Everett riverfront developer seeks to build fewer homes

EVERETT — The developer who bought the Riverfront property this summer has proposed a lower-density community than what some city leaders had hoped to see on the former brown field.

Polygon Northwest of Bellevue plans to update Everett’s planning commission next week. A workshop is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17. Any changes would have to clear a formal planning commission hearing process, expected early next year, before reaching the City Council for a vote.

Polygon managers last week gave an overview of their ideas to city council members, some of whom reacted with skepticism.

“There’s a level of trust that has to happen here as well, that you trust us that we’re going to build something that will be successful, offer a diverse product range,” Polygon’s Nick Abdelnour told council on Wednesday. “What was done on paper originally, we don’t even know that was going to work.”

The Riverfront project encompasses more than 100 acres of buildable land. There are three areas: the former Eclipse Mill on the north end, the former city landfill, where the infamous tire fire broke out in 1984, in the center, and the former Simpson Paper Co. mill to the south.

Polygon’s current proposal only seeks changes on the Simpson site. They’re looking to build 233 homes there now, about a third of the 650 maximum the city would have allowed.

The proposed changes don’t involve the number of homes, since city imposed no minimum. Rather, Polygon’s amendments involve lot widths, parking configurations and breaking up a central park green into several smaller parks targeting different age groups.

Polygon is not asking for zoning changes on the Eclipse parcel. The city had designated that area for up to 350 homes. Polygon is looking to build 175 townhomes there.

The former landfill is zoned for a mix of retail space plus up to 400 units of multi-family housing. Polygon last week indicated it was speaking to potential commercial tenants, but was unable to say much more because of non- disclosure agreements.

“We’re not asking for a commercial variance or change today,” Abdelnour said. “That will be a year or two down the road.”

Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, who has been the most critical of Polygon’s plans, registered her doubts Wednesday.

“The biggest concern I have is your statement that you’re not coming to us for any changes on the commercial site — yet — which implies to me that that will come in the future and I would reiterate my concern that we’re taking this in a piecemeal fashion,” she said.

Stonecipher would like to hold off on approval until the city sees what changes in tax revenue would result because of the changes Polygon is seeking.

The cost of prepping the Riverfront for redevelopment — a decades-long process — could reach $80 million in city, state and federal dollars by the time it’s all over. That includes environmental cleanup that would have taken place regardless of redevelopment plans, as well as development-specific items such as roads and walking trails.

The city invested years of planning before the initial sale to OliverMcMillan. The goal was to maximize sales and property taxes.

Success hinged on commercial development at the reclaimed landfill.

When Polygon stepped in to buy the property from San Diego developer OliverMcMillan this summer, it breathed new life into a project that appeared stillborn. The sale price was a little over $18 million. That’s roughly $10 million more than what OliverMcMillan paid Everett for the property back in 2008, though OliverMcMillan said it lost money on the deal.

The arrangement held the developer to strict construction deadlines and those obligations transferred to the new owner. That included a June 2017 deadline to build out a 400,000-square-foot shopping area on the former city dump.

Dave Koenig, Everett’s planning and community development manager, said the two developers have switched priorities from the commercial to the residential aspect of the property.

“OliverMcMillan’s focus was the retail, commercial area. The residential area, they had always expected that somebody else would do those,” Koenig said. “When the property sold, they (Polygon) had different ideas about what the market is for the housing.”

Polygon last week outlined different classes of homes it hopes to build at the property.

Townhomes would cost an estimated $225,000 to $300,000. Some single-family homes would run from $325,000 to $400,000. Larger single-family homes would run from $425,000 to more than $500,000.

If the regulatory approval goes through, Abdelnour said Polygon still hopes to break ground on the Simpson site this spring.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet; com.

Meeting Dec. 17

The next Everett Planning Commission meeting features a workshop on proposed changes to Polygon Northwest’s development of the Riverfront property. It’s scheduled for Dec.17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Wall Street Building’s 8th floor hearing room, 2930 Wetmore Ave., Everett.

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