Bothell area subdivision proposal sparks watershed concerns

Critics say Ironwood echoes Frognal Estates. County staff say the plans are environmentally sound.

BOTHELL — Residents will have a chance this week to weigh in on a proposed 88-home subdivision that has raised concerns about stormwater runoff, impacts to wetlands and other potential environmental consequences.

During virtual meetings scheduled to start Tuesday morning, Snohomish County Hearing Examiner Peter Camp will hear testimony from the project developer, county planning officials and an environmental group that opposes the project. The public may comment during a hearing that will start at 6:30 p.m.

Pacific Ridge Homes, an affiliate of Texas-based homebuilder giant D.R. Horton, is seeking approval for development plans and related rezonings at the 16-acre project site, east of North Road. The developer has proposed building access roads connecting the subdivision, called Ironwood, with Bellflower and Clover roads.

The Sno-King Watershed Council argues that the project poses risks to wetlands and wildlife because the developer hasn’t met stormwater management requirements or fully evaluated other environmental effects of the construction. The resulting runoff would further degrade water quality in North Creek, jeopardizing chinook salmon, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, the council says.

“Salmon spawning and rearing habitat has been degraded throughout the watershed and fish populations have declined dramatically,” Tom Murdoch, an ecologist who helped found the watershed council, wrote in a statement filed with the hearing examiner. “The proposed Ironwood project is another poorly planned development that will increase peak and volume flows in North Creek that will further degrade fish habitat.”

The county Planning and Development Services Department, which has issued some preliminary approvals for the project, maintained in a recent report to the hearing examiner that the development plans comply with county code and that the project’s potential impacts have been adequately vetted and addressed.

Opponents of the project have drawn parallels between Ironwood and Frognal Estates, a controversial development proposed near Picnic Point Road, south of Mukilteo.

Frognal Estates, 15 years in the making, is now on hold after its backers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last summer in the hopes of revising the project’s faltering financials; the once forested land has already been cleared, however, because the county allowed logging of the property before issuing other permits needed to advance the project.

Bill Lider, an engineer who serves on the watershed council board, and other opponents of the Ironwood subdivision expressed fears at a County Council meeting last April that a similar dilemma could arise if the county greenlit early grading and logging there.

The county planning department in July OK’d grading and clearing permits for the Ironwood project, but later withdrew that decision in August — a few weeks after the watershed council appealed it — because the developer submitted more detailed plans for the subdivision, records show.

The watershed council filed another appeal on Nov. 4, asking the hearing examiner to vacate a decision the planning department made in mid-October, when planning staff decided an environmental impact statement wouldn’t be required for the project because significant negative consequences were unlikely.

Camp, the hearing examiner, recently dismissed some elements of the watershed council’s Nov. 4 appeal after the developer argued that the council did not have legal standing to raise those issues. Camp will still hear other parts of the appeal, though — including the watershed council’s assertions that the development would violate stormwater regulations.

A representative for the developer did not respond to an email seeking comment on Friday. Neither did Merle Ash, a land use consultant working on the Ironwood subdivision plans. Ash, a member of the county Planning Commission, has also served as a consultant for the Frognal Estates team.

Some residents of a subdivision north of the Ironwood site are opposed to the new development because the project’s backers have proposed building new homes just feet from existing ones.

The developer is seeking a waiver of landscaping requirements meant to provide a buffer between new construction and surrounding property.

The northern boundary of the Ironwood site is already bordered by landscaping and open space developed as part of the Normandie Crest subdivision, according to a letter to the planning department from Pacific Ridge Homes Entitlement Manager John Mirante. A six-foot fence would also be built along the northern edge of the Ironwood subdivision, Mirante said in the letter.

“They want to use our backyards as the buffer for both neighborhoods,” said Chris McKnight, whose property abuts the Ironwood site. McKnight is on the board of the homeowner’s association for Normandie Crest, another Pacific Ridge Homes community.

The developer got permits last summer to demolish several homes at the Ironwood site. Such permits are typically issued automatically online once an application is received and a fee is paid, according to Michael Dobesh, a division manager for the county planning department.

Permits to grade and clear the land are still needed; however, the planning department has said it will not approve those applications until the development plans have been OK’d.

The developer aims to begin clearing and grading in the spring and start construction later next year, according to documents filed with the planning department.

Information on how to join the virtual hearings on Tuesday is available online at snohomishcountywa.gov/189/Hearing-Examiner.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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