County puts off mini-city decision

EVERETT — They put a moratorium on the moratorium.

A temporary ban on mini-­cities in rural areas will have to wait another week at least.

After two hours of listening to people blast the concept of allowing new communities of up to 15,000 people in sparsely populated areas, the Snohomish County Council on Wednesday put off a decision on a mora­torium on such projects. They now plan to take up the issue again next Wednesday.

Nearly 30 people called for the council to approve the temporary ban, or better yet as far as they were concerned, scrap mini-cities altogether.

“Urban growth should be located first in areas already changed by urban growth,” said Hal Field of Brier.

The few who spoke up for mini-cities said they are a useful tool in accommodating growth. They provide state-of-the-art environmental protection, keep travel to a minimum by providing jobs on-site and create a sense of community among their residents, proponents said.

“People in rural neighborhoods hate sprawl and people in urban neighborhoods hate density,” said George Newman, a principal at Triad Associates, a development company in Kirkland. “The question is, ‘How do we grow?’ “

The council is considering the six-month ban so it can refine the law that allows fully contained communities, as they are called under county code. Under the law, developers of mini-cities must provide jobs, roads and environmental protection within the community, but critics say the requirements aren’t tight enough.

Only one mini-city has been proposed, by developer Dave Barnett at Lake Roesiger, east of Lake Stevens. The project, Falcon Ridge, is under preliminary review by the county and would include 6,000 houses on 3,000 acres, along with a golf course and offices on land Barnett owns. He has not submitted a formal application.

It’s opposed by many who already live or have homes there.

“Why should the whims of one man override the concerns of many hundreds of people?” said Lloyd Johnson of Edmonds, who has a summer home at Lake Roesiger.

The McNaughton Group of Edmonds, which proposes building 640 homes north of Lake Goodwin in the northwest part of the county, has said it is also considering some type of mini-city but has not submitted a plan.

Council Chairman Dave Somers and Councilman Mike Cooper were ready to vote for the moratorium. Councilmen Dave Gossett and John Koster said they would vote no.

Cooper said that if mini-­cities are kept in the code, requirements for transportation, public safety, water, sewer and schools should be carefully spelled out in detail.

Gossett, who lives in Mountlake Terrace and represents the Bothell-Mill Creek area, said his district took the brunt of the last surge of development and believes it could happen again. That’s why he thinks there needs to be new places to grow.

“I think the upzone’s coming my way,” he said.

Councilman Brian Sullivan, with the deciding vote up to him, said he wanted more information. And that led to the delay of a week.

Somers, whose district includes Lake Roesiger, proposed the moratorium. He said that while the law that allows mini-cities can be improved — he described it as “weak and vague” — he doesn’t like the idea of taking up forest land with new development that’s not close to major highways.

“I’m against the concept,” he said.

George Kresovich, a Seattle land-use attorney representing Barnett, said the approval process has enough safeguards in it and a moratorium isn’t necessary. He said later the moratorium would add uncertainty to the Lake Roesiger project.

Kresovich said the law allows the council to change the rules even after an application is filed.

“Filing an application for a (fully contained community) will not create a vested right,” he said.

Somers asked Kresovich if this means he would forgo any legal action against the county if the project were turned down at the last minute.

“I don’t think we’d agree to forgo any challenge to the denial,” Kresovich said.

Somers said he wouldn’t want to take the chance.

“First of all, I think we’d lose in court,” he said. “And second, I don’t think it would be fair to the developer.”

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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