Opinion

1,100 new apartments are a wakeup call for Federal Way | Jarvis

During the course of 2013, more than 1,100 new apartments have been announced in Federal Way.

Many of these units have been designated as “low to moderate income.” According to the 2010 census, the construction of these apartments will increase the total number of rental units in Federal Way by approximately 8 percent.

While three of the four apartment projects have seemingly gone under the radar, the most recent project — announced for the old school transportation center on South 320th Street — has drawn strong opposition.

Since before our fair city was formed, Federal Way citizens, or at least the vocal minority, have always been opposed to the construction of apartment buildings. The opposition is especially strong when it comes to low- to moderate-income apartments.

This comes as no surprise when one takes a quick look at the higher crime rates and poorer school performance in lower income neighborhoods.

Is our opposition to apartments just another case of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)? Or should Federal Way pass ordinances to block construction of anything other than high-end condos, thus sending the lowly apartment dwellers elsewhere?

Despite cries of injustice by the self-anointed ruling class (e.g. vocal homeowners), apartment buildings have the right to locate anywhere that proper zoning exists. In my mind, the bigger issue is: Why are so many apartments being built in Federal Way? Is the perception of our city so poor that the only thing investors are willing to build here is low- to middle-income housing?

Maybe investors' perception is that while our community pays lip service to business and economic development, few people seem to walk the talk.

Maybe investors perceive that our economic development plan consists of a movie on the city’s website that features businesses that have long since left Federal Way, or that we are only interested in grandiose projects such as the Crystal Place or Performing Arts and Conference Center (PACC).

Maybe investors have heard that despite Federal Way having been approved to participate in the EB5 foreign investment program, several members of the city council are strongly opposed to any such projects.

The reality is that investors are simply trying to meet the market’s demand. It seems the only thing currently in demand in Federal Way is apartment buildings.

Regardless of the reasons, real or perceived, I can only hope that 1,100 new apartments will serve as a wakeup call to the citizens of our fair city. While it is likely too late to stop the currently announced 1,100 new apartments, it’s not too late to stop the next 1,100 units.

To create real economic development in Federal Way, we need community leaders (and not just at City Hall) who are willing to stop chasing sexy pipe dream projects, and are instead willing to focus on attracting and retaining employers of all sizes.

As any successful business person knows, the thing that matters most is seeing the people.

Our community leaders need to stop waiting for the phone to ring, and instead go out to meet with current and prospective employers. Create a list of dream employers and call or meet with them to see what it would take for them to move to Federal Way. In addition to guiding general policy, it would also provide valuable insight on specific projects such as the PACC, Crystal Palace or a downtown park.

Either way, we are at a crossroads. If we as a city stay on the current path, we will continue to see our city overrun with apartments. This will further strain our social systems while putting downward pressure on our commercial vacancy rates, both of which will discourage businesses from locating in Federal Way.

 

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