Wild Waves property owners prepare for rezoning

Agreement would allow more flexibility for development at the theme park, such as construction of a hotel.

The property that is the current location of the Wild Waves Theme and Water Park will face its final threshold for approval for new uses Dec. 5 at the Federal Way City Council meeting.

The proposed amendments to the development agreement with Wild Waves include removing the limitations on hotel use from the current 5 acres and the restriction on warehouse use to 25%. It would also remove the restriction on the hours the property may be used, which is currently between 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and up to 1 a.m. for special events.

The amendment would also extend the development agreement to 2053. The current agreement would have expired in 2037.

The Wild Waves development agreement has been updated multiple times over the years, including in 2017, when the operations of the park was acquired by Premier Parks. While current owners Jeff Stock and Leanne Stock (under the entity of EPI Realty Holdings Inc.) are adamant that they are not interested in getting rid of the park, the new development agreement provides more options for them to explore utilizing the land for hotels or warehouses in the future.

Community Development Director Keith Niven explained at the recent council meeting that these changes would allow the owners to “use the site for those other uses, hotel and distribution.” He added that “the traffic impacts for those uses have not been evaluated at this point. They would be evaluated when those applications for those uses actually came in for permit.”

This means that although the land now can technically be used for these new purposes, before actually making that change, traffic studies would need to be conducted and any mitigation associated with them would need to be put into place.

If there are no plans for any construction or change of use, why change the development agreement now? Owner Jeff Stock cited the impact on closing for an entire season in 2020.

“The pandemic was devastating for all businesses, but particularly Wild Waves, a place where families from the whole region gathered to laugh, play and spend their time together,” Jeff Stock, owner of the Wild Waves property, said at the city council meeting.

Wild Waves representatives explained that changing the development agreement simply allows for more flexibility in the event of a similarly devastating event to the business or other development opportunities.

Jody Kneupper, park president of Wild Waves, was the only person to speak during the public hearing about the amendment.

“We’ve been an integral part of the Federal Way community,” he said. “We’re one of the most popular destinations in the Pacific Northwest and have been for almost over 40 years. We look forward to delivering world class family fun for decades more to come.”

Residents’ concerns

While there were no public comments from residents during the council meeting, emails from concerned citizens of Federal Way were included in the city council agenda documents.

“As a resident of Brittany Lane/Regency Woods directly behind Wild Waves, I have some concern that if this proposal is accepted and a distribution center is allowed to be built on the site that the north side of South 369th Street between Milton Road South and 19th Way South will become an all-night parking lot for trucks waiting to unload,” one person said in an email, adding: “We are also concerned with an increase in year-round traffic in the area, which is already pretty bad during the time Wild Waves is open, if a hotel or distribution center were to go in at the site.”

Another resident added: “It will cause a lot of noises, more traffic all year around, crime and overnight parking.”

A third resident brought up a concern about the environmental impact to nearby Hylebos Creek and other issues of potential traffic and noise ,and said in summary they are against the amendment.

Wild Waves was acquired by Premier Parks in 2017. The company operates the facilities, along with 14 other family amusement park locations around the country. The company began as Tierco Group Inc. and began its theme park expansion in 1982.

Premier Parks added two new prestigious individuals to their leadership in 2021, and in an article in Amusement Today along with that announcement, CEO Kieran Burke said: “Premier Parks is actively looking to expand both our domestic and international portfolio by way of acquisition and management of properties.”

With both the operating corporation and the owners stating they have no intentions of getting rid of the theme park, it seems that despite the change in zoning, the Federal Way summer tradition is safe for now.