North Kelsey plan too grand, city says. City signs purchase and sale agreement with medical office developer
MONROE - The North Kelsey development is shaping up to be more of a commercial district than the pedestrian-friendly community gathering spot that was once envisioned in a subarea plan and codified in a set of development and design guidelines.
The “North Kelsey vision” was a grand idea in theory, but the area is shaping up to be a general commercial district, city officials said last week.
“Hardly anyone’s going to walk to this area,” economic development manager Jeff Sax said. “They’re going to park their car in the parking lot and go into their destination, whatever that destination may be.”
The area first saw a Lowe’s home improvement store go in and then last year the City Council welcomed a Walmart supercenter. The city is talking with Bridgestone Tire and last week the council entered into a purchase and sale agreement with NexCore, a company that builds medical offices. And next to North Kelsey is a Fred Meyer and Galaxy Theatres.
If NexCore buys the full nine acres, about 10 acres would be left to sell within the 46-acre development. The city wants to use the revenue from North Kelsey for downtown improvement projects.
The city isn’t suggesting tossing out all of the North Kelsey guidelines, but many of the public amenities, such as the community center and village green, would be tossed out under the proposed new plan for North Kelsey.
The new plan was presented to the City Council last week.
Sax argued it proved too difficult to adhere to the North Kelsey plan, citing the recent lawsuit filed by citizens against the Walmart project, in which the city prevailed. The city was caught between sticking to the plan and approving projects that didn’t necessarily fit the plan.
“In implementing anything we built, the whole process had to be reviewed every time,” Sax said.
The city owns part of the land at North Kelsey and still has $11 million to pay off on the loan it took out before the economy tanked. Since the first developer pulled out years ago, the city has had trouble selling off the land until Walmart came along.
“We couldn’t just go to the council and say, ‘Let’s repeal the North Kelsey plan,’” Sax said. “We knew the North Kelsey plan had to be changed, but what we wanted to do rather than just get rid of it is to extract the good parts of it and come up with a new plan or a new vision.”
The site still will have trails throughout, but it will not be required to be developed into a campus-like atmosphere with a village green, one of the original pieces of the North Kelsey plan.
“Without a doubt, (the changes are) going to take away a lot of the complexities and unknowns that have existed for the last five or six years,” Sax said.
Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback asked if the public will have a chance to comment on the new plan.
The city wants to remove the North Kelsey guidelines from the comprehensive plan and incorporate the guidelines into the municipal code, which will require planning commission and City Council review with chances for the public to weigh in throughout the process.
The move will allow the city to update the guidelines throughout the year as opposed to once a year under the comprehensive plan, Sax said.
“When it’s in the comprehensive plan, you can only change it once a year and it becomes very difficult to do,” he said.
The hope is the relaxed requirements will make it easier to sell the remaining parcels.
North Kelsey developers still will have to make sure they don’t build large, boring rectangular buildings, Sax said. Parking lots still will have to be landscaped and buildings will have to have varying types of masonry and rooflines to add interest.
“The design guidelines will still be maintained,” Sax said. “I don’t think there’s anybody that wants to throw those out.”
Once North Kelsey is sold, revenues can go to projects like the Fremont Street overhaul, which would add landscaping and make it more pedestrian-friendly. Other projects include adding outdoor plazas or parks downtown and punching Hill Street through to 154th Street at 182nd Avenue, which would create a new east-west corridor south of U.S. 2.
NexCore purchase agreement
The City Council last week entered into a purchase and sale agreement with NexCore Group, a company that builds medical buildings. The agreement outlines the basic terms for the sale of between five and eight acres, which takes the land off the market as NexCore studies the land to make sure it will fit their needs.
The company may build a 51,000-square-foot medical office based on the preliminary cost estimates produced by NexCore.
“The buyer’s very serious about moving forward, and we’re pleased to have some property moving from for sale to pending,” Sax said.
The city could get at least $2.4 million on a purchase of five acres, minus closing costs and commission fees. If NexCore buys 6.9 acres or less, the price will be $11.50 per square foot. If it buys 7 acres or more, it will be $11 per square foot.
The company has 180 days to tell the city how much land it is interested in buying, and the deal is supposed to close within 270 days, unless NexCore asks for an extension.
The company should have site plans ready for review within the next four to six months, Sax said.
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Published Feb. 15, 2012