In late June, Sigillo Cellars exercised an option to purchase the empty gravel lot at Railroad Ave and King Street in downtown Snoqualmie. Sigillo plans to build a two-story, multi-use production facility/restaurant/small boutique hotel on the site.
According to Mayor Matt Larson, the lot’s purchase price was approximately $450,000 – to be paid for either in public improvements (like street and/or park upgrades), cash or a combination of the two, which will be decided later.
You can read more about Sigillo Cellar’s proposed building, including conceptual images, HERE.
The building concept was approved by city council in October 2017. Sigillo then secured project funding just before the June 30th deadline. Both stipulations were necessary for the purchase to move forward.
Before Sigillo closes on the sale, though, the city will take up the topic of building height in the downtown historic overlay district, where the King Street lot sits.
As Sigillo waits for the city to decide on building height limits, its owners requested a 60-day closing extension for the lot sale, which the city council discussed at its July 23rd meeting.
Residents Object; Business Owner Explanation
Resident Julie Lake spoke out against the extension request at the meeting, saying she believed the discussion of raising the height limit is only being done to benefit one merchant, something she said is finally coming to light. She said the sale of the King Street lot was merely the suggestion of an outside consultant in 2004 and was never imperative.
Lake also read a letter from downtown business owner Chris Coffing, who also encouraged the council to vote against the extension, citing the importance of the King Street lot to parking; a lack of oversight on rising market value of the lot; and that the sale to Sigillo supports the ‘good buddy’ principal of real estate and business transactions. She said the sale creates distrust with downtown merchants.
Sigillo representative Ryan Seal explained they had been working with the city for over a year with plans that listed the project’s height. He said it was their understanding the height was 35 feet. Seal said if the limit is 30 feet they need time to evaluate and see if they can make the building work at the lower height restriction.
Snoqualmie Mill Site Developer Tom Strouf spoke in favor of granting the extension to give Sigillo an opportunity to “make it work.” He said height is the issue and the lot has been vacant for many years – and would continue to be vacant if the council didn’t follow through on the height issue. He said he had an option on the King Street lot in 2010 and could not find any business interested in downtown Snoqualmie.
Height Code Conflict
According to the city, the height limit in the underlying business retail zoning is not consistent with the Historic Overlay Zone height limit, which caused the confusion. Essentially one is 35 feet and one is 30 feet. The city says the current code also does not make allowances for rooftop appurtenances like AC units, flood code regulations that require raised buildings, and that the purpose for the lower 30 feet height limit is not clear.
Councilmember Sundwall said the extension request was not an opportunity to re-litigate a decision already made by the city to move forward with Sigillo Cellars, which had already met its purchase option requirements.
He commented, “This is a very natural consequence of the misunderstanding that there is between two different conflicting pieces of city code and ordinance, which is the very reason this has come up at all.”
Councilmember Lasse said he believed they owed the local community business the chance to decide if they made a sound business decision after the council makes a decision about the downtown building height. He added that he would make the same request if, as a business owner, he was in the this situation.
Councilmember Holloway said the height issue is still a ‘red herring’ for him. Councilmember Shepard said she did not support the project, still had a lot of questions about how it would impact Sandy Cove Park, and thus could not support an extension.
The extension was granted by a vote of 6-1, with Shepard the lone no vote.
Height Code Discussion Continues; Amendment Recommended
With the extension in place, more discussions occurred on the height ordinance issues at the August 6th Community Development Council Committee meeting.
Snoqualmie Community Development Director Mark Hofman presented information on the conflicting height codes. The historic district height limits of numerous nearby cities were also presented, including North Bend, Issaquah and Carnation – all which have a height limit of at least 35 feet.
City staff informed the committee that they are recommending an ordinance amendment that would allow building heights up to 35 as contained in the underlying business retail zoning; allow customary rooftop appurtenances and add an allowance for flood elevation requirements.
Hofman said the city had invested around $10 million in infrastructure improvements to the downtown core – and plans to invest millions more in future phases of its Downtown Revitalization projects – yet private investment had been minimal during that time.
City of Snoqualmie Economic Development Commission Chair and SVSD School Board President Carolyn Simpson spoke in support of increasing the height limit in the historic core, saying she realized while working with architects on the new Mount Si High School design, that flexibility is important and common. She said just a few feet can have a dramatic impact on the ability for useful and efficient design.
Simpson said via email, “I applaud city staff for identifying and proposing to correct a conflict in the city code regarding building height, and I expressed to the Community Development Committee my strong support for the staff’s recommendation and clarification to define the height at 35 feet with significant flexibility for variance. During my work on the Economic Development Commission, I have been quite aware of the city’s work over many years to find an excellent opportunity to utilize the city owned King Street lot to enhance economic development in downtown.”
Councilmember Mayhew said he appreciated additional information regarding nearby historic area height limits and considered 30 feet too restrictive to encourage new business development and continued downtown revitalization. Mayhew mentioned that it had been about 16 years since any new building happened in the historic core.
Councilmember Sundwall agreed and took a bold stance on critics’ parking objections, saying he thought they were overblown. He said he recently counted parking spaces on a busy Thomas the Train weekend afternoon, saying there was plenty. He believed the issue may be people not wanting to walk from the city’s biggest parking lot by the ‘big log.’ went on to He also said he believed some business owners objecting to the Sigillo project might be doing so due to increased competition.
Sundwall went on to say he did think the city needed more handicapped spaces closer to businesses, but believed Snoqualmie had way more parking than most historic areas.
Councilmember Shepard said she is still opposed to the project because she believes the downtown master plan is not being followed and changes to the height ordinance should also be updated in city’s comprehensive plan before moving forward. She proposed that the full council have more discussion on the downtown master plan and its execution.
When asked if they believed the Master Plan – which was developed to in an effort to revitalize downtown Snoqualmie – was being followed, Mayor Larson and Community Director Hofman stated yes.
The Community Development Council voted 2-1 in favor of the height code amendment and 3-0 to move the amendment to the next city council meeting for full council consideration. Pending that discussion, the council could then take action on the amendment in late August or early September.
The King Street lot closing extension expires on September 30, 2018.