Everett’s future is in your hands

1995 was not so long ago. 2035 is not so far away. The City of Everett is updating its comprehensive plan, looking out 20-plus years. The update is a requirement of the State’s Growth Management Act. Cities in the Central Puget Sound region must update their comprehensive plans by 2015.

This is a “major” update of the city’s plans for the future. It provides a unique opportunity to have a community conversation, crafting a vision for our future. While the core of the plan is the land use element, it includes other elements such as: transportation, housing, economic development, capital facilities and utilities, parks and open space.

Everett first adopted its GMA Comprehensive Plan in 1995. There have been annual revisions to the plan, and about every ten years there is a major update. The last one was done in 2005.

The update has a context, a set of parameters that guide it. These include the requirements of the GMA, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s “Vision 2040,” countywide planning policies, new growth targets for population and employment, and other policies. But at its core, the comprehensive plan is a reflection of the city’s vision for the future.

In 2004, then newly elected Mayor Ray Stephanson assembled a “Vision Team” of 32 Everett citizens representing a wide cross-section of interests. Their mission was to develop a shared comprehensive vision of what Everett should become in 2025. Early in 2005 the Vision Team issued its report with elements for: education, economic development, urban design, parks, activities, culture, harborfront, riverfront and transportation. Significant progress has been made on many of these elements. Now, almost ten years later, it is time to revisit and refresh the community vision. This is where you come in.

Factors likely to drive change in the next 20 years differ from those considered in 2004, and there are new considerations. Some of these are identified here.

Everett’s demographic profile merits careful review. Our median household income ($48,410) is significantly below many cities in Snohomish County and the County’s median income ($67,777). Our housing stock is roughly 55 percent renter occupied to 45 percent owner occupied. Our current population is 104,000 and our employment is 95,000. Everett is home to the largest employers in the county (aerospace, defense, health care and government). Most of the higher wage jobs in Snohomish County are centered in Everett. However, many of these wage earners choose to live in some community other than Everett. Making Everett more attractive for families and businesses should be a consideration looking forward.

Linking land use and transportation is a central theme of planning efforts in the Puget Sound region, and essential for economic development in Everett. In the next 20 years, moving people and goods in a crowded and geographically constrained region will be a greater challenge. Accomplishing this requires developing the transportation infrastructure to serve future needs, and developing the land uses to enhance neighborhoods and increase density around transportation infrastructure.

Everett has done award winning work in this area with the development of the Swift Bus Rapid Transit system with Community Transit, and the land use changes for the Evergreen Way (SR-99) corridor. More needs to be done, including examining other corridors in Everett, enhancing neighborhoods, and advancing all modes of transportation: roads, rail, air, water, mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian. Integrating transportation and land use for the next 50 years must be a centerpiece of the 2015 update. This includes planning for Sound Transit to Everett (ST-3) station locations, including the Southwest Everett manufacturing center and the higher education center in north Everett. It also includes freight mobility, connecting the Port of Everett and our manufacturing and commerce centers.

Additionally, there are sub-areas in Everett worth identifying for additional work. Some of these areas are likely to grow with greater intensity. Examples include South Everett/Everett Mall area, Casino Road, riverfront, waterfront and Port areas, as well as the higher education center (Everett Community College and WSU) on North Broadway.

The Port of Everett and the surrounding areas should also be identified as a future study area, including enhanced public access. The prospects of future economic activity are large, and taking advantage of the largest marina on the West Coast, a major navy base, redevelopment of the Kimberly Clark site, and ties between Everett’s waterfront, riverfront and downtown should be part of this effort. The city’s shoreline plan update will likely be undertaken in 2017, just two years after this plan update is complete. Some of the groundwork can be done now.

It may not be possible to address all of these sub-areas and special needs in this planning effort. However, it is possible to set an agenda and a vision to address them in the next 10 years.

Addressing climate change needs to be part of the community conversation. Factors associated with a changing climate are not some distant future concern. They are present, and have been well documented over the past 25 years. We are experiencing more frequent and intense storm events, sea level rise, reductions and changes in snow pack, and ocean acidification, to name but a few factors. It is time to follow the lead of other cities in examining and preparing for these events and developing strategies to respond to them. These strategies include mitigation (reducing greenhouse gases) and adaptation (preparing for changes). Two links worth noting to inform this work are the UW Climate Impacts Group http://cses.washington.edu/cig, and Climate Central analysis on sea level changes http://sealevel.climatecentral.org. Both are helpful sources for this discussion.

Infrastructure funding and budget implications are part of the plan update. The plan must account for necessary capital improvements, the challenge to maintain existing infrastructure and plan for future growth will require revenue. This conversation is essential in order to help taxpayers and ratepayers understand the needs as well as the ways and means to pay for these needs.

Public participation is more than a requirement of the GMA planning process. Community input — your input — is essential for the plan to legitimately reflect the community’s vision. It’s our community and our future. We need broad public involvement and input.

Mayor Stephanson and city administration (the Planning Department, other city departments, the Planning Commission) and the City Council, are dedicated to expanding public input and public involvement. Ultimately, the City Council will make the final decision. City staff have already begun outreach efforts, including with neighborhoods. This process will unfold over the next 20 months. However, early input is the most valuable and has the greatest impact. As the process unfolds, the options and alternatives narrow.

You can get involved by contacting the Planning Department and requesting to be notified of meetings and opportunities to participate. For more information, contact Mary Cunningham or Jim Hanson at 425-257-8731 or e-mail mcunningham@everettwa.gov or jhanson@everettwa.gov.

Paul Roberts is a member of the Everett City Council, Sound Transit Board and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Board. His views are his own.

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