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Published: Tuesday, April 26, 2011, 10:30 p.m.
Story tags » WoodwayReal EstateSnohomish County governmentPlanning and Community Development

State growth board rules against county in Point Wells case

Story tags » WoodwayReal EstateSnohomish County governmentPlanning and Community Development
WOODWAY -- Snohomish County failed to follow state growth laws and its own policies when it allowed a special kind of high-density zoning at Point Wells on Puget Sound, a state growth board ruled Monday.
The problems with the county's development rules aren't likely to scuttle a high-rise condo project proposed for the site. But the growth board's skepticism about transit and other issues could work in favor of neighbors who believe that the 3,081 condo units an Israeli developer envisions there are far too many.
The city of Shoreline, the town of Woodway and the Save Richmond Beach community group filed petitions with the Growth Management Hearings Board to overturn the county's urban center zoning at Point Wells. The zoning would have allowed the redevelopment of a fuel depot and asphalt plant that now occupy the site.
"I will be really interested to see how the county will correct or remedy the situation," said Caycee Holt of Save Richmond Beach. "There's no ambiguity. It's really clear that Point Wells is not an appropriate site for an urban center."
The 61-acre property is in unincorporated Snohomish County, but the only way to get there is on two-lane Richmond Beach Drive in Shoreline, entirely in King County.
The three-member growth panel agreed with neighbors that the two-lane road, by itself, would be unable to carry traffic generated by the development.
The board also raised doubt about the effectiveness of transit alternatives, including a future rail stop or vanpools, to ease the project's traffic.
Steep bluffs rising east of the property to Woodway make building another road unlikely. Extending bus routes to the site would not provide express or high-capacity transit, the board said.
The board's decision followed a hearing in early March. While the board did side with the county on some key points, its decision sends four county ordinances back for legislative retooling.
Plans from developer BSRE Point Wells call for retail space, a public pier and numerous condominium towers, the tallest reaching 17 stories.
BSRE Point Wells is part of Blue Square Real Estate and the Alon Group, a holding company of energy and real estate interests with headquarters in Israel.
Now, it's up to the County Council to choose to appeal or make the requested changes. A decision could come after council members talk to county attorneys, County Council Chairman Dave Somers said. Either way, Somers said he and others would work to make any project acceptable to both neighbors and the developer.
"I don't think it kills the project that they're trying to build at Point Wells," he said. "We'll continue to try to find a project that's a win-win."
Shoreline Planning Director Joe Tovar was pleased that the board's decision backed up his city's concerns about transportation and other infrastructure. Officials there were still trying to get a better grasp of what the ruling means, though.
"We need to read this decision more closely, make sure we understand a lot of the nuances of what they said and what they didn't say," Tovar said.
County planners and representatives from the developer contend that development rules were locked in place in March, when the county accepted an application for the project.
The developer wants to reach an agreement with Shoreline and Woodway over the scope of the development, said Gary Huff, a Seattle attorney for the development team. To date, they have had several meetings and plan to keep talking.
"We can proceed despite the decision, but everyone's better off if we take advantage of these negotiations to address these concerns and to satisfy any problem areas," Huff said.
The growth board considered two separate cases rolled into one.
One involves the county's decision in 2009 to rezone Point Wells to an urban center from an urban industrial area. The other involves regulations for urban centers the county adopted in 2010, which made Point Wells eligible for dense, mixed-use development, even though it's not located along a highway or freeway.
The county said its urban centers code allowed Point Wells to count the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks as a high-capacity transit route. There are no definite plans by Sound Transit to build a rail station there, such as the one for its Sounder commuter train in downtown Edmonds. BSRE representatives, however, have offered to build a station.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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