Enumclaw city leaders are being cautious when considering the fate of a key piece of downtown real estate.
On the City Council’s plate for the past few months has been a plan to seek a developer interested in the block bounded by Cole Street on the west, Railroad Street on the east, Initial Avenue on the north and Stevenson Avenue on the south. A formal “request for proposals” was discussed at a council meeting in April, debated again last week and is now headed to the June 11 session for further debate and possible action.
All agree that the land is currently underutilized. Most of the space consists of a parking lot, but there are small buildings housing Arts Alive and the Chamber of Commerce. A small piece of public art dots the northwest corner of the parcel.
In a broad view, the city is looking for someone to develop the downtown property with ground-floor commercial space, upstairs condominiums and an adjacent plaza that would serve as a gathering spot for both local residents and tourists.
The details have been tricky, with divergent opinions. Primary among those is the height of a proposed building, whether it should be three stories tall or four – whether 40 feet or 50.
In kicking off a discussion during the May 29 council meeting, Mayor Jan Molinaro noted his opposition to a four-story building fronting on Cole Street. With that, he went around the council dais, seeking other opinions.
Councilman Tony Binion pointed out the existing downtown zone allows for 50 feet so he supports the four-story option. Anthony Wright echoed that sentiment, agreeing that the council should heed the zoning code. Kael Johnson countered that a four-story building would appear “pretty massive” and suggested an alternative. He floated the notion of a four-story building with a top floor that was, perhaps, set back a bit, making it appear less dominating.
Councilman Kyle Jacobson was clear in his opposition. “To put a four-story building directly in the center of town really moves against how our town was built and how our town looks right now,” he said. Additionally, he said, if developers put a plaza next door to a 50-foot-tall building, “It will look like a cave.”
Hoke Overland stated a desire to see as many options as possible, supporting the four-story option. Kim Lauk was initially opposed to a 50-foot building, but changed her way of thinking. Still, she said, setting a building back from the street would help to “make it feel like downtown Enumclaw.”
After hearing the varied opinions, Molinaro offered a Plan B, which would allow a four-story building, but position it closer to Railroad Street, rather than fronting directly on Cole Street.
“People come here for a reason, it’s that mid-century feel,” he said, adding that only a couple of downtown buildings can be considered new. Adding a four-story structure to the downtown mix, he said, would “change the character of this town… permanently and not in a good way.”
In the end, City Administrator Chris Searcy summarized the evening’s discussion, noting the general belief that the city should give developers more flexibility and broaden the scope of a recommendation given a few years ago by a consultant.
A new draft of the city’s proposal, one that allows potential developers to be a bit more creative, is expected to appear on the council’s June 11 agenda.