EVERETT — An expansion of the Washington State University Everett branch campus is no longer coming to Everett’s Delta neighborhood after a deal between the university and the Everett Housing Authority fell through.
“We have had to adjust our plans,” the Everett Housing Authority’s executive director said. “We are continuing to build the first phase of Baker Heights, of 105 units.”
It’s unclear what the Everett Housing Authority will do with the 10 acres it intended to sell, as well as a piece of Wiggums Hollow Park that it owns. Executive Director Ashley Lommers-Johnson said the housing authority is most of the way through a master planning exercise for the rest of the site.
“Our plans right now are not solid in terms of whether we would be willing to sell any of it to another entity,” said Lommers-Johnson, noting the organization aims to add 1,500 affordable housing units in Everett over the next 10 years. “That’s a tall order, and finding land to do that in the city of Everett is tough.”
Demolition at the 15-acre Baker Heights site has already begun, and the housing authority is to complete the entire 105-unit project by the end of 2022. Most of the units will be subsidized affordable housing. The housing authority expects residents to move in in phases, with the last arriving by February 2023.
Lommers-Johnson said the university told him last October that it was considering other options for the location of its campus. At that point, the executive director said, the housing authority began considering other options, as well.
In April, however, the university sent the housing authority a proposal to buy 6½ acres of the Baker Heights property for nearly $8.8 million. The university’s offer was for the same price per square foot as the original offer, but for significantly less land.
“Each institution has their fiduciary responsibilities, and those seemed to conflict with making this deal work,” said Randy Bolerjack, a spokesperson for WSU Everett.
Bolerjack said he learned Monday that WSU Everett would not purchase the land.
“We had this feeling for a good little while that this was not working out the way every party had intended,” Bolerjack said. “Now we’re at the point where everyone is realizing it’s time to take the next step in different directions.”
Since February, the housing authority has sought community input for what it should do with the land previously expected to be sold to WSU Everett.
While the site is zoned for residential use, an architect with Seattle-based GGLO said the firm was interested in hearing what the community wants in that space. During a February presentation to the Delta Neighborhood Association, one participant suggested adding a coffee shop, while another mentioned child care.
Ryan Weber, Delta Neighborhood Association chairperson, said a coffee shop would be a big deal for the neighborhood, which doesn’t have a community gathering place. Residents’ main concerns, Weber said, are preserving public spaces, preserving Wiggums Hollow Park and not increasing building heights above current zoning regulations.
“We’re supportive of the housing authority and their mission,” Weber said. “We just want to make sure we can preserve our public spaces and our parks.”
Lommers-Johnson said that while the city needs more housing, the housing authority is “mindful” of the need for community amenities at the Baker Heights site.
“As we develop the plan, we will come to a decision about what will happen in Baker Heights,” Lommers-Johnson said. “One of the strong options is that we will be the developer of additional housing in the community, as opposed to getting other developers to develop part of the site.”
Katie Hayes: firstname.lastname@example.org; @misskatiehayes.
Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.