Arlington City Council OKs growth

ARLINGTON – By 2025, Arlington’s population will double.

That’s if the county goes along with a decision the City Council made Monday night. Arlington’s current population is about 15,000, and the council decided to annex enough land in the next 20 years to boost that number to 30,528.

Previous growth projections for the city for 2025 had been for about 20,000 people.

The decision did not come easily – the council split 4-3 on the issue.

Councilman Ryan Larsen said he opposed the measure as irresponsible because providing sewer, water, police and fire services to so many people in that short a time would cost too much.

“Is there any other city in Snohomish County that wishes to increase their population by 100 percent?” Larsen asked.

Cliff Strong, the city’s planning manager, said he was not aware of any.

Councilman Richard Butner voted for it. One reason was because it was tied to a pilot program Snohomish County Councilman John Koster is promoting to allow farmers in the Stillaguamish Valley to transfer their development rights to the new urban areas being considered. That would keep the valley as agricultural land and give struggling farmers some compensation for their land.

“The question is: Is that worth the tradeoff?” Butner asked. For Butner, Sally Lien, Marilyn Oertle and Steve Baker, it was.

The decision marked a dramatic change in direction for the council. In April 2003, the council chose a 2025 target population of 20,720.

Since then, a few rural landowners have asked the city to include their properties in the city’s urban growth area (annexable land outside city limits). The largest is about 300 acres extending the city east on Burn Road.

To do so, the city needed to be willing to accept more of Snohomish County’s projected growth. The state Growth Management Act requires each county to divvy up its expected growth in 20 years among each of its cities.

Snohomish County first did so in 1995 and is now in the middle of a 10-year update. Overall, the county’s “working number” for a projected population in 2025 is about 930,000, said Mary Lynne Evans, a long-range planning manager for the county.

In the past, Koster has said Arlington’s willingness to grow faster could help take some of the population away from the county’s already dense southwest urban areas. Some residents there have complained about the pace of development.

That tradeoff could work, Evans said, but it would require the full county council’s approval.

Adding 10,000 people to the city’s population forecasts would require spending more than originally planned to provide services, says a memo from Cliff Strong, the city’s planning manager. City staff are still working on estimates about how much more sewer and water would cost. The city also would have to hire 87 more employees, based on historic hiring rates, Strong wrote.

Evans, the county planner, said tying the transfer program for farmers with Arlington’s willingness to grow more is a “laudable idea.”

“This is kind of a first for us and a very interesting proposal,” Evans said. “We could certainly entertain it.”

Larsen, an Arlington native, disagreed.

“I don’t want to be here if this happens,” he said.

Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or smorris@heraldnet.com.

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