Council Approves Town Square ‘Standstill Agreement’; Could Mean New Apartments

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Top portion of the Standstill Agreement. Click image to download entire PDF file.

by Ralph Nichols

Burien City Council members approved on a 7-0 vote Monday a “standstill agreement” (download PDF file here) that gives Harbor Urban until Nov. 15 to submit an acceptable plan for a second Town Square housing development.

The agreement, already negotiated with and agreed to by Harbor Urban, removes the option of legal action should Burien reject a new development plan and exercise its right to buy back the three vacant Town Square parcels.

“This agreement makes it possible that we can avoid litigation altogether,” City Manager Mike Martin told the council.

“This lets the city have the ability to accept or reject” any proposed development and sets a deadline – allowing the city to “control the property and control the product. I think it’s a constructive path forward.”

Indications are that instead of more condominiums, as originally planned, Harbor Urban will build higher-end apartments as their Phase Two development.

Prior to the council’s unanimous June 4 vote to begin a buy-back process, Harbor Urban representatives, citing the recession’s impact on housing sales, asked lawmakers for more time to submit a development plan that the market would support.

Original Development Agreement
“The developer will defend the investment it has made in the Town Square project and its record of good faith bargaining despite the commercial frustrations it has faced,” they were told – indicating likelihood of legal action if the city proceeded directly with a buy back.

The city’s original development agreement with Urban Partners, which was signed in 2005, called for development of condo/retail complexes on each of the three major private properties in Town Square.

By the time the first seven-story building was completed in 2009, however, the housing market was crashing and the rest of the economy was in a recession.

This bad timing not only interrupted condo sales at the existing complex, it also impacted Urban Partners – now Harbor Urban – which had two years under the development agreement to begin construction of a second private Town Square project.

Harbor Urban had been in default of this requirement for 11 months when the council voted to begin the process of buying back the three vacant parcels at 90 percent of what they sold for in 2005, as also provided in the development agreement.

A “Reluctant Vote”
At Monday’s meeting, Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak said she would be a “reluctant vote” for the standstill agreement. “I have been an advocate for condos [in the second and third developments] and believe the market can still hold condos if done well.”

Councilman Bob Edgar said that he, too, is concerned about building apartments instead of condos in Town Square.

But, Martin noted, “there is general agreement in the marketplace that condos aren’t possible right now. If you want condos you will have to be prepared to wait quite some time for development of them.”

Krakowiak disagreed. Saying she had read an article in the Seattle Times a few weeks ago that indicated the market for condos is improving, she added, “I believe condos are possible.”

This prompted Mayor Brian Bennett to observe that Martin was citing the opinion of developers. Krakowiak responded that she disagreed with their viewpoint.

“We need to reorient out idea of what apartments are about,” Martin interjected. “We still think of apartments as what was built in the 60s and 70s” along Ambaum Boulevard and other pockets in the city.

“Whatever is built has to be of comparable quality to the condominium complex. With input from you it will be impossible for them to build anything of lower quality.”

“Times Have Changed”
Councilwoman Joan McGilton said that early in Burien’s history as a city, the council was looking at apartments being built in Seattle, including “converting apartments into low-quality, high-priced condos.”

Now, she continued, “We’re looking at folks who can’t afford to buy a house.” Largely young professionals, these people “are our prospective future.”

Quality apartments downtown “would get them rooted in our community,” McGilton said. “Hopefully they will stay here when they can buy a home.

“Times have changed. We really need to be forward thinking and not locked into condos as the only thing that will work in Burien.”

“You can believe the experts and statistics or not,” Councilman Gerald Robison declared. “If something gets done here, it has to be based on what can be done.

“If we have good quality apartments, upper range, with good management, you can’t tell the difference between condos and apartments.”

Timing Affects Downtown Businesses
Bennett reminded his fellow council members to “also keep in mind the timing, how this will affect the surrounding downtown businesses. A lot has gone into these negotiations,” and he called the agreement “extensive and detailed.”

The standstill agreement holds in abeyance the city’s option to repurchase these properties. The clock for Burien to take action started running when council members took their June 4 action.

Martin said earlier that in addition to higher-end apartments being built instead of condos in the second private Town Square development, “Most likely it would not have retail” on the ground floor like the existing complex does.

That retail space has remained vacant except for a Subway Shop now getting ready to open there.

The city will impose three requirements on this development, he told The B-Town Blog at that time: density of housing units; “structured and largely hidden parking, not a surface parking area;” and “quality that is compatible with what we already have.”

Below are some relevant portions of the agreement – click images to see larger versions (or download the full PDF here):

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10 Responses to “Council Approves Town Square ‘Standstill Agreement’; Could Mean New Apartments”
  1. Love Seahurst says:

    Harbor Urban – Urban Partners wearing a different coat. I think that this city has dealt with them enough, and should repurchase the parcels.

