LETTER: ‘No Apartment Buildings in Burien Town Square’

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To the Editor of the B-Town Blog


“The community’s vision for downtown is an attractive, clean, safe and vibrant place that is welcoming to people of all ages. A friendly place where you can walk between the good mix of shops. Downtown will have a special look, created by a cohesive physical theme and design guidelines that emphasize quality, permanence, individuality and uniqueness within the overall urban fabric. Overall, downtown Burien will be a destination-the comfortable and welcoming, fun and lively heart of a great small town.”

This is taken from the Burien Comprehensive Plan and Section 19 of the Burien Zoning Code. It calls for townhouses and condos. I do not think that moderate to low value apartment buildings fit this vision or code. Yet this is what the City Council and the City Staff are working on behind closed doors to put in our Town Square. First we were told that a developer had come to the city and made an offer on the lots and that was why the Council was voting to buy the lots back and resell to this developer. The Council voted to buy the lots back and the current landowner threatened to sue.

Now we are being told that the city may agree to let the current owner keep the lots and change what can be built on them. Again the plan seems to be moderate to low grade apartments with no shops or businesses below them. Burien has thousands of apartment units just like this right now.

Apartments bring transient populations, higher crime rates and lots more children that put added stress on the school district. Apartment dwellers come and go quickly and have no sense of permanence because they do not own the property. Apartments tend to have inadequate park and recreational space for residents. If these apartments are allowed to be built in Town Square, our Town Square Park will become the overflow park for the apartment dwellers and will quickly run down from over use. This kind of development is not quality, unique or special. It is just another ghetto space. I and a number of Burien realtors feel that this will devalue the land in Town Square and spell the doom of Town Square as a quality, special and unique district of the city.

Currently Burien has more than its share of these low value apartments and there are lots of vacancies. I am asking that the City Council not allow these apartments with no shops below to be built. Burien needs to stick to the standards, vision and ordinances that were originally developed for Town Square, and the Council members need to follow the Comprehensive Plan. There are many great uses that can be built on those lots that WILL bring economic development to Burien. Citizens asked that condos and quality businesses be put on this Town Square land.

Now the Burien City Manager/ Mike Martin and the City Council are trying to ignore the City’s Comprehensive Plan and sell off our vision for apartments. Burien citizens need to speak out against this and protect the future quality of Town Square.

The Comprehensive Plan-pages 2-46 to 2-59 states that, ”The City should encourage and support locating distinctive, quality developments within the downtown area that are consistent with the character established by this comprehensive plan.”  The city staff needs to get to work and accomplish this vision and not try to get us to settle for less.

In my opinion the Burien Downtown Comprehensive Plan Vision for 2020 is the best “Vision” the city has ever had. If you would like to read it (link here), scroll to bottom of page and select chapter and select chapter 2, “Plan Policies” of the Comprehensive plan. Go to pages 2-46 to 2-59.

If you would like to investigate the excellent uses for the Burien Downtown Commercial Zone (DC) LINK TO then select title 19 zoning code, then Chapter 19.15. Use Zone Charts, then scroll down to Section Down Town Commercial Zone (DC).

– Robbie Howell

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21 Responses to “LETTER: ‘No Apartment Buildings in Burien Town Square’”
  1. Chris says:

    I agree with you, however please provide proof that this is happening “behind the scenes.”

  2. VERY TIRED says:

    “Apartments bring transient populations, higher crime rates and lots more children that put added stress on the school district. Apartment dwellers come and go quickly and have no sense of permanence because they do not own the property.”

    What kind of elitist BS is this? I am an 8 year resident of Burien. I also live in an apartment building. Most of my neighbours have been here 12 years or more. Do you understand the meaning of the word “transient” in it’s most direct context? Do you realize you are demonizing most of the population of this city?

    I’m SO SORRY that I don’t make enough to afford to buy property in your precious city. I’m SO SORRY that people like me who work for a living everyday for the want of that dream of ownership are sullying your vision for the perfect city. What a bunch of ludicrous nonsense.

