EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council has once again sided with the county hearing examiner, who rejected a high-rise condominium proposal that has for years drawn criticism from neighbors and government authorities.
The County Council voted 4-0 this month to uphold Hearing Examiner Peter Camp’s January ruling against the Point Wells development proposal, a mix of homes and businesses planned for an industrial site between Puget Sound and a steep hillside near Woodway. Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright was absent and excused.
Camp, who rejected an earlier version of the project, gave county planning officials permission to deny the proposal “because of substantial conflicts with county code,” including buildings that would be too tall and too close to landslide hazard areas.
Representatives for the developer, BSRE Point Wells, argued in its most recent appeal to the council that the county Planning and Development Services department recommended against the proposal without giving the project team a chance to respond to the issues at hand.
But department staff have maintained that the developer has had years to fix problems with its plan to build the cluster of high-rises, designed to reach heights of about 17 stories.
Nearby residents opposed to the project have also raised concerns about landslides, traffic and the costly environmental cleanup that would need to occur at the site before construction could begin.
An attorney for BSRE did not respond to an email last week requesting comment.
If the project’s backers still intend to pursue approval of the plan, they are running out of options.
They could still appeal the most recent rejection in Superior Court, as they did after Camp denied one iteration of the project in 2018 and the council upheld that decision.
The project team could also submit a revised application proposing shorter buildings, according to county planning staff.
In 2019, King County Superior Court Judge John McHale gave the developer additional time to seek approval for the project.
BSRE “spent significant resources” on its latest land use application, submitted to the county in December 2019, according to Jacque St. Romain, an attorney for BSRE.
“After BSRE submitted the revised application materials, PDS provided no feedback on the application materials and offered no opportunity for the parties to work together to solve any remaining issues,” Romain told the council at a March 31 hearing.
The county also “failed to act in good faith” when it gave new reasons to deny BSRE’s application without providing BSRE so much as “one comment letter,” Romain said during the hearing.
County planning staff have said BSRE hasn’t significantly changed its plans to comply with county code, even though the department has repeatedly pointed out the discrepancies. Instead, its latest application — riddled with errors and inconsistencies — sought exceptions to the rules the plan would break, according to PDS supervisor Ryan Countryman.
The Hearing Examiner agreed that the developer failed to prove any special circumstances that would allow the proposal to be exempt from certain county code provisions.
One of those rules requires setbacks between tall buildings and lower-density residential development.
Another bars buildings higher than 90 feet unless there’s a “high capacity transit route or station” nearby. BSRE has contended that Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter rail, which passes through Point Wells, should be enough to meet that standard.
The county’s chief engineering officer has also denied the developer’s request for a “deviation,” or special consent, to build in those otherwise-prohibited hazard areas.