By Tom Campbell
Snohomish County is facing one of its fastest-paced growth rates ever. Unfortunately, the county is not using this opportunity to implement growth policies that promote more livable communities. This is the time to make sure growth is done right — so we can move from Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) to Yes, In My Back Yard (YIMBY).
The county seems to automatically minimize development standards rather than promote or enforce stronger neighborhood and environmental regulations. Recently, I’ve seen the county overturning wetland decisions, reducing landscape buffers, allowing building close to salmon streams, creating stormwater retention ponds, and not ensuring that our streets and bridges are safe for pedestrians.
The county approves development with the most minimal standards possible with few incentives to ensure that neighborhoods and stormwater systems connect.
Obviously, developers want to maximize the number of lots on a given piece of property, but the county has had little backbone to improve the codes. By reducing landscaping buffers, a tree ordinance that allows for cutting down all of the significant trees on a property and building with minimal wetland buffers, the county promotes density at the expense of livable communities. What we have are cookie-cutter isolated developments that sprawl into areas without adequate infrastructure and amenities. As a consequence roads are jammed, flooding is occurring, and sewer lines are overflowing.
Cities in Snohomish County are also not doing their part to accept denser developments either, forcing a great deal of development into unincorporated areas. Cities were designed in the Growth Management Act to have the tax base and infrastructure to build denser neighborhoods; yet cities such as Bothell and Woodinville do little to accommodate this growth.
It costs citizens thousands of dollars to challenge decisions they believe are not right for their neighborhoods, while national developers get incentives to squeeze in more homes. It isn’t a fair fight, especially when the county routinely sides with developers and citizen groups must go to court to get reasonable environmental standards upheld.
This is a time of high profits for developers. If this can’t be done now at the height of development, we may lose our community and natural resources forever. Snohomish County will only become a bedroom community and not a livable destination in itself.
The cumulative effects of bad growth management decisions are seriously affecting the future of Snohomish County. Managing growth is a tough and complicated job. As a developer and builder, I have seen how you can do it right.
The county I want to live in uses development to create a positive impact: restoring salmon runs, managing stormwater through effective local improvement district techniques, promoting village-like amenities and solving traffic problems by promoting bike- and pedestrian-friendly communities.
By using green building and infrastructure techniques we can make our neighborhoods more livable and a place we all want to say “yes” to.
We have a beautiful county from snowcaps to whitecaps. Let’s use this time of high growth to do it right.
Tom Campbell is a developer and builder of the Clearwater Commons in Snohomish County. He is also assisted in the drafting of the Growth Management Act.