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Everett must set high expectations for riverfront project

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By Megan Dunn
The riverfront land north of the Lowell neighborhood is prime property. Not only does the plot have visibility from the freeway, making the area commercially attractive, but this development offers an excellent opportunity to provide a draw for passing motorists and prospective homeowners with a livable pedestrian community and accessible local businesses.
It’s no secret the city of Everett is in financial trouble and this property offers new hope. We have limited revenue streams and an increasing population. The latest city budget further reduces funding to transit, parks and public safety, which negatively affects sustainable growth. If Polygon chooses to proceed, the city of Everett should prevent the commercial side from failing, which would cause a drain on city resources and miss an opportunity to capture lost revenue. We must prevent a similar situation as the Hewlett Packard site in Lake Stevens, where Polygon could not find a commercial tenant and land was rezoned. Fortunately, there are policy solutions to this potential problem.
The commercial clause stipulates that the commercial area will be filled “as market demands. One recommendation I would suggest, to prevent a lack in market demand from draining the city, would be a type of “clawback policy” — such as when a Bank CEOs is forced to return part of their bonus checks for poor performance. If Polygon is simply going to advertise the commercial space, but there are no takers and the land sits empty, then Polygon should be responsible for any lost revenue from the site preparations performed by the city, state and federal government. This is including, but not limited to, overpass and turn about and site cleanup of at least $80 million. The final agreement should include strong enforcement language and should consider the past actions by Polygon.
In addition to questions about future commercial changes, the current changes to small pocket parks, which offer limited play and limited interactions between families, is concerning. Aggregating the open space of unbuildable lots seems a thinly veiled excuse to not build a large, usable open space. After years of planning and citizen input, going back on the promise of a large open park and pedestrian friendly development would be inexcusable.
Other environmental concerns are related to runoff and Everett’s overloaded sewer and drainage system. We need plans in place for an increase in water runoff caused by an increase in surface asphalt and a decrease in surface water absorption. This increase will put added pressure on our already failing sewage systems. Reducing the density and creating a neighborhood of urban sprawl will put increased pressure on the sensitive river and wetland environment. A well-planned pedestrian, high-density area is a better solution for long-term environmental concerns.
The council is facing an important decision, if Polygon gets the green light to reduce lot sizes for this development, the lasting precedent is that developers will be able to squeeze in more houses on less land, something that makes developers more money but costs the city more in resources. Fewer rooftops are not necessarily a good thing if we are putting single families under all the roofs and 2 cars in every driveway, and moving the focus away from people and back to cars and garages.
Visit the riverfront and you’ll hear the song of red winged blackbirds, the screech of bald eagles and the thunder of trains. This noisy juxtaposition reminds you of the reason for this important site: a sensitive wetland along the Snohomish River with ecological, historical and tribal significance. The people of the Lowell neighborhood treasure this natural resource and would expect the developer to treat this jewel of a property as a valuable resource. After nearly five hours of combined citizen input from the past two planning commission meetings, it’s also clear that the citizens of Lowell are more than willing to add to the noises you hear on the riverfont!
Megan Dunn, who recently earned her master’s degree in public policy from the University of Washington, Bothell, lives with her family in Lowell.

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