City of Cle Elum – Mayor, City Council members, Planning Department,
Re: 47 Degrees North Major Amendment
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the Sun Communities 47 Degrees North Major Amendment.
I am very concerned with this proposal, which would result in a near doubling of the population of Cle Elum/Roslyn/South Cle Elum. The EIS details how this near doubling of population will have huge impacts across the board on Cle Elum and the entire upper county, in almost every way imaginable, and per the EIS this will happen in a seven year period, essentially overnight. What community can grow like this, keep up with infrastructure and maintain its essential character? The answer to that question depends entirely on how growth is planned and managed.
In 2002 the Cle Elum city council approved annexing the Bullfrog Flats property and designating it urban for future city expansion to accommodate long term growth. They designated it for Planned Mixed Use to allow for a range of housing types and opportunities, large lots, small lots, apartments, and a full range of everything in between. And it was zoned and planned to include a moderate set aside for employment and shopping opportunities to provide jobs for the new (and existing) population. The goal was to accommodate growth by creating new neighborhoods, integral with the city that were “in keeping with the climate and the traditional rural, small town, mountain character of the Cle Elum area”. This vision for future growth is not my vision, or even my words, it’s clearly articulated in Cle Elum’s zoning code.
Sun Communities has proposed to change this vision. Their vision is to use the property for a huge new tourist resort with two components: an RV resort and a Manufactured Home resort. Gone is the idea of traditional neighborhoods integral with, and in character with, the rest of the city. The Sun Communities proposal would create a huge new gated private resort disconnected and walled off from the rest of the city. All ownership of the land will be retained by Sun Communities in perpetuity with community membership/ground rights “leased” back to individual unit owners. None of the proposed development, not it’s look, feel, design or ownership structure, even remotely reflects the “traditional rural, small town, mountain character of the Cle Elum area”. The employment area has shrunk to a third of its original size, along with the number of jobs created, and the employment component is not even part of Sun Communities’ proposal so there is no guarantee it would ever be built. Sun Communities will argue that the Manufactured Home component is not a resort and that it will provide reasonably affordable housing to the community, but all one has to do is look at the private gated design, types of amenities included, the ownership, membership and cost structure, lack of restrictions on short term rentals, no commitment that any units will actually be “affordable”, and it’s obvious what the community will really be about. This vision for the Sun Communities project is not my vision, it’s clearly outlined in the EIS reports and Sun Communities published material.
In 2002 the city created the Planned Mixed Zoning to allow significant flexibility and creativity in neighborhood design to meet the city’s long term community growth visions. Now Sun Communities is attempting to use that flexibility to achieve its own corporate goals, which it’s not a reach to say are diametrically opposite of the city’s long term goals. I believe a clear and honest reading of the City’s zoning code applied to Sun Communities proposal shows that it doesn’t meet the city’s codified vision for this property and should be denied on that basis alone.
Specific concerns are provided below:
- Comment on Process – Major Amendment not appropriate; New Application – The proposal should be viewed as a new land use application, with full discretionary review and approval authority, and not as an amendment to the existing land use approval (existing approval) because the proposal is so different from the existing approval, with wholesale changes in the types, distribution and ownership of land uses, that it should be reviewed as a new application. Major difference are:
- The proposal would effectively turn the project into a private resort community operated as a business, and not a series of traditional neighborhoods and mixed uses contained in the existing approval.
- The RV park/resort constitutes almost half the Sun Communities proposal and is definitively a resort and private business venture.
- The Manufactured Home (MH) component includes some elements of residential housing but will in fact be wholly owned by Sun Communities and function as a private resort.
- A private resort is not consistent with the PMU zoning and Development Agreement.
- The proposal will be physically and effectively separated from the rest of the City of Cle Elum. All roads and utilities are proposed to be private. Access to the resort will be restricted only to customers, residents and guests, essentially creating a “city” within the city.
- The proposal does not include the 25 acre commercial center, and there are no guarantees as to when, or even if, it will be built. The commercial center is an integral element of existing approved land use to meet the requirements of the PMU zone. Its removal from the application is inconsistent with existing land use approvals.
It is clear that the changes are so extensive as to retain little or none of the elements of current approval. Because of the wholesale and extensive changes outlined, the Sun Communities project should be treated as an entirely new application.
