Way’s second 24-Hour Fitness.

“The next step is to work on negotiating a deal,” Berkowitz said.

Patrick Montgomery, owner of Lighthouse Laundry, located within the Twin Lakes BN zone, thanked the city council Tuesday for the revision and for supporting small businesses by helping to fill vacancies.

Other BN zones

Tuesday’s council decision does not affect the city’s other BN zones. Staff and the city council could choose to make adjustments to the code and alter the size limitations placed on health clubs in other BN zones, Fewins said. A more comprehensive look into zoning restrictions in BN zones could take place as part of this year’s long-range work plan. However, council would need to direct staff to take this action.

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