County reaffirms neighborhood spending program

By JIM HALEY

Herald Writer

A bureaucratic maze and some confusion have led to delays in implementing a $2 million Snohomish County spending program to improve fast-growing neighborhoods.

But county officials insisted Wednesday the program isn’t dead, and projects will be selected by the end of the year.

If the money isn’t spent this calendar year, Executive Bob Drewel said he would recommend carrying the money into 2001.

The $2 million was included in the 2000 county budget as Drewel’s Quality Communities Program. It grew out of a need to aid neighborhoods affected by large, new housing developments.

Its intent is to give neighborhoods a chance to compete for money to build sidewalks, walking trails, pocket parks and other things that contribute to the identity of a community or improve safety.

"We have some promises to keep," County Council Chairwoman Barbara Cothern said.

The issue arose this week after representatives of a neighborhood group reminded county officials that half the year has gone by and the program is still not under way.

"We’re interested because of all the development in our neighborhood without beefing up any of the infrastructure," said Julie Perrine, who lives on the outskirts of Lynnwood.

She said there are 16 dense subdivisions (called planned residential developments) in various stages of construction in her neighborhood – about 600 new homes.

"It’s July now, and there’s still no criteria," she said.

Planning and Development Services Director Steve Holt said the budget included a requirement that his office develop guidelines for selecting projects and spending the money. The guidelines have gone to the advisory planning commission and should reach the council within a month, Holt said.

"I know it’s a high priority with the council," he said after discussions this week with Cothern and council member Dave Somers, chairman of the council’s Planning Committee.

After the council adopts the guidelines, Holt’s office will solicit proposals from neighborhoods, projects "that would improve the quality of the community," Holt said.

The emphasis, he said, will be on "bricks and mortar" projects. But successful projects also might include programs, activities or even something such as signs identifying neighborhoods.

"One of the key pieces of a quality community is those in the neighborhood identifying with each other, and sharing and watching out for each other," Holt said.

Drewel acknowledged that it has taken a long time to get the program off the ground, but said Holt and his office have been busy with other projects, such as the plan to move county workers to Paine Field. That idea was abandoned, but not before it delayed the other program.

"We’re going do what we said we were going to do," Drewel said.

Cothern said there has been some confusion about the intent of the program, and that some people urged part of the money be spent on planning.

"We always intended this money should be spent on some small capital projects that would improve life in some communities," Cothern said.

Meanwhile, Perrine said spending the money can’t come too soon.

"We’re having more than our fair share (of growth) without any funding to beef up" things such as sidewalks and parks, Perrine said. "They’re densifying us without us being a city."

You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447 or send e-mail to

haley@heraldnet.com.

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