    To live and shop in Downtown Burien isn’t quite working out. How about to play and shop? I think it could be an excellent site for a pool / recreation area such as we see in Federal Way. It’s a shame that Burien hasn’t had it’s own pool in years, and the KC pools at the high schools are a poor substitute. It would be fantastic to have a year round facility that we didn’t have to drive a great distance to. Many of us remember the bubble pool growing up and, I believe, would look forward to and support such a direction.

    Just my two cents for the day.

  2. Ghost of Maplewild says:

    Aren’t there already some apartments sitting empty and growing weeds at the intersection of 160th and 509?

  3. SD says:

    Avoiding litigation is a good move on the city’s part, but the city should have imposed the retail requirement. Whether high-end apartments or condos are built, retail benefits all citizens, especially in the heart of the city. The city should plan for the future and the citizen’s vision.

  4. Coverofnight says:

    Again – if the council voted 7-0 to buy back the properties, why does it seem like, out of the blue, Martin crafts this new agreement under his own volition? Who directed him to do that with the previous vote already in place? Then they suddenly vote 7-0 to back out of a course of action they’re entitled to do and go in a new direction that goes against the planned vision for the parcels and will provide the most profit for the developers!

    Something here doesn’t smell right. You know, in D.C. we often see politicians favor special interests with legislation beneficial to them, then when the politician leaves office, they often are rewarded with employment to lobby for those same special interests…are we seeing similar shenanigans taking place on a local level? I’d sure like to see more transparency and to know the process our government went through to arrive at this place. It is OUR government, isn’t it? Aren’t we entitled to this information?

    • Joey Martinez says:

      CON, if you look at the agenda and minutes you should notice “Executive Sessions” have been going on for a while. Pretty sure Martin has been getting is directions in those meetings?

      Those types of meetings are priviledged and the public can be excluded from them in instances of both Real Estate or Litigation – which either way this is covered. There are ways to get the information but generally after the fact.

      Here is the law:

      Joey Martinez

      • Coverofnight says:

        Ah, the key phrase, “…generally after the fact.” That’s part of the problem with this group is that nobody is listening to the electorate, they make decisions against the wishes of the electorate then implement these unwanted actions knowing full well that the electorate has no option but to sit back and grouse about it under no immediate penalty to them.

        So Joey, if you’re implying that he’s getting direction in these closed door sessions, does that mean that the 7-0 voters have been in on this flip-flop from day 1 starting after their first 7-0 vote to buy back the parcels? If that’s the case, then I find these claims of having a “reluctant vote” to be merely lip service to placate some of the electorate.

        While we’re on the subject, aren’t you part of the Planning Commission, Joey? Wouldn’t they have any recommendations/obligations to ensure that the original vision for this development is maintained? Why the flip-flop there, too?

        And finally, I agree with Girthman 100%. While high-end apartments can work, the demographics of Burien won’t support it. Maybe they’re good intentions, but ultimately, they’ll become another run-of-the-mill apartment complex. I bet that even now, with this announcement, the value of those condos have diminished by 10% – I’d be furious if I was a condo owner. Unfortunately, there’s probably not enough of them to file a lawsuit against the city (bet that was brought up in those closed door sessions, too).

        Enough of this garbage; time for a change in our local representative government!

        “It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”
        Samuel Adams


        • Joey Martinez says:

          CON, that’s the law whether we like it or not. Generally, I will agree that this law is good because otherwise an unscrupulous developer could just “public disclosure request” the city and find out what the electeds are willing to pay/take or settle for.

          I don’t know what direction Martin is getting behind closed doors – I merely am guessing. However, since it’s a 7-0 vote on the plan it’s logical he was told what to do by the entire council and they’ve all known all along?

          — I am speaking as myself and the following statement is neither endorsed or supported by the city or planning commission
          It’s my opinion that the planning commission wouldn’t get involved in these properties again unless the city pushed to go from buildings to green space or some different type of use. The Planning Commission would also be left out of any of those executive sessions. It’s also my personal opionion that condo to rentals fit within the letter of the comprehensive plan as I currently understand it.

          Joey Martinez

  5. Girthman says:

    “High-end apartments” in Burien? Is this a joke? People that can afford to rent high-end apartments won’t be renting them in Burien — they’ll be renting in downtown Seattle, Alki, Capitol Hill, etc. Apartments of any kind in the Town Square development will spell the demise of downtown Burien as we know it. Just look at the apartments across the street from Highline High School to get a glimpse of what will eventually occur. This standstill agreement amounts to a bait-and-switch by the Burien City Council — the whole concept of the Town Square development was that there would be high-end CONDOS with retail space below. Mike Martin and his social engineering must go NOW!

  6. TcB says:

    This sounds like “We’ve got to build SOMETHING!” rather than figuring out that maybe it could just wait. Just get rid of the asphalt and make a rudimentary park. Buy back the parcels and let them ripen.

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