    I really find this kind of rhetoric mind-boggling. Yes, I understand you are upset about the city trying to work backroom deals and engaging in other machinations of deceit. If you voted for them, that’s your fault. The fact of the matter is the lots are empty. Something has to be done with it.

    I have an idea: Since you are so upset, maybe we should contact the charlatans at SHARE/WHEEL, and see about putting up Tent City for a few months in those lots. Then you can worry about a REAL transient group. Don’t worry…they don’t have kids to “…put added stress on the school district…” What idiocy.

  3. John Poitras says:

    The vision for town square is and has never been low cost housing.. It is supposed to become a VIBRANT COMMERCIAL ZONE which is what it is zoned for. The plan was for restaurants, shops and business’s that will bring people into Burien to spend money and bring in badly needed taxes for the city. It was also supposed to add some badly needed character to the current “dead zone in the heart of town”.
    No one is against building apartments and condo’s to rent or to own, just NOT HERE in the HEART OF THE CITY >>>it was always planned as being a commercial zone for business’s. I totally agree that is the plan that we need to stick to even if it takes a couple of years for the economy to improve.

    • Millie O'Hara says:

      Chris, If you diligently went to the city counsel meetings you would see what is going on. The city manager will never answer any of the questions the city council asks him. He always says I don’t know and I will get the answer for you but he never does. Later he has the item he was asked about all ready to vote on, with hardly any questions asked. He has a majority of 4 council members that rubber stamp almost every item that he puts on the docket. This happens over and over again. Check out the city of Burien’s web site and see which Monday nights they have the city council meetings. Then watch them on Channel 21 or go in person to the meetings. See for yourself and get involved.

    • Rick says:

      Totally agree with Robbie’s statements. No apartments within the downtown core.

  4. mike says:

    It seems that Martin & Co. are hell bent on doing what Martin wants. Why not let Harbor Urban have more time to come up with a development plan? Martin seems to think things need to be done now. The economy is still in the tank. What is the hurry? Apartments aren’t the answer according to the Burien comprehensive plan. Just sayin…

  5. Justin says:

    Instead of writing this long letter why didnt you just say “I am afraid they are going to let brown people live there”. I mean, that’s what your getting at.

    • John Poitras says:


      I live in Burien and I totally disagree with your comment

      I don’t think she is saying that at all. What is YOUR plan for revitalizing downtown? I find your snipe not only disingenuous its race baiting… AND it has NOTHING to do with the finding the solution to the dead zone in downtown Burien.
      We need solutions and suggestions >>not negativity.

      • Justin says:

        What downtown Burien needs is people being in it. Build all the storefronts you want, but unless you have people living and visiting the core area, you are going to have the same problem with vacant store fronts. Actually a worse problem, because now you will have twice as many empty storefronts.
        The problem with the town square are greedy landlords. You can rent a retail space in Queen Anne or Ballard cheaper than you can in the town square project. Building owners across the street are nearly as delusional. Once you get the population up and coming to downtown, you can charge those rents. At this point though Burien is about 5-10 years away from that. 152nd has about a 40% vacancy rate, but look at 153rd, or 151st. There is no reason for a business owner to open up in that area. Its a ghost town at this time. You do not have the foot traffic or the population density.

        • Shari says:

          Justin, your comments are really compelling. You’ve been successful opening businesses in several neighborhoods around metro Seattle so I’m wondering if you have a sense for which has to come first– the residents or the businesses? I’ve heard that if Burien gets some great small businesses, it’s more likely to attract people to live here because they won’t feel as though they have to drive to Southcenter or Seattle to shop. But I’ve also heard that a variety of strong housing options has to come first, because it gets people to move here and they then spark a demand for–and an ability to support–a variety of small businesses. Which is more important as a first step for Burien now– do great businesses attract residents or would getting more residents attract small business owners? And what effect does median income have on all of this? It would be great to know what our STEPS need to be here in Burien– it’s such a circular conversation right now. What’s the smartest first step to economic vitality?

