In an effort to spark economic renewal of the 70-plus acre Aurora Square commercial area, on Tuesday, Sept. 4, Shoreline’s City Council adopted Resolution 333 by a 6-0 vote creating the Aurora Square Community Renewal Area (CRA).
With the CRA, the City is freed to work in cooperation with the Aurora Square property owners and developers to draft an economic renewal plan for the area.
"I do support this measure," Councilmember Chris Eggen said. "(Economic developement director) Dan (Eernissee) gave each Councilmember a chance to talk to him privately and in a group. It was not a heavy handed effort that forced people to do things they didn't want to do. It is intended to be cooperative and improve the economic condition of Aurora Square."
What exactly this redevelopment turns out to be remains to be seen—the vote Tuesday was a step forward toward development of a plan that aims to involve more stakeholders as it moves forward.
Washington law (RCW 35.81) allows cities to establish a community renewal area along with a community renewal plan to help areas that need renewal. In the case of Aurora Square, the Council and many community members believe economic renewal is needed. Once a CRA is established, the City gains a toolkit designed to help it facilitate renewal. For example, while Washington law typically limits cities from working with private enterprise, cities are encouraged to partner with private enterprise to rejuvenate a CRA, a tool than can be particularly effective at helping Aurora Square reach its potential.
Among the criteria, to be considered for a CRA, Aurora Square is considered to be blighted, not in the health hazard sense, but because it is economically blighted.
Eernissee said Aurora Square economically underperforms, generating about $6,000 in sales tax per acre compared to Aurora Village, which generates $39,000 in sales tax per acre, with anchor tenants Costco and Home Depot.
The Aurora Square commercial area is comprised of 10 separate pieces of oddly shaped property creating disconnected islands of buildings that are difficult to navigate. What’s more, current building and stormwater laws add more challenges for individual property owners in the area who wish to redevelop their site. Together, these challenges have stymied redevelopment, limited reinvestment and produced poor sales, values and rents.
Rick Stephens, of the Shoreline Merchants Association and owner of the Highland Ice Arena, critiqued the plan saying that the city should do more to support and help grow existing businesses.
"It makes your business community nervous," he said. "Right now they're ready to turn corner you don’t want them to leave."
Some have had concerns about property rights and the possibly of the city declaring eminent domain, but Eernissee said there's no plan to pursue that option. Language was added to the resolution at the request of Councilmember Chris Eggen to emphasize that property rights would be respected.
Councilman Jesse Salomon proposed motions to exclude the Northwest School of the Hearing Impaired and the state Department of Transportation from the process, but the motion involving the Northwest School failed 4-2, with Councilmember Chris Eggen joining Salomon to exclude the school. Salomon's motion to exclude WSDOT failed to get a second. Both the Northwest School for the Hearing Impaired and WSDOT have buildings south and west, respectively of Aurora Square.
"Choosing to be left out is a choice, but it may have unintended consequences," said Mayor Keith McGlashan.
The representatives of Northwest School were undecided on if they wanted to be involved with the project, but the school's top administrator was clear that the school wanted to be impacted as little as possible to continue with its mission.
The City regularly surveys its citizens about ways to improve Shoreline, and better shopping, entertainment, and destination restaurants are constantly mentioned, according to a city press release. Aurora Square has the potential of accomplishing all of these opportunities. By creating a CRA, the City will be able to work directly with property owners to plan improvements that benefit all property owners. Aurora Square can become a model of “lifestyle Shoreline,” with smart-built infrastructure, residences, offices and generous open spaces tied to transit, neighborhoods, and the Interurban Trail.