Riverfront developer seeks OK to change project

EVERETT — A developer wants the city to change an agreement governing what it can build on former industrial land that’s benefited from millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded improvements.

Everett’s Planning Commission is scheduled to consider Polygon Northwest’s ideas for the Riverfront property during a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7. The proposed revisions deal with future houses on the south end of the 100-acre site, located between the Snohomish River and I-5.

The Bellevue homebuilder contends changes are necessary to adapt to the housing market. Critics fear that altering the plan would stray from city leaders’ vision of a high-quality residential and commercial development.

If planning commissioners approve the changes, it would be up to the City Council to make a final decision.

“The council will be paying close attention to not only the public comments, but also to the thought process that goes into the commissioners’ ultimate recommendation,” Council President Jeff Moore said.

Polygon bought the Riverfront property in July for $18 million from San Diego developer OliverMcMillan.

The city leaders spent years outlining development requirements for the site before agreeing to sell the property OliverMcMillan in 2008. The former owner’s rights and obligations to the city transferred to Polygon.

Under the agreement, Polygon must build at least 400,000 square feet of retail space on the former landfill by mid-2017. By that same deadline, the builder also must construct small shops and at least at least 100 homes or hotel rooms.

The city would allow up to 1,400 homes over the entire property, though Polygon representatives have said they’re looking to build about half that number.

The property is divided into three parcels.

For now, the developer is only looking for changes on the 40 acres where the former Simpson Paper Co. mill operated. That’s on the south end of the property, next to the Lowell neighborhood.

Polygon wants to build stand-alone houses there. That’s a departure from the existing agreement, which calls for detached houses to be included in a higher-density mix with attached and multiple-family housing. The developer also wants to change lot widths, parking configurations and divide a central park green into several smaller parks.

The resulting development would have about 230 homes, fewer than the 650 maximum city regulations would allow.

In early December, principals from Polygon gave city council members and planning commissioners a preview of the changes they’re seeking.

“What was done on paper originally, we don’t even know that was going to work,” Polygon’s Nick Abdelnour told the City Council on Dec. 4.

Polygon’s overall plan “does not conflict in too many places” with city requirements, said Lanie McMullin, Everett’s executive director for economic development.

Voices urging city decision-makers to proceed with caution include Reid Shockey, a professional planner with a long history of civic engagement.

In a Dec. 18 letter to planning commissioners, Shockey called Polygon “a well-known, respected company that builds good homes.” But he urged more analysis about how the proposed changes would affect city revenues. He also said Polygon’s plans to attract retail businesses to the former landfill site deserve further scrutiny.

“We have a choice,” Shockey wrote. “We can hold to the original vision or we can change it. The former may delay development while the market catches up; the latter may speed things up, but could change the brand. It is up to the Commission and Council to determine the next steps, but the decision should be based on a clear understanding of the effects.”

Kristin Kelly of Futurewise, a statewide group focused on growth policy, has asked city leaders to ensure that the Riverfront development includes an adequate mix of homes and businesses to serve people from different income levels.

The largest part of the Riverfront property is the former city landfill, which covers about 60 acres. It’s zoned for commercial development with some homes mixed in.

North of the landfill there’s the 17-acre former Eclipse Mill site, where Polygon wants to build 175 townhouses. City rules would allow up to 350 homes there.

The cost of preparing the Riverfront for redevelopment — a decades-long process — could reach $80 million in city, state and federal dollars by the time it’s complete. The funds have helped clean up the former dump where Everett’s infamous tire fire started in 1984. Road improvements, utility upgrades and habitat restoration account for other public expenditures.

To recoup some of the investment, city leaders hope to generate business taxes from a retail area on the former landfill.

There’s more than revenue at stake. Moore said what’s built on the Simpson site will set the tone for the quality and variety of development on the other two areas.

Polygon hopes to break ground this spring if the changes its seeking win city approval.

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

Public hearing on Jan. 7

The Everett Planning Commission is set to consider changes that Polygon Northwest has proposed for the south end of the Riverfront redevelopment site. A public hearing is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7 in the eighth-floor hearing room of the Wall Street Building, 2930 Wetmore Ave., Everett.

People can submit comments about the proposed changes until Jan. 7 by email, at mcunningham@everettwa.gov, or by mail, to Mary Cunningham, city of Everett Planning and Community Development, 2930 Wetmore Ave., suite 8A, Everett, WA 98201.

More info: 425-257-7131 or go to tinyurl.com/EveRiverfront.

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