Everyone knows that housing in Black Diamond is booming, but what is happening in Enumclaw and Buckley?
In short, a lot. After a decade-long water and sewer moratorium and the 2008 recession, Enumclaw is experiencing nearly 15 years-worth of pent-up development in almost a single go.
And across county lines, Buckley just cooled down from a scorching-hot rush of housing construction, though the city is poised to see the fastest growth in its history since the mid 1950s.
Consider this article series your housing development primer, as we’ll examine over the next several weeks how development requirements are set; how projects move through the city planning process; what projects are currently in the works; how to read the current housing market and glean what could be in store in the near future; what can be expected in the further distance; and how you, as a resident and taxpayer, can steer the inevitable growth.
IT ALL STARTS WITH THE GMA
In Washington state, all housing projects start with the Growth Management Act.
The GMA is a series of state-level legislation first adopted in 1990 which required — among myriad items — counties and cities to develop Comprehensive Plans to manage population growth.
Comprehensive Plans are, as the Municipal Research and Services Center puts it, “the centerpiece of local planning”: all development that happens within a county or city must adhere to the vision put forth by the Comprehensive Plan. That said, the plan is not a legally-binding document, and it is often amended as projections are updated and projects added, delayed, or removed.
Mandatory elements of a Comprehensive Plan includes planning for land use, housing, capital facilities, utilities, transportation, and ports; counties are also required to plan for rural development.
The GMA also requires the state Office of Financial Management to develop population projections for the state and each county. In turn, counties need take stock of land able to be developed and direct that growth there.
That yet-to-be-fully-developed land is called an Urban Growth Area, which can be located within city limits or right outside in unincorporated county land.
Enumclaw’s UGA encompasses the current city limits and then some, with the largest non-city areas to the north of SE 432nd Street and to the west of 244th Avenue SE, which city officials have deemed the “Big West”, roughly estimated to be about 500 acres.
Buckley, in contrast, has no urban growth areas. The city requested two areas on the east and west sides of town in 2015 but was denied by Pierce County, according to Emily Terrell, the city’s director of planning and building. (Terrell has worked for the city for only about a year.)
It’s common for UGAs outside city limits to become annexed into the city proper, at the request of residents.
HOW A HOUS(ING) DEVELOPMENT BECOMES A HOME
With the GMA and various Comprehensive Plans dictating development requirements, developers have a lot to review before starting a project.
That’s where people like Enumclaw’s Chris Pasinetti, community development director, and Buckley’s Terrell, come in — they help developers figure out what they can and can’t do around the city and its various development zones (residential, commercial, farmland, etc.)
Pasinetti calls these first connections the “dream maker/dream breaker” meetings.
“A lot of [questions] revolve around minimum lot size, what are the set backs, how much does it cost to make the application, how much time does it take to get through the application process, things like that,” he said.
Once those big questions are answered, a developer can file for a preliminary plat document application — preliminary plat for short — to officially determine if their project will meet state, county, and city requirements.
“The big deal for the city is the preliminary plat process, because that’s when all of the impacts are looked at,” Pasinetti said. “That’s when the code provisions are reviewed.”
“Once a developer has turned in a development application the city has 28 days to determine if it is complete enough to begin review,” Terrell said, adding that a Notice of Land Use sent to any surrounding residents; it’s the same deadline for Enumclaw.
Cities then conduct a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review to see if the project in question will have any major effects on the surrounding environment.
Once the SEPA review is finished, the application is presented to a Hearing Examiner, a land-use attorney contracted with, but independent of, the city. Enumclaw’s Hearing Examiner is Sharon Rice; Buckley’s, Mark Scheibmeir.
Looking at the application and SEPA review, the Hearing Examiner will either recommend approving the project as-is, approve it with conditions (for example, mitigating various environmental impacts), or deny the project.
That recommendation is then given to the local city council, which will officially decide whether the project can move forward. After a closed-record hearing, the council will give its determination — but unless new findings show the project should be denied, a council has no power to move against the Hearing Examiner’s recommendation and arbitrarily deny a project.