- Comment on Zoning – Consistency of the proposal with the PMU zone – A review of the proposal against the provisions of CMC 17.45 shows numerous inconsistencies with a number of specific elements of the PMU zoning and conflicts with the city’s intent for development of the property. I respectfully request that the city’s staff report include a detailed review of all provisions of the PMU zone and how the proposal complies (or doesn’t), and to the extent the proposal fails to meet any requirements that it be denied or sent back to the applicant for redesign to meet zoning requirements.
- Comment on Code – Conflicts with current city code (CMC) – A review of the proposal shows it is likely that in order to be implemented the Sun Communities proposal will require amendments to a number of sections of CMC. Just a few examples:
- There is no reference to MH “parks” in the CMC. MH is a permitted type of dwelling in the R-Residential District zone (17.16.010) but with the specific requirement of only one MH per legal lot of record. Section 17.45.050 of the PMU zone would seem to allow R-residential uses in the PMU zone, but only in accordance with the R-residential zone requirements for that particular land use, which in this instance would require one unit/one lot.
- Is it the intent of Sun Communities to create individual legal lots which they will retain ownership of and lease to residents/members? If so this would be inconsistent with the Notice of Application, but if the intent is to create individual legal lots what subdivision method would be used? If the proposal is using a binding site plan or condominium process there appears to be at least some conflict with CMC 16.46.010 & 020.
- As discussed earlier, the Sun Communities proposal would essentially function as a private resort community. It is not clear that CMC even allows a Private Resort/Master Plan Resort as a permitted land use. Certainly implementing the proposal using the current CMC would require many unusual legal interpretations. Across the county, region and state, Master Plan Resorts are routinely classified as separate land uses because a resort is fundamentally different than a traditional residential development
- CMC 17.51 Recreational Vehicles requires a maximum stay of 180 days. Information provided in the EIS indicates sun Communities will allow stays of longer periods.
I respectfully request that the City’s staff report include a complete review of consistency with CMC, what code changes are required to allow the proposal to be approved, or the interpretations that are made to determine that CMC complies. To the extent the proposal fails to meet any requirements of CMC it should be denied or placed on hold until appropriate changes to CMC are made.
- Comments on Development agreement (DA) – The proposal should be required to have an entirely new DA that defines how the city will regulate and condition this unique new proposed land use.
- The New DA should be included as an element of the application and reviewed concurrently with the application. The DA will include conditions, requirements and authorizations that are integral elements of the proposal and the full extent of the application cannot receive a thorough review without a concurrent DA. CMC17.140 specifically authorizes concurrent review of application and DA. In the interest of transparency and comprehensive review for this unique and far reaching project the city should exercise this authority. The application should be placed on hold until the DA is incorporated.
- The new DA should include all affected upper county public service providers as legal parties to the agreement. As the EIS process outlined in detail, the project will have extensive and wide ranging impacts on upper county public service providers, specifically impacting their ability to maintain acceptable levels of service. This impact is specific to the Sun Communities proposal as a direct result of specific land use changes which alter tax structure and significantly reduce tax revenue. Sun Communities has proposed that any agreements it makes with upper county service providers occur outside of the application and/or DA process. For practical purposes this leaves making separate mitigation agreements with service providers a Sun Communities discretionary action and places the upper county service providers in an untenable negotiating position. An essential element of the city’s review of this project is a finding that adequate provision has been made to maintain adequate levels of public services. This is a specific requirement of CMC. Without service provider’s participation in the DA, this finding cannot be made and the project must be denied outright.
CMC17.140 specifically authorizes the city to include affected public service providers as legal parties to the DA at the city’s discretion. In the interest of transparency and comprehensive mitigation of this unique and far reaching project the city should exercise this discretion.
- Comments on Conditions of approval and Mitigation of Impacts
The Sun Communities proposal would result in a near doubling of the population of Cle Elum/Roslyn at full occupancy. The EIS details how this near doubling of population will have huge impacts across the board on upper county public facilities and public services, including:
- the police department will need to double in size;
- emergency, fire, medical and hospital/clinic services will need to approximately double; and
- the school system will be 20%+ over capacity requiring new teachers, buses and classrooms.
- Traffic congestion will increase greatly on the major roads in the upper county. 16 separate intersections and associated roads will reach failing levels of service (total congestion) during peak periods after the project is fully built.
- County operated facilities and services, including the Cle Elum transfer station, will need to be expanded.
