Woodway pitches smaller plan for Point Wells

  • Wed May 16th, 2012 8:26pm
  • News

By Noah Haglund Herald Writer

WOODWAY — The town of Woodway has drawn up an alternative vision for Point Wells, the waterfront industrial site where an international developer wants to build 3,100 high-rise condos.

Under Woodway’s plan, the buildings would top out at 12 stories, rather than 17. That plan also has about two-thirds the number of homes as Blue Square Real Estate’s proposal.

It’s not clear what legal weight — if any — the town’s architectural drawings may carry, though county planners and representatives for the developer welcome the conversation.

Woodway’s goal was to educate the town’s leaders and to put something on paper for the developer to see, town manager Eric Faison said.

“We don’t want to design this project for them,” Faison said. “Our intention isn’t to negotiate a settlement in the press.”

Point Wells has been an industrial site for a century. It’s now 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 61-acre, Puget Sound waterfront site is in unincorporated Snohomish County next door to Woodway. Last year, county planners accepted an application from Blue Square to develop the site under the county’s urban center zoning. In addition to condos, the plan calls for retail shops and public areas, including a pier and beaches.

There is only one way to reach the site: a two-lane road through Shoreline, in King County. Traffic is a huge worry for neighbors.

Some, especially in Woodway, also worry about the high-rise condos obstructing their views, though many of those homes sit atop an approximately 200-foot bluff.

Blue Square attorney Gary Huff called Woodway’s plan “a good first step” that the developer is reviewing.

“For the first time in a long time I think it’s not out of the realm of possibility that there could be a mutually satisfactory solution,” Huff said.

However, Huff said Woodway’s plan sacrifices open space that the developer would prefer to keep.

“Their approach is lower buildings, but covering more of the site,” Huff said. “We think it’s appropriate, where possible, to have taller buildings and to leave more open space.”

The city of Shoreline, last summer, also offered a compromise on what should be built at Point Wells. Shoreline wants the development to be based on the findings of a future study of traffic options.

BSRE, to date, has made no commitments to either Shoreline or Woodway. Legal hurdles also persist for any residential development at Point Wells.

One is the county’s effort to comply with an April 2011 decision from the state Growth Management Hearings Board. The board found that the county failed to follow state growth laws or its own policies in allowing such high-density zoning at the site. It gave the county a year to fix the issues.

The deadline for solving those issues passed last month. The county has requested an extension, county planning director Clay White said.

The county’s solution will involve an environmental impact study that looks at three scenarios: building the maximum 3,500 units allowed, building the 3,081 units the developer has proposed, or leaving the land as it is.

The county has hired a consultant to study the options. The developer will cover the approximately $50,000 cost, though the county will oversee the work.

Woodway’s leaders are disappointed that the county isn’t studying a middle option, closer to the 2,000 units the town has put forward. The town’s option was drawn up with the assistance of a New York architect. Faison said bills from the architect figure into the more than $100,000 Woodway has spent so far in response to the Point Wells proposal. That’s a lot of money, he said, for a town with a general fund budget of just $1.4 million per year.

“We would rather not continue to spend taxpayer dollars fighting the county,” he said.

White said the options the county is studying are appropriate, since the developer can always build something smaller. White praised Woodway’s effort, saying, “I’m very encouraged on a very difficult project because people are talking.”

One of the issues the consultant will review is traffic. There’s more to the issue than just the number of units built, White said.

“It’s also looking at the different mix of uses, to lower the traffic count,” he said.

In some cases, building fewer units might actually increase traffic because the new community would lack enough consumers to support grocery stores and other amenities, he said.

An ongoing lawsuit also has dealt the project a setback.

The town of Woodway and a Shoreline-area community group, Save Richmond Beach, sued Snohomish County and BSRE Point Wells last year to stop the project from going forward under existing county zoning rules. In November, a judge ruled in their favor, effectively putting the $1 billion project on pause. BSRE and the county have appealed and are awaiting hearing dates in that process.

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