          • Justin says:

            The people have to come first. To attract people you need businesses, and attractive places to live. A bit of a chicken and egg thing there.

            What many business look for before they will open up in a neighborhood is, higher than average birth rates, denser population, a younger population, and income slightly above average. This will give a business a base population that will grown with them. A high population of people between the ages of 25-40 go out more. Go to big box stores less. Spend more money on entertainment and food. They will go on dates there, bring their kids there, etc, etc.
            Burien has the store fronts. It has some people. It is on the verge of making a step forward. At this point you have developers that are seeking to much for the Town Square spaces. All they have been able to attract this far is Subway. No one is going to drive across town for Subway. Across the street you have landlords that have no desire to make any kind of improvements on their property to attract tenants. Many of them are absentee land lords that live out of state. Look at the retail spaces near Elliot Bay Brewing. That would be prime locations for boutiques and other food. Not with the rest of that strip mall looking like that though.

          • Shari says:

            So it would be great if you would be invited to share these observations with the business and economic development groups and, better yet, to be part of making something happen around here (an aggressive and smart biz plan implemented by a bunch of people with strong experience and technical expertise and a collective fire in their bellies for business and economic development in Burien). There could be some amazing businesses in Town Square that would draw all of us out of our houses and get us downtown (we already do at least 80% of our shopping here or in WC and we eat out locally a lot…but both shopping and dining out could be a lot higher if we didn’t have to go elsewhere to find stuff). It would be terrific if our civic focus was on widespread neighborhoods and business revitalization effort. I don’t know how to do any of that. I’m sure it’s hard. And the economy is bad. And lots and lots and lots of other stuff. But I agree with you. This is a town with a lot to offer and a lot of potential. And yes, the absentee landlord thing is a concern both on the residential and commercial side and yes, I totally agree that the row of businesses by Elliot Bay and Pho La Vang and Yo’s could be a very strong anchor downtown. I love each of those three business but otherwise it’s a disaster there.

  6. Robbie Howell says:

    Town Square was meant to be a destination with a distinctive character for Everyone to come and enjoy a quality shopping experience . It is designed to have Community Facilities, Cultural Facilities, Eating and Drinking Establishments, Lodging Facilities, Offices, Private Clubs like the YMCA, Public Park and Recreation Facilities, Schools and Theaters.
    The intention was not to have houses and apartments, only condominiums with storefronts underneath to enhance the business district.

    If residential housing (including apartments) is built on the Town Square lots, the city will never become more than a bedroom community for the City of Seattle. If the city will follow the Burien Comprehensive Plan vision for 2020 it has the opportunity to be a comfortable and welcoming destination and have the lively heart of a great small town.

  7. Fred says:

    The information for this letter came from the mouth of Mike Martin-You asked for the source
    No divorce yet for Burien, Town Square developers
    By Eric Mathison

    Burien and its Town Square developer may not get divorced, afterall.

    Or, at least, final dissolution has been delayed until July 18.

    Burien City Manager Mike Martin sent a letter June 19 to Harbor Urban agreeing to extend the closing date for the city’s repurchase of three undeveloped Town Square parcels.

    On June 4, the Burien City Council voted to exercise its option to buy back the parcels at 90 percent of what the developer paid for them. The original buyer, Los Angles-based Urban Partners has been renamed Harbor Urban after it bought Seattle’s Harbor Properties.

    The developers had proposed erecting a cinema and one-story medical building on the parcels. They said the market has changed and could not support condos and small retail spaces. They pointed to the first Town Square phase where condos have sold slowly and only one business, Subway, has committed to opening a retail store.

    Burien officials countered that the cinema would have cost the city $4 million while the one-story medical building was not what the city had in mind for the urban development.

