Nearly a decade after its inception, the Snoqualmie plant site development project passed its last major hurdle, clearing the way for permits to be obtained and construction to begin on the long-discussed project.
In two unanimous decisions on Monday, Snoqualmie City Council approved the project’s master plan and subsequent development agreement, allowing the developers, Snoqualmie Mill Ventures, to begin applying for permits.
The two documents will guide the nearly two-decade development process that will build a planned community, similar to Snoqualmie Ridge, on a 261-acre, mostly vacant site that once housed the Weyerhaeuser sawmill.
Once permits are approved, construction of the first phase of the project is expected to begin in 2024.
City officials hope the project will add economic vitality, provide funds to meet a growing need for city services and clean up a currently contaminated site.
“The development will be positive for our local economy and I really appreciate that the candidate came forward over a decade ago with a vision and is sticking to it,” Snoqualmie Mayor Katherine Ross said during the Monday meeting. “It will be exciting for our valley.
Over the past four months, Ross said, the plant site has been the subject of 14 board meetings, totaling 30 hours of deliberations.
“It’s been a long process for those of us on the board,” said board member Rob Wotton. “[But] this development will bring vitality to a site that has been largely dormant for 20 years.
Once completed, the first phase of the project is expected to bring in $2 million in additional revenue to the city annually, according to the developers. At full construction, that number rises to $5 million.
The first phase also adds additional multi-family housing to the city, bringing 160 apartments, ranging from studios to three bedrooms. Under the development agreement, 22% of the units would be income restricted, held at 60% and 80% of the area’s median income.
“This is a fantastic deal for our community,” said Pro Tem Mayor James Mayhew. “Beyond affordable housing, even those [apartments] at market rent will create a much larger supply of housing, at a more affordable level, than our current single-family units.
The development agreement also includes provisions requiring two-thirds of the site to remain undeveloped and set aside front store space primarily for retail.
Current plans to develop the mill site date back to 2012, when the city annexed the property after signing a pre-annexation agreement with Mill Ventures. Steve Rimmer, owner of Mill Ventures, purchased the property in 2010 and currently uses the space for his rally car driving school, DirtFish.
Mill Ventures submitted the factory site master plan in 2017 and a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIA) followed in late 2021.
Last summer, both the EIA and the master plan were found to be legally sound by an independent reviewer. The EIS had been challenged by the Snoqualmie Community Action Network, a small nonprofit made up of Valley residents.
Prior to Mill Ventures ownership, the site spent over a century as an active sawmill run by Weyerhaeuser. Operations ceased in the 1980s, but left a detrimental impact on the environment.
The property has been heavily contaminated and now poses a high risk to human and environmental health, according to a report released last year by the Department of Ecology. The site will need to be cleaned and remediated prior to full construction.
Rimmer and Mill Ventures have said they intend to clean up the site entirely, but the time and resources required are currently unknown and require further study, an ecology spokesperson previously told the Valley Record. .
“It’s in our interest to clean up this site as quickly as possible,” said Tom Sroufe, a representative for Mill Ventures. “Regardless of any particular development proposal, we want this site cleaned up.”
The now approved master plan proposes a development of the site in three phases over a period of 10 to 15 years.
All known or suspected plant site contamination is concentrated in the second and third phases and would require cleanup. However, development of the first phase, free of any known contamination, can continue without the need for cleanup.
Tribal and Snoqualmie County officials have questioned this phased approach, with concerns about the cleanup not being addressed in later phases. In a letter commenting on the draft development agreement, the tribe requested that the cleanup of the entire site take place before the development of the first phase.
Although the council did not go that far, it adopted stricter environmental requirements in the final development agreement and consultation requirements with the tribe.
These requirements include developers submitting an environmental media management plan to the city and ecology prior to “earth disturbance” in the first phase. It also requires developers to begin a remediation plan for zones two and three prior to clearing and grading.