The city of Sammamish kept hopes alive, at least for now, that an proposed development agreement and land swap could save Sammamish Ace Hardware, but every step seems to be a struggle, reflected in Tim Koch's comments.
"I’m just barely alive and kicking," he quips, but with early March the sort of drop-dead date to get a project started in time for Ace to move into a new home in August, there's undeniable truth behind the lightheartedness.
The operative word for Koch is still "alive" though, and he says one of the big challenges the young city government faces is that it hasn't done a development agreement.
"They’ve never done a development agreement before so it’s a big hurdle for them, they aren’t used to it, it’s something unknown, uncharted territory—we’re trying to plow a path," Koch said.
At a Jan. 8 meeting, the council voted to have city attorneys meet with Koch's attorney to see if a deal could be reached that would satisfy all parties.
"I think that’s a positive step. We’re trying to not give up on this process and go forward as best we can," Koch said, adding that though for him it seems like it's been a slow process he knows the city would disagree and say it's trying to make this happen as quickly as possible.
The city said in a news release that it has spent hundreds of hours in consultation and staff time with Koch and the project since November 2011, when it was first learned that the store would have to move.
The hourglass is running out for Koch to save his business, however, he says. Some big ifs get bigger with each passing day that approval is not in hand.
"We have to be digging in the dirt, site development needs to start March 1 to make this work," Koch said, and even then the project will only be ready "if we put our team on a fast-track rollercoaster ride experience, if everything worked like clockwork."
Koch has been working with The Watershed Company, of Kirkland, to evaluate and plan the site, a company that the city has also worked with in the past. Koch said if his plan is approved, two current stormwater ponds will actually be turned into something more environmentally appealing, with a stormwater treatment facility beneath the property and more natural habitat in the surrounding area.
Koch said it's natural for the city to have concerns, and he realizes that though the store has wide community support that doesn't mean he would push for something that's not legal.
"Of course the city’s always concerned about (lawsuits) and that’s why we're trying to do Development Agreement and reasonable use exception—to minimize legal problems for the city," Koch said.
If a deal can't be reached in time, Koch said the cost and logistics of moving the stock of his store into a storage somewhere--perhaps approaching $100,000--and then later to a new facility would be nearly impossible for a small business to surmount, but the human cost would be even higher.
"I have 25 people that work for me, and what are those folks going to do, just sit around and wait? It’s so uncertain as to what’s going to happen there.The people working for me are highly experienced and have worked here for years," Koch said, adding that one employee has already left because the uncertainty was too much.
“It’s very clear to the Council how much residents value Ace Hardware and the staff Tim has assembled there,” Deputy City Manager Lynn Howard said in the release. “It’s more than a business. It’s a place where you bump into friends, shoot the breeze, and feel like you’re part of a community. That’s why the city, even though there are limits, is doing everything it can.”
"We realize we don’t have a bunch of choices, we don’t have four or five pieces of ground, we have one option and one option only," Koch said. "If this doesn’t work, we’re done."
More on Ace Hardware's battle to stay in business:
Here lies Ace Hardware, Local Voices opinion piece
Council Hears Two Hours of Comment on Sammamish Ace Hardware
Ace Hardware Owner Asks Sammamish to Represent at Council Meeting