Opponents ready to back Point Wells, with limits

WOODWAY — A much-debated high-rise condo project at Point Wells could be kept smaller and shorter than the plans a developer has submitted, if new Snohomish County regulations pass.

The code and planning changes would limit the waterfront development to about 2,600 condo units and a maximum height of 124 feet. Developer Blue Square Real Estate previously applied to build 3,081 homes in towers up to 180 feet tall.

The County Council decided to postpone a final decision until next month. Council members wanted more time to consider amendments suggested by Point Wells neighbors who want to limit the scope of what’s built there.

Representatives from Woodway, the city of Shoreline and the Save Richmond Beach neighborhood group said Wednesday that they’re ready to support a development under the latest proposal, if the county agrees to some suggested tweaks limiting the scale. That would be a departure from years of legal challenges.

“Here we are again, but this time I think we’re a lot closer to finding an appropriate solution for Point Wells,” Woodway Mayor Carla Nichols said during a hearing Wednesday at County Council chambers in Everett.

The suggested amendments would tie the allowed size of the project to directly to having adequate roads and provide guarantees to adequately plan for other effects on neighboring communications.

If the county incorporates those changes, Nichols said “we can meet at the table and not in court.”

While Point Wells is unincorporated Snohomish County land, the only way to reach it is by a two-lane road in the city of Shoreline in King County. Shoreline, Woodway and other neighbors are worried about the effect of the development on that and other nearby roads. Building heights and other impacts to municipal services are concerns as well.

Point Wells has been an industrial site for more than a century. It’s home to a fuel storage facility and an asphalt plant.

It’s owned by Blue Square subsidiary BSRE Point Wells. The companies are part of Alon Group, a real estate and energy company headquartered in Israel.

The code and comprehensive-plan changes under discussion seek to resolve a state growth board’s ruling last year that found the county violated state law and county land-use regulations when it rezoned Point Wells for a high-density mix of homes and businesses. The ruling came after petitions that Woodway, Shoreline and Save Richmond Beach filed with the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board. Among the faults the board found with county zoning was that a railroad line, with no planned transit station, failed to meet high-capacity transportation requirements.

By the time the board issued its decision in April 2011, county planners already had accepted the developer’s initial application.

A Superior Court judge later ruled in favor of Woodway and Save Richmond Beach, after they sued to challenge the validity of the application made under the old development rules. The county and BSRE have appealed.

On Wednesday, Shoreline planning manager Paul Cohen said his city’s concerns differ somewhat from those of Woodway and Save Richmond, though they overlap.

Shoreline wants to see more than regulations that look good on paper, Cohen said.

“The policies in general are OK, but it’s all about implementation,” he said.

Much of the testimony at Wednesday’s hearing came from neighbors along Richmond Beach Drive, the two-lane road that leads to Point Wells. Traffic generated from the development remains their biggest worry.

“I would hope that some kind of less traffic-impacting development could go in there, thank you very kindly,” said Denis Casper, who’s building a home on the road.

BSRE attorney Gary Huff wrote a letter to the County Council saying he’s confident extra car trips can be accommodated by building the project in phases and designing countermeasures. An upcoming environmental analysis is expected to give a more detailed picture.

“It is clear, however, that the traffic from BSRE’s proposed project can and will be effectively managed, limited and mitigated,” Huff wrote.

The county’s proposed solution would alter the type of zoning at Point Wells from an urban center to an urban village, which is generally used for smaller projects.

The County Council is prepared to accept proposed changes to the regulations until 5 p.m. Thursday. The hearing is set to continue at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 10.

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

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