- Fiscal Impacts / Impacts on public services – Sun Communities proposed change of land use from traditional residential neighborhoods to a private resort community will have extensive implications on upper county fiscal conditions, specifically for (but not limited to) public services (police, fire, school, medical, emergency, waste and transportation). The fiscal studies in the EIS reports show that tax revenues collected from Bullfrog flats after development of the Sun Communities proposal will be less, in some cases less than half, of what would be collected from the same land if developed under the current approved land use. Collected tax revenue would not be enough to offset either the City’s increased cost for services or the increased costs for schools, emergency services and other public services, creating budget shortfalls that either would not occur under the current land use approval, or will be made significantly worse. And the EIS fiscal analyses did not include the costs of the required capital facility expansions, which will be extensive, so fiscal impacts will be significantly worse than reported. All upper county service providing agencies have reviewed the data and have publically come to this same conclusion.
Sun Communities has not proposed any mitigations for this serious impact. This leaves the choice facing the upper county to either suffer congested roadways, overcrowded schools, reduced police and emergency services, etc.; or to increase taxes to pay for what’s needed, essentially a public subsidy of the Sun Communities resort. This major fiscal impact is a direct result of Sun Communities proposed change of land use / land ownership structure and so is a legitimate and rational reason for denial of the proposal, or additional mitigation if the city determines to move forward.
- Fiscal impacts – Impacts on Transportation
The proposal will have significant and widespread impacts on transportation systems throughout the upper county. The EIS studies show that 16 upper county intersections and associated roadways will be at failing levels of service at buildout of the project, a not unexpected result from a project that would double the population. Sun Communities argues that since not all of the traffic at a particular location will be from its project it should not be responsible for directly mitigating all of the impacts, even though project traffic may be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back”. Sun Communities is not proposing to actually build or expand any road or intersections outside of the Bullfrog Flats site, but instead proposes to pay a “fee in lieu of” at the start of its project and be allowed to build and occupy its project irrespective of when road improvements are constructed, or even if they are never constructed.
- What public entity will be responsible for accepting the fee and guaranteeing that actual road projects will be constructed?
- If the City accepts the fee will they be responsible for WSDOT, County and/or other jurisdictional improvements as well as their own improvements?
- The developer proposed “fee in lieu of” is based on cost estimates of unknown provenance and validity, very likely based on conceptual engineering. Even assuming that a “fee in lieu of” approach is acceptable, the fee should be based on City and agency developed estimates based on detailed engineering plans and studies, not developer estimates.
- Even assuming fair estimates, based on detailed plans, can be agreed to, the likelihood of cost overruns is high, as it is with any highway project. Shouldn’t the developer’s fee be tied to the final cost of a project? Why should the public be responsible to pay any of the developer’s share of cost overruns?
- Mitigation occurs when a project is built, not when a fee is paid, when the impacts are the magnitude that will be caused by the 47 Degrees North project. A “fee in lieu of” is only acceptable when an agency sponsored project actually exists that can accept the fee and result in a road project that is actually completed. If no agency sponsored project exists to accept the fee, then it is not acceptable mitigation. In this instance, the developer is free to build the road project that is needed to mitigate the impact and arrange for potential reimbursement if that is possible. Local precedent for this approach is when Suncadia was required to 100% fund and build the Cle Elum Wastewater Treatment plant but arranged for long term reimbursement. Alternately the developer can wait until a public agency actually builds the road project(s) to mitigate the impact(s).
- The “fee in lieu of” type of mitigation could be appropriate for small development projects that can fit under the umbrella of existing service capabilities and require no need for public service expansions, but are wholly inappropriate for a project like 47 Degrees North that would double the responsibilities of public agencies and require extensive facility expansions.
- The “fee in lieu” of concept would shift responsibility, cost, and risk for mitigation from the developer to the general public. The public should not be required to accept this risk for the developers benefit. The developer should not be permitted to create gridlock by paying a small fee (relative to actual costs).
- Fiscal Impacts – Public Services Capital Facilities
The proposal would require the near doubling of upper county public services (police, fire, hospital, etc.). This will require extensive expansion of public facilities and equipment (new police station, expanded transfer station, new classrooms, new fire and police vehicles, etc.). Unfortunately the EIS fiscal analysis was flawed and included only operational costs, but did not include capital costs. But the fact that these costs were not included does not mean they won’t exist. The developer should be required to fund or construct any capital facilities required by its development. Local precedent is when Suncadia was required to build the regional Wastewater Treatment plant, new fire station and expanded water treatment plant. Alternately the developer can wait until a public agency actually builds needed projects and mitigates the impacts.
