Status of Point Wells still in limbo

WOODWAY — When locals first petitioned to incorporate a town here back in 1958, they included an oil-company’s property on Puget Sound within the boundaries.

Then-owner Standard Oil* objected. To Woodway’s dismay, the upscale residential community formed without the beachfront industrial property known as Point Wells.

It turned out to be a significant omission.

“Point Wells was viewed as being part of Woodway, even back then,” town administrator Eric Faison said. “Literally, they hand-drew these boundaries.”

Fast-forward 55 years, and a deep-pocketed developer is advancing plans to turn the old fuel facility into Snohomish County’s largest condo development, with some 3,000 luxury units, retail businesses and a public pier.

The coming transformation has set up a tug-of-war between local governments looking to annex the prime real estate.

Woodway is still eyeing the land as a future downtown. But Shoreline, south of the Snohomish County line, wants it, too. The King County city’s case rests largely on the fact that it will bear the brunt of the traffic, all of which is funneled down a two-land road through Shoreline.

Annexation is “really the only long-term funding source to take care of the impacts,” said Scott MacColl, Shoreline’s intergovernmental relations manager.

A flurry of changes to state annexation law while the Legislature was in session, after much back and forth, left the situation at Point Wells status quo — in limbo.

For now, the 61-acre parcel is likely to remain part of unincorporated Snohomish County. Until people start moving there, and would be able to petition for annexation, that leaves landowner Blue Square Real Estate at the controls.

“We won’t have residents for at least five years. It leaves us time to determine what will be the best option down the road,” said Gary Huff, a Seattle-based attorney representing Blue Square. “Future residents will have a say in whether the cities should be able to annex.”

Blue Square, operating locally as BSRE Point Wells, is part of Alon Group, a petroleum and real estate company with holdings in Israel, Europe and the United States.

The scale of the development is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit brought by Woodway and Save Richmond Beach, a nonprofit named for the neighborhood in the city of Shoreline, south of Point Wells. They sued Blue Square and the county in 2011, arguing that the project should adhere to stricter development rules that a state growth board had ordered the county to adopt. The county and the developer have said the project was submitted under the old development rules.

The state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case this fall. A decision is likely next year.

Blue Square and the county, meanwhile, are working through permits under denser zoning rules. Under those plans, the tallest of several high-rise buildings at Point Wells could reach 180 feet. The surrounding neighborhood is almost entirely single-family homes.

In a twist, many Shoreline residents say Woodway, and not the city they live in, is a better fit to absorb Point Wells.

Jerry Patterson, who lives along the road to Point Wells, said he would have preferred to support his city over a neighboring town in a different county.

“However, the track record has been that the city of Shoreline has used very little leverage to attempt to control the density or the scale of the project,” said Patterson, who was speaking on his own, not for the neighborhood board on which he serves. “Many of the residents have come to terms with the reality that the development will occur. So, therefore, the central concern to the residents is how large is it going to be, because of the cumulative impact on the quality of life of our neighborhood.”

Shoreline has sought to limit the project through the traffic impacts, rather than zoning, and is preparing to work with the developer on a traffic corridor study.

“Snohomish County is moving forward with the process and we can’t change the size of the permit. Woodway can’t either,” MacColl said. “What we’re trying to do is to mitigate the traffic impacts as they come into Shoreline, because that’s the biggest impact to our community.”

Blue Square plans to move ahead with an environmental review for Point Wells. It’s likely a year-long process that would begin with county notices inviting the public to comment on the scope of issues that should be reviewed.

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

* Correction, July 16, 2013: This article originally incorrectly identified the former owner of the property.

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