City approves development agreement for GSA site

It’s located on the corner of 15th Street Southwest and C Street Southwest.

On May 20, the Auburn City Council unanimously approved a development agreement between the city and the owners of the 165-acre former U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) site on the southwest corner of 15th Street Southwest and C Street Southwest.

The proposed agreement doesn’t authorize the property’s owner, the Industrial Realty Group (IRG), at this stage to move an inch of soil as governed by the State’s Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

Indeed, what becomes of the site may not be known for months or years.

What IRG is looking for is flexibility in terms of city development standards on property owned for generations by the federal government. Its rules allowed no flexibilty at all with the land. What the city wants is to ensure what comes out of the agreement fits with all previous development agreements on various properties throughout the city.

“This kind of a generational opportunity at this private property, but having the whole site turned into logistics warehousing, which is needed, doesn’t tend to produce sales tax revenue … and things of that nature,” said Jeff Tate, director of special projects for the city.

A previous city council presciently rezoned the property several years ago when GSA departed to C-3 heavy commercial and M1 light industrial — and what IRG wants is mix of heavy commerial and light industrial uses.

“That’s the bottom line here,” Tate said.

Generally speaking, development agreements offer an opportunity for a property owner to have more customized regulations that govern their property in exchange for the city or community receiving an added benefit. They are generally used for sites that are large and/or present special circumstances that make application of the general “recipe” style development spelled out in the adopted zoning code difficult, or that result in loss of opportunity.

That “added benefit” in this instance concerns IRG’s possible $4 million contribution to the development of a new Auburn Theater building to to replace the old theater on Auburn Avenue. The old theater has been closed since 2021 because of damage caused by the fire that consumed the Max House Apartments.

The federal goverment disposed of its holding several years ago, and when the IRG group acquired the property, it passed into private ownership of what up to that time had been a federal piece of property with virtually no ability for the city to regulate what happened on it.

“There’s a long, 100-year-old history at that site,” Tate said, “and we know parts of that history, but there’s a lot about it that we don’t know because of the federal goverment’s exemption from having to obtain a lot of different types of permits from the city. So they purchased this property, and approached us and said ‘we want to talk about the future of the property and figure out how to make the site work for both sides in the best possible way.”

The owner may redevelop the property after the effective date of the agreement with new buildings, outdoor storage, parking, and other site improvements. No project has been proposed and no applications have been submitted. The agreement will require building and other construction permits from the city, which shall be governed by the agreement.

Prior to the development of the property, IRG may lease all or parts of the property and the currently existing buildings and improvements. It may may make tenant improvements for development occurring subsequent to the date the agreement went into effect.