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County Council OKs denser urban zones

The plan, which aims to discourage sprawl, allows taller buildings and calls for pedestrian-friendly growth.

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By Noah Haglund
Herald Writer
Taller, denser and more pedestrian-friendly developments could start cropping up in designated urban zones in southern Snohomish County with new rules that the County Council adopted Wednesday.
The ordinance allows for buildings up to 90 feet high, though a developer could build 180-foot structures by showing a need for more density. While most urban center zones are along I-5, Highway 99 and other major arterial roads, the new rules open a path for the future development of up to 3,500 condominiums and shops at Point Wells on the waterfront near Woodway.
The rules have been under discussion for a decade and might not change the landscape for decades more to come.
“We’re trying to get away from one-story strip malls,” Councilman Dave Somers said. “Along I-5 and transit areas, you’re going to see taller buildings and shops mixed with residential (buildings).”
Urban centers are supposed to discourage sprawl that would otherwise eat up farmland, Somers said.
The ordinance passed 3-2, with councilmen Brian Sullivan and Mike Cooper opposed. Cooper tried unsuccessfully to amend the rules to limit building heights to 75 feet, with a possible addition of 50 more feet. He argued that higher limits would be out of character with cities in southern Snohomish County.
“I think overall it was a pretty good ordinance,” Cooper said. “I just couldn’t in good conscience support the 180-foot height.”
Council Chairman Dave Gossett said it was unlikely buildings would reach the maximum height. Somers said there was “zero chance we’re going to see 180-foot buildings along I-5 or Highway 99 ever in our lifetimes.”
Point Wells is the only zoned urban center that is not near a highway or freeway. It is only reachable from the south by two-lane Richmond Beach Drive in Shoreline, which is in King County.
Representatives for Point Wells owners Paramount of Washington LLC, part of Texas-based Alon USA Energy, have said to help alleviate traffic they would pay to build a new stop for the Sounder Commuter Rail train that runs through the 60-acre property.
If the project goes forward, it is unclear when the company would shut down existing marine-fuel operations and an asphalt plant, said Mark Wells, the site’s environmental manager. Cleaning up pollution would take another three years or more after operations cease and new buildings wouldn’t be ready to live in for at least six years after that, Wells said.
Full buildout for condos and shops would take an estimated 15-20 years, said Gary Huff, a Seattle attorney representing the property owners.
The company has hired architecture firm Perkins and Will, of Chicago, to help design the project. Before putting any formal plans on paper, the property owner wants to talk to officials in Shoreline and Woodway for input, Huff said.
There are six other urban centers: Highway 99 at the Mukilteo Speedway; Highway 99 at 152nd Street SW; I-5 at 164th Street SW; I-5 at 128th Street SW; 44th Avenue W. near the Mountlake Terrace-Lynnwood city line; and the Bothell-Everett Highway at Maltby Road.
The new urban-center code requires neighborhood meetings at least 30 days before any development applications. It also encourages input from towns and cities. If nearby municipalities reach an agreement with the developer about the design, plans would go to the County Council for approval.
If the sides cannot agree, the county is required to convene a design panel of experts to make recommendations. In those cases, applications would go to the county hearing examiner for final approval.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,
Story tags » Construction & PropertyCounty Council

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