Wednesday J425 reported that the civic center collaboration between the City and Sno-Isle appeared dead in the water — and that the City had even listed for sale the property earmarked to house the civic center (library + city hall) concept announced by the City and Sno-Isle Libraries on Sept. 18, 2021 at the culmination of a two year public process.
Our reporting shows how the City went directly from announcing a collaboration with Sno Isle on the Civic Center “preferred alternative” into a series of behind-the-scenes machinations designed at cutting off or even de-annexing their development partner Sno Isle in order to pursue less than public solutions for the civic center development.
At one point, the mayor wrote citizens and stated that they must de-annex Sno Isle Libraries and allow the City to co-opt Sno Isle’s revenue stream and privatize the new library — or their could be no civic center project. This out-of-the blue decisions was roundly rejected and shot down within 72 hours, at which time the City publicly reaffirmed its pledge to work with Sno Isle on the preferred civic center alternative selected by that two year public process.
However, our reporting revealed that while the City pledged commitment to the public plan, privately they were pursuing methods of cutting off collaborative development in favor of several new ideas for semi permanent city hall locations - none of which were mentioned or vetted in the then-just-completed public process.1
Now, in addition to selling the property designated for the civic center project, the City appears to be working with a consultant to entice developers into delivering exactly what taxpayers told them not to: multistory commercial development.
When the City surveyed residents on their wishes regarding the design of the Chapel Hill civic center, there was overwhelming consensus on what residents DIDN’T want for the property: nearly 70% of the 450+ surveyed stated they were against or strongly against a plan that used the property for multistory buildings and/and or commercial development.2
The promotional materials for the sale, designed by the City’s new favorite consultant Retail Strategies include a depiction of the exact concept that Lake Stevens citizens roundly disproved.
And when I say residents didn’t like the idea of multi-story commercial, I mean they really didn’t like it.
The open-ended response question related to the multi-story commercial survey item generated by far the most response.
Let’s take a look at some of the tax payer comments on a proposed multi-story commercial use of the civic center property:
Too tall for the surrounding area, won't fit with existing structures.Hate it. It will ruin Lake Stevens. Building is too tall for areaNo to 3 story buildingA plan to sell the library property to a private developer is such a short-sighted horrible idea.Absolutely NOT!!! Keep the land!!!3 story building layout not ideal for the location.Seems too big city feel to have a 3 story structure. Less homey and welcoming to the library.Too much private development.Not crazy about three story building Out of place
Too tall for the surrounding area, won't fit with existing structures.
Hate it. It will ruin Lake Stevens.
Building is too tall for area
No to 3 story building
A plan to sell the library property to a private developer is such a short-sighted horrible idea.
Absolutely NOT!!! Keep the land!!!
3 story building layout not ideal for the location.
Seems too big city feel to have a 3 story structure. Less homey and welcoming to the library.
Too much private development.
Not crazy about three story building
Out of place
Now, to be fair there were certainly people who liked this alternative.
But compared to the other two designs the city surveyed on - one story shared use concepts more in line with the “preferred alternative” that was supposedly chosen, the multi story commercial option garnered such overwhelming opposition (70%) that it’s not unrepresentative to listen to the comments from citizens as to why they disliked this option.
In summary, the City went out of its way to survey residents as to their choices for the civic center property.
Over 7 out of 10 surveyed agreed that they didn’t want commercial of any kind.
Over 7 out of 10 rejected the idea of multistory commercial on the library/civic center development.
And now it appears the City may give its residents exactly what they didn’t want.
Editor’s Note: In researching this story, the J425 came across another perplexing bit of information: Retail Strategies seemingly boasting that Lake Stevens sunk some of its ARPA funding into paying its consultant fees. Here’s a screenshot:
ARPA funds are a one time special Federal disbursal earmarked for post-pandemic recovery and infrastructure investment. To J425’s knowledge the City was set to receive $10 million in ARPA funds.
Other cities have used ARPA funds on sidewalks, wastewater treatment investments, surface/storm water infrastructure and libraries. 3
J425 will track down how the City used ARPA funds and whether such funds were used — as Retail Strategies boasts — to pay a consultant whose marketing material proposes turning the civic center lot into exactly what the residents didn’t want.
Helping them on the behind the scenes strategies was new consultant Retail Strategies, who advocated developing the Chapel Hill area into more valuable commercial property that would yield higher tax revenues for city coffers. Retail Strategies even did the City the favor of talking to some potential national retailers that might be interested in Lake Stevens opportunities like the Chapel Hill land. J425 wishes we were kidding when we say this list of commercial partners Retail Strategies has engaged on the City’s behalf include an unnamed quick serve chicken restaurant, Circle K, a dentistry chain, a Hooters spin off that sells wings and a second Jack in the Box.
See Public Engagement Survey 2 here: https://www.lakestevenswa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/10362/LAKE-STEVENS-CIVIC-CENTER-REPORT-SEPTEMBER-13-2021
One would hope that a one time $10 million windfall provided for the benefit of the entire community would be used to address presently identified issues like completing the civic center, investing in sidewalks (instead of/or to supplement the recently announced tax increase on the ballot) or to address the surface water management issues occurring at the outflow of Lake Stevens. J425 will track down how ARPA funds were used. - Ed.