- Water and Sewer Utilities
One of the normal benefits of growth is economy of scale to share costs for infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, drainage). This is especially true in older cities where many infrastructure elements are older, pretty well along their life cycle and facing near term maintenance or replacement. More customers means more sharing of maintenance and repair costs; every customer in town shares the cost and more customers means less cost per customer.
For 47 Degrees North this would not be the case, because the proposal is to create private utilities separate from the City, limiting the developer’s exposure for day to day city costs and risks, but taking away a potential significant benefit from the city. The details of final bulk utility contracts could address long term cost issues but shouldn’t the city and public know that up front before the project is approved, not after? Shouldn’t this have been analyzed in the fiscal impacts studies?
Sun Communities is essentially proposing a city within a city, taking some, but not all, of the day to day responsibilities of what a city actually does. The city should be skeptical that the developer is not trying to spin off expenses, cost and risks and keep benefits. This approach to land use will have many consequences, both intended and unintended.
- Landscaping and visual impacts
Sun Communities requests that the 100 foot vegetated buffer applicable to the existing land use approval is sufficient mitigation for its development (although it appears to be requesting exemption from CCM requirements for screening RV parks (Draft Condition of Approval 9.g)). The Sun Communities change in land use will have significantly more visual and aesthetic impacts on the Bullfrog Road and SR 903 corridors than the existing approved land use, and this justifies more buffer mitigation than required for the existing land use approval. A buffer at least 200 feet in width, but larger if necessary, should be required so that no part of 47 Degrees North is visible. Local precedent for this buffer requirement is Suncadia which provided buffers from 200 to 400 feet to screen its project from Bullfrog Road.
Requests to the City Of Cle Elum
I ask that the City carefully consider the extensive and long term impacts to the public from approving a large part of its Urban Growth Area, with a future population equal to the size of the existing city, as a private resort community that is out of character with the upper county communities, wholly owned by a large out of state publically traded corporate entity whose interests will lie with its shareholders and will surely be different than the city’s interests over time.
There is ample justification for the city to deny the Sun Communities amendment request. For all of the reasons noted above, I ask the City to DENY this proposed major amendment and retain the current approved land use for the property.
If the City is required to move forward with this project in some form, we request that the City:
- Condition the project in a strong legally enforceable way so that there are NO financial impacts to existing upper county residents; so that no additional taxes are needed to keep public services at current levels; so the residents of the upper county aren’t required to subsidize a private business venture.
- Use its discretion under CMC to require a new development agreement and make all affected upper county jurisdictions party to the agreement, and to require the development agreement be reviewed and approved concurrently with the application.
- Provide legal mechanisms so the Sun Communities project pays for all special district (non-city) financial Impacts and funding shortfalls (schools, waste, transportation), including capital facility costs for expanding facilities and buying equipment.
- Provide a thick buffer, 200 to 400 feet in width, along Bullfrog Rd to obscure all view of the project from Bullfrog Road. None of the project should be visible from Bullfrog Road. This is what Suncadia was required to do, and it was effective.
- The 2002 approved site plan includes a road connection between the project and Douglas Munroe Blvd, connecting the project directly to the City of Cle Elum Commercial center. The 47 Degree North site plan deletes this connection. This connection should be put back on the plan and be a requirement of the proposal.
- Condition the project so that infrastructure (roads and all public facilities) is built concurrent with when it’s needed to maintain adequate service levels and not independent of the project’s pace of development. Condition the project with a concurrency agreement/phasing plan so that development is only allowed to proceed in phases based on when infrastructure elements are fully funded/constructed, regardless for who is responsible for constructing them.
- Make the project responsible for funding/constructing any infrastructure needed to support it, or if the city (or other affected agencies) elects to accept responsibility for constructing infrastructure (“fee in lieu of”), the project should still be required to wait until the infrastructure is actually built (in accordance with the concurrency agreement/phasing plan).
- The study of impacts for this project is largely based on modeling and assumptions which may not be accurate for this development in our unique location. The progress of the project should be tied to a monitoring plan as part of concurrency. No model is 100% accurate. If the project has more impacts than assumed by the models, or higher costs than estimated, more mitigation (more funding) should be required in future phases to make up for shortfalls
I appreciate the opportunity to submit these comments. I request being made of party of record and be a recipient of all notices, staff reports, findings, etc.
103 N E Street
Roslyn WA, 98941