    After the threatened divorce, Martin says Harbor Urban is now suggesting residential apartments for the site.
    To Justin-
    if you are the business owner I think you are–shame on you for trying to turn this into a racist issue. The last thing that Burien needs is more low cost apartments in Town Square. This kind of housing does not bring economic prosperity to a city. What Burien need is to attract some middle class condo and residential home buyers to create some ecomonic diversity in this city. We already have more than our share of poverty and low student test scores. Businesses do not care to move to poverty areas and families aspiring for a better future for their students do not want to send their students to schools with low achieving students. That is the reason that the Greenbridge Development failed in its ability to bring home buyers in. The Fred Meyers in Burien has one of the highest theft rates of all of the Fred Meyers stores in King County. Businesses do not make money in poor areas where the crime rate is high and they do not care to open new businesses in those area. Burien needs a solid business plan and not this lazy apartment plan to just put a temporay bandaid on the situation. Mike Martin has promised a business plan for 2 years now and there is still no business plan. That iis the real problem.

  8. John says:

    I’m not going to say that all apartments are bad or the people who live there. But where I live in Burien all of the apartments around us are poorly taken care of, garbage all around, excessive amount of cars for the amount of people living there which spill out into the surrounding neighborhoods. As a homeowner I spend most of my time chasing car owners from these apartments who have no business parking here. Why? I have photo after photo of people in these cars who I see walk to and from apartments who leave their trash on our lawns and driveways, drink in their cars and throw out their bottles, dump their ashtrays into the gutter and the list goes on. I have seen nothing positive which would lead me to believe that bringing another set of apartments into Burien would be a good thing.

    I say clean up Burien and make it a better place where people who dump their trash all over the place and basically don’t care about the next person to them moves on to another community who doesn’t equally care.

    • mike says:

      Hey john,

      We will welcome them here in “Rat City”. By golly, WE DON’T CARE who moves in over here in the hood. No one seems to care about mismanagement, cost over runs, having a $77,000,000 infrastructure problem that the City of Burien has no way to pay for, but what the he77, bring ’em on over. We love bottles and butts. The list goes on and on and on. This just keeps getting better by the blog…

      Area Y Mike,
      Joey?, Joey where you at? Come on Man!

  9. Robin says:

    Burien has enough apartments. Stick to the plan! Burien was once a lively little town with a large diversity of stores. Thank goodness for “Old Burien,” otherwise I would have to go elsewhere just to pick up a birthday gift. We need another “Bells of Burien-Lamonts.”

    • Debi Wagner says:

      I know there are some people who don’t agree, but I think a tri-plex theatre would do a lot to enhance our town. My kids love to go see movies and they use their money for this type of entertainment more than anything. A single theatre is nice but DesMoines had one and it didn’t do well. A large multiplex is not necessary. A tri plex for 4 million is a bargain to keep people in town. If you run a comedy, drama and a kids movie you could keep a lot of families, kids and consumers local to spend here. I think we could also benefit from having a community college satellite, a place for teenagers besides the skate park and community center, like a skating rink or a dance hall. Of course, we would need more police then too!

      • Dr McDreamy says:

        We’d need trees as well. Because we like trees, they’re good for the environment. Trees are good.

      • Shari says:

        How well is the Town Square itself used? It seems like in addition to getting businesses and organizations that attract people to come buy there, the outside square itself is supposed to help bring the foot traffic that would spend in the businesses around it as well. Some people have commented on advantages that might come from having the Farmers Market on weekends as well as Thursdays…is the event potential of the outside square being exploited fully? I know there are nice events there, but how continuously is it being used? A regular and varied slate of events there might help draw a big cross section of people who would go into the businesses in the area and buy.

  10. Robbie Howell says:

    I would like to see what types of Businesses, schools or government facilities you would like to see in Town Square. How about a medium size lodge with a hometown name like Turtle Lodge, Bear Lodge or whatever other name you like? Locate it next to the theater. The lodge would be a destination to bring people to town to enjoy Burien’s Festivals and other events. Maybe a restaurant with a view of Mt Rainier could be located on top of the Lodge. How about a conference Center? Burien needs Economic Development.

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