At a special Federal Way City Council session on Nov. 9, Community Development Director Keith Niven presented updates to the Town Center 3 plan. This long-term downtown development plan is an ambitious project that will take up property near the Performing Arts and Event Center (PAEC) and the site of the former Target building that is now demolished.
Niven told The Mirror the biggest change since the city’s last update can be seen in the possible plans for the Northwest building, which currently boasts an extended area that could become the council chambers in an updated City Hall.
Incorporating a new City Hall into the plans for Town Center 3 has multiple potential benefits, he said, but would add costs to the city for the plan. City staff are outgrowing the current City Hall, so the need for a new location will persist regardless of where it lands.
“We’ve had to turn storage rooms into people’s offices,” Niven told The Mirror. The draw of centering city services in the Town Center 3 area would also make it more accessible to constituents.
“It’s hard to get to this building if you don’t have a car,” he said of the current location on 8th Avenue South. For Federal Way residents who use public transportation and wanted to attend a city council meeting to submit a public comment, for example, they could utilize the 903 DART bus to get to the meeting, but if they stayed past 7:20 p.m., they would have to walk about a mile to get to any bus that runs that late. Accessing the police station or other city services can be equally challenging, he said, and moving City Hall to the new city center project would place it close to the city’s transportation hubs.
Community space is also part of discussion for the Town Center 3 plan, but is not a central focus. Niven said that the current development draft would include flexibility for the city to work on fundraising to pay for a City Hall in the Town Center 3 project and any additional community resources.
Moving from the current City Hall building means that the city would have to sell off the asset of the building itself. As with other cities in a world of frequent hybrid work, there is a high demand for housing, but a low demand for office space.
The city reviewed six proposals from different development companies in February 2023, then shared a letter of intent to award the contract to OneTrent Development. The city has been negotiating the agreement in May and a draft development plan since then.
Niven said the goal was to present the draft development agreement at the Nov. 9 meeting, but that this didn’t end up being possible, so is aiming for December’s Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting instead.
The proposal for Town Center 3 included notes about several code departures, including one related to affordable housing.
“You shouldn’t look at anything in a vacuum,” Niven told The Mirror when it comes to the reason for this departure.
Looking at the other nearby housing construction projects slated for the next decade, Niven said that Sound Transit will be building housing that is required to include 80% affordable units nearby. Sound Transit will also be selling off 5.5 acres of land after they no longer need it for construction, and that will most likely go toward even more housing, Niven said.
Refraining from including affordable housing units in the Town Center 3 Development plan could provide more financial flexibility, Niven said. The money that is saved by not including affordable housing could mean that rental costs for retail businesses could be slightly lower, or that they could offer town homes for purchase at different price point.
In the Federal Way City Council special meeting about the project, Councilmember Jack Dovey raised concerns about the idea of having affordable townhomes, implying that those who would benefit from affordability would not be who he wants to represent the city.
“This is gonna be the front end of our city,” he said. “I’m all for the townhouses, but I would hate to have us err on the side of, we’re gonna make these affordable because then your front door could be something you’re not happy with.”
Developer Trent Mummery responded by saying that “there might be some transfer of economics that might make them easier to buy but that doesn’t mean they will look and act differently.”
Councilmember Lydia Assefa-Dawson responded: “I don’t think having or saying that the 38 units are affordable, I don’t think it’s an oxymoron, I think by all means we should make them available for people to purchase.”
When asked about how the large scale development project will prioritize Federal Way businesses, employees and contractors in its construction, Mummery said they “haven’t talked about that a whole lot.”
Mummery added that he looks forward to what this development can bring to Federal Way: “We do believe this will be a catalyst for your city to create a really viable and walkable downtown.”
Niven added that another community benefit and catalyzing factor of this development is that it will give other potential investors a baseline comparison on possible midrise residential projects. This will be the first of its kind in Federal Way and until there is that initial jump into this type of construction, potential investors can’t refer to any hard data to know how a similar investment would perform here.
Council President Linda Kochmar asked about the parking ratio, which includes an almost a 1:1 ratio of parking spaces compared to the number of housing units. Mummery shared that this is the highest ratio of any project that OneTrent has completed. As a prolific real-estate development firm, OneTrent has completed at least 25 development projects similar to the Town Center 3 proposal.
OneTrent’s website shares that their specialty is in Opportunity Zones, adding that “our community-focused approach unlocks the potential of underserved areas resulting in successful, high-performing projects that also serve as assets to the neighborhoods they become part of. We believe thoughtful design, local knowledge, and industry expertise can deliver an exceptional experience for our partners, residents, and communities alike.”