University Place corner sees transformation a decade after city approves zoning changes to encourage development

Rebar, chunks of foundation, wood scraps and other demolition debris lay in a heap Friday at the corner of Grandview Drive and 27th Street West in University Place.

More than a decade after property owners and city officials created a plan to spur development, the corner that for years served as an attractive nuisance is finally being transformed.

“A lot of people, they’ve been hearing the stories for years literally: ‘Oh it’s coming, it’s coming.’ I’m sure many people are at the point of thinking ‘Yeah, right, I’ll believe it when I see it,’ ” said Dale Fonk, one of the site’s three property owners.

Now it’s time to believe it, Fonk said.

A five-story, 142-unit senior living apartment complex will be built in the place of the dilapidated strip mall that was torn down. The ground level will house commercial and retail space at the corner of 27th Street and Grandview Drive.

Potential retailers have not been named for the ground floor, but the city has approved the development, said David Swindale, UP’s development services director.

The Senior Housing Assistance Group, or SHAG, is developing the site. It has 28 locations in the Puget Sound region, including Lakewood Meadows.

The company builds affordable housing for seniors 60 years old and up. Age and income requirements vary by location and were not available for the UP site. At Lakewood Meadows, residents must be at least 62 years old and a single person may earn a maximum of $30,120 per year, or a two-person household may earn up to $34,440 per year, according to the company website.

Once complete, the UP apartment complex will be the city’s first senior housing project.

Plans to develop the site with a senior focus have been discussed since 2004. At the time, the City Council approved a building height increase and more than doubled the density at the corner.

The decision was controversial because it was the first time since the city’s 1995 incorporation that it increased density in an area where it previously reduced density, said Mariza Craig, UP’s assistant city manager and executive director of community and economic development.

The density and height changes were done to encourage development, she said.

Neighbors worried about decreased property values if they lost their views of Puget Sound because of a tall apartment complex. They also were worried about increased traffic.

To give people an idea of how tall the buildings would be, the city lifted balloons to the suggested 60-foot height limit. In the end the City Council approved design guidelines for the corner that included a 59-foot height limit. The council also increased the density from 12 units per acre to 30 units per acre.

City leaders saw the development, called Grandview Plaza, as a way to generate property and sales tax. At the time the city was facing a $2 million shortfall through 2006, so the infusion of cash from the project was a welcome addition.

The project had one false start in 2007. It was in escrow, but by the closing date the economy was turning and the buyer wasn’t able to follow through, Fonk said.

Fonk sold his corner parcel to SHAG but still owns the other vacant strip mall. He hopes to see a senior assisted-living facility replace the building that once housed a Red Apple grocery store and a state Department of Licensing bureau.

He isn’t ready to name names, but he has talked with an interested company, he said. He expects to begin working with the city next spring on that project.

Fonk has focused on senior housing because it’s something that is lacking in University Place, he said.

“It seems to be a city that the people who have lived there don’t want to leave,” Fonk said. “As they age, they would rather stay in the community than move farther away. This is a way to accommodate that.”

The location is also convenient. Across Grandview Drive is the city’s senior community center.

Other plans for the site include a multifamily project on the vacant lot in the northwest corner, likely not geared toward seniors, according to property owner Joe Mayer.

“In the next six months I will spend some time doing a feasibility study and figuring out what would work there,” Mayer said. “At one time it would have been a condo site ... but it’s probably more of an upper-end apartment site now.”

In another few years Fonk also hopes to build a medical office building on the site.

With the first building now gone, Fonk and Mayer said they’re happy to finally see movement on the property.

“We’ve been waiting for a long, long time for something to happen on that corner,” Mayer said. “I’m glad for everybody, for the city and for all the property owners, that things are happening.”