Council examines Old Schoolhouse development plans

  • Written by Bill Lewis

The Woodinville City Council had a look at its May 9 meeting at refined plans to preserve the city’s Old Schoolhouse and develop the three-acre civic campus site the schoolhouse occupies, as part of an effort to seek a developer to build on the site.

Consultants hired by the city to work on the project presented two illustrated plans showing how the civic campus might look, based on feedback the consultants received from council members when they presented a first-round of plans in March.

DrawingOne of two concepts presented by consultants for development of a civic plaza at Woodinville City Hall, as part of the city’s plans to preserve the city’s Old Schoolhouse. (Photo by Bill Lewis)In addition to preserving the schoolhouse and the city’s recreation center, both plans feature a civic plaza adjacent to the current city hall, as well as pedestrian-friendly walkways and five-story structures made up of housing units and commercial space for restaurants and other businesses.

Parking, housing key factors

The plans differed in the type of parking at the site, either above-ground or below ground, and the number of housing units on the development.

Brian Vanneman, a principal at Leland Consulting Group of Portland, which was hired by the city to craft a development strategy for the site, told council members that those two factors – parking and housing – play important roles in determining how much the development would cost the city. In short, more housing units would increase the amount the city could charge a developer for the property, and underground parking would increase the amount the city would likely have to spend on the project.

As he did during his March presentation, Vanneman emphasized that the plans are concepts for how the site will look. To attract solid proposals from developers, he said, those developers should be given significant leeway in determining the final look of the project.

“What we’re showing you tonight will not be how the site will look, for better or worse,” Vanneman said, but is meant to help the council determine goals for the project that can be presented to prospective developers.

Vanneman provided a range of costs to the city, depending on the specific details of the project and the price of a parking garage, which will probably be borne by the city, rather than a developer. A plan with an underground garage and fewer housing units would probably cost the city about $4 million, while the city might come close to breaking even on a project with more housing and a less costly garage, he said.

Citizen interest

About 50 people attended the meeting, some to offer comments about the proposals.

“You can tell how interested people are in this, because they’re inside here on a beautiful night,” said Mayor Bernie Talmas.

Councilmember Elaine Cook praised the plans presented by Vanneman and Matthew Roewe, director of VIA architecture, a Seattle firm working with Leland Coinsulting on the project.

Cook said the costs estimates were lower than she expected, and worth the price of both creating a civic plaza and preserving the historically significant, but empty and crumbling Old Schoolhouse.

“These are three acres that have been neglected for many years,” Cook said. “This is the moment when we do something about it.”

Talmas questioned the scale of the project as presented by the consultants, and whether the plans represent the best use of the property.

“We’re taking public space and turning it over to a developer, and we get a couple of crumbs in terms of open space,” Talmas said.

Talmas told the consultants that he favored smaller structures – one- or two-story buildings, rather than the five-story buildings envisioned in the plans.

Economically, a smaller scale “may not be feasible,” Talmas said. “But if that’s true, then tell us that.”

Business support

Dave Witt, executive director of the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce, told council members that the chamber’s board of directors unanimously endorsed the development of the property and urged the city to make “a significant investment” in the project.

Later, speaking, he said, as a private citizen and not on behalf of the chamber, Witt said the project would add vitality to the downtown area, and help firms capture business that residents now spend in Bothell, Kirkland and elsewhere.

Council members will consider the project again in June, and might then approve language for a request for qualifications from developers.

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