“If the applicant shows that they meet all the requirements in the municipal code, we cannot deny a project at that point,” Pasinetti said, adding that’s why citizen input on Comprehensive Plan visioning is so vital. “I can’t emphasize [enough] that the Comprehensive Plan is so important, because that’s what we want out town to look like, moving forward.”
“If the project is approved by the Examiner, it moves into the civil phase,” Terrell said. “This is the completion of the utilities and streets.”
Once sidewalks are built and the development is hooked to utilities, a final plat is submitted for approval.
“The final plat is merely a review against the preliminary plat requirements” showing the plan was closely followed, Pasinetti said.
That said, if there are any major changes between the preliminary plat and final plat applications, a project can be sent back to the preliminary plat process.
“I’ve had a couple where one of them added lots, and I considered that a significant enough change to go back to the preliminary plat process,” Passinetti said. “Most of the time… you have subdivisions where something comes up where they have to remove lots, and I haven’t considered that a significant change because the roadways are still the same, or a review of the map shows that there isn’t any significant impacts. That’s the big deal, the impacts of the layout. When someone loses a lot, the impact of that subdivision is lessened, so to speak.”
Once a final plat receives a recommendation from the Hearing Examiner and official approval from a city council, final construction can begin. When that’s finished and a final building inspection performed, a home — once just a map of measurements and data — can go up for sale.
Passinetti said it normally takes two years to go from the initial preliminary plat application to the sale of the first home, assuming the process isn’t held up by additional environmental mitigations, a poor economy, inflation, or any other number of factors.
One major exception to this development process involves multi-family housing units (a.k.a. apartments); these developments don’t have to go through a preliminary plat process because the units are not for sale, Pasinetti said. Instead, it only goes through a site plan review, a building permit review, and the SEPA process.
CURRENT APPLICATIONS AND CONSTRUCTION
In Enumclaw, there are eight large housing development projects somewhere in the works: three preliminary plat applications under review; one housing development under construction; two apartment complexes going through their permitting process; one apartment complex currently under construction; and a manufactured home park currently being built.
The three housing projects still in the application process include Gateway (23 lots), located off Warner Avenue; Boise Creek Cove (an 18-lot development that’ll likely change its name, said Pasinetti, since it’s located nowhere near the creek or its drainage basin) off Battersby Avenue; and Gambrel Meadows (97 lots), located west of 244th.
One apartment complex currently under review is called The Grainery (200 units); the second (24 units), currently unnamed, is off Watson.
The apartment complex (33 units) under construction is located behind Grocery Outlet, near Mountain Villa Drive.
Finally, the manufactured home park, called Crystal Mountain Manufactured Home Community (130 units) — a development for seniors 55+ — is off state Route 410, across the highway from the golf course.
The apartment complexes may be the most exciting developments of Enumclaw’s eight projects, since “We haven’t had an apartment complex built in town since the 90s,” Pasinetti said.
Across the river in Buckley, development has been — figuratively — on fire.
Currently under construction are Prairie Creek Farms Phase 1, a roughly 70-unit development, and 31-unit Emmons Glen, which is mostly built. Both are located on the south side of town near S. Division Street and Spiketon Road. Phase 4 of the large Perkins Prairie community is under construction and would add 44 single family homes.
You’ve probably also noticed the 40-unit Ellison Townhomes project currently under construction right before the White River Bridge on SR 410. The project will construct a center turn lane on the highway, Terrell said, and that work will be under WSDOT’s jurisdiction.
Still under review are Luke’s Landing, a 31-lot preliminary subdivision across the street from Prairie Creek Farms Phase 2, and the 17-lot Anderson subdivision just north of it. Prairie Creek Farms Phase 2 is currently in review, and there’s also the 20-acre Blueberry Farms development south of Ryan Road that will have a total of 74 lots and 81 units.
Phase 5 of Perkins Prairie, which would add around 58 homes, is under review too. Mia’s Meadow, north of Ryan Road, would build 83 single family homes. (It may also be renamed to become Phase 6 of Perkin’s Prairie.)
There are many more smaller developments popping up around the city, and a few large-scale projects (like another Perkins Prairie addition) waiting in the wings of the preliminary phase, according to Terrell.