|Volume 11, Issue 11||
Standing Wall Remodel—a loophole big enough to drive a building through!
In September, we all watched as the east half of the Sunset Mall shopping center (SW corner of Murray-Cornell) was demolished. On the development application, it was called a “Standing Wall Remodel” (SWR).
If the store’s application had been evaluated as new development, it would have been subject to the Town Center regulations, like what applied to the Auto Zone store next door—sidewalk improvements, streetside alignment, and several other requirements aimed at making Cedar Mill a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
By using the SWR application type, they were able to avoid all that. The new building will have a very-slightly smaller footprint than the one that was there, with the same general parking layout. No road or sidewalk improvements are planned, aside from a pedestrian access-way about halfway between Auto Zone and the existing in-only driveway on Cornell. The county accepted Walgreens’ traffic analysis, which said that the new store would not generate more traffic than did the previous small businesses and restaurants that occupied the building before it was sold.
Washington County Manager of Planning and Development Services Andy Back wrote this in response to queries from Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski: “There is one moderately ‘bright line’ defining what constitutes a remodel as opposed to a demolition. If a building is disconnected from utilities and removed from the site, it is demolished. It is then removed from the tax roles. All other construction is a remodel. Thus, this case is considered a remodel.
“CDC 375-6.B is predicated on ‘expansion of a use or building’ in which case the requirements of the Transit Oriented District [such as the CM Town Center regs] are applied ‘...to the extent reasonably practicable.’ In this case, the size of the building is slightly reduced as a function of the remodel. However, there is nothing in the CDC that defines ‘remodel’ or ‘demolition;’...those terms are associated with the Building Code.”
We can easily understand why developers like the SWR. We don't blame Walgreens, or Jackson/Shell before them, for taking advantage of it. If it's legal, and the county says it is, they're smart. Who would want to comply with Town Center regulations if they don't have to?
A person familiar with the use of this “loophole” says, “Standing wall remodels are a fairly common practice for avoiding more stringent reviews of development. Or, in the case of the recent Shell remodel, “Standing Roof," as I don't think they preserved any portion of any existing wall.”
Andrew Singelakis is the head of the county’s Land Use and Transportation Department. In response to queries about the legality and justifications for this loophole, he says, “LUT staff will propose that the Board of Commissioners consider examining this topic in next year's work program.” We look forward to the discussion.
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