Verdana development project clears another major hurdle in Kent; final Council vote is May 4

A major commercial development planned for the East Hill on the southern edge of Kent took another step forward this week.

The Verdana development

The Verdana development

A major commercial development planned for the East Hill on the southern edge of Kent took another step forward this week.

The Kent City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday to accept the recommendation by the city hearing examiner to approve a revised conditional-use permit by a Kirkland developer.

The Council’s acceptance of the recommendation also directs City Attorney Tom Brubaker to prepare an ordinance about the revised development to bring before the Council May 4 for final approval.

Developer Kent 25 LLC, part of the YarrowBay Group, plans to build 75,302 square feet of retail and office space as well as a 76,128-square foot, two-story, assisted-living facility for seniors. The development would be built on 13.3 acres near the northwest corner of Southeast 304th Street and 124th Avenue Southeast.

Hearing examiner Ted Hunter, hired by the city as a neutral party to make land-use decisions, recommended approval of the permit in a March 15 written decision.

The commercial development is part of a proposal by YarrowBay to build 379 single-family homes, known as the Verdana or Bridges development, on 155 acres at the southern edge of the city’s border from South 288th Street to South 304th Street. The property, zoned for single-family homes, bumps against the city borders of Auburn, including the Crystal Meadows neighborhood.

The Council voted unanimously in February 2008 to accept a recommendation by Hunter to deny the initial application by YarrowBay because the commercial development would defeat the purpose of the city comprehensive plan to provide environmental, visual, recreational and wildlife benefits in the area. Hunter also determined the commercial development would detract from the site’s ability to serve as an open-space separation between already developed urban areas.

The developer submitted a revised application this year that met the standards set in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“Quite a few of us have seen this from the beginning,” Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger said prior to the Tuesday vote. “I’m impressed with the improvements they have made. The concern early on was about the residential area and whether the development would be done with sensitivity and appropriately. That’s what we have.”

The revisions include a clustering of buildings as well as fewer buildings, parking to the interior of the site, a reduction of impervious surfaces, increased open space, installation of solid-screen and visual-screen landscaping, and a unified design concept.

Several Auburn residents voiced concerns at a March public hearing about traffic as well as the visual impact the new commercial development could have on property owners in the nearby subdivisions.

“I came in thinking this land-use plan might not be compatible,” Councilman Dennis Higgins said. “But the revised PUD (Planned Unit Development) meets all of the legal requirements. We have the legal finding, so our path is clear.”

The Council served as a quasi-judicial body about the land-use matter rather than its normal duty as a policy-making body. That meant Council members served more as judges to look at the legal requirements of the whether the permit met the city’s neighborhood commercial-community development standards rather than a personal opinion about whether the development should be allowed.

The approval of the revised application also includes conditions that the developer must meet, including two drive-through lanes with landscaping to buffer visual impacts to surrounding areas; not allowing convenience stores typically associated with gas stations, nor liquor stores; solid landscaping must be installed between a westerly office building and the Crystal Meadows neighborhood; and roadway-improvement plans must be submitted with the construction permit that meet lane-width and sidewalk standards set by the city of Auburn.

“We are pleased with the decision,” said Michael Huey YarrowBay project manager for Bridges, in a phone interview Wednesday. “The code allows the type of development we are applying for.”

Huey said company officials will figure out a timeline for construction of the project once it gets final approval for the development and has all of the permits in place.

“Then we will look at it and see how to proceed,” Huey said.

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