The Point Wells industrial area next to Woodway. (BSRE Point Wells)

The Point Wells industrial area next to Woodway. (BSRE Point Wells)

County staff urges ‘no’ on Point Wells development proposal

County Hearing Examiner Peter Camp could decide the fate of the high-rise project this summer.

WOODWAY — Snohomish County planners have again recommended against the approval of a developer’s longstanding plan to turn an industrial site on Puget Sound, south of Edmonds, into thousands of condos.

But the news may not have come as a surprise to the developer.

Representatives of BSRE said they “did not expect to ever receive approval” of the development plan at a meeting earlier this year with Paramount of Washington, a company that once owned the project site. BSRE was “instead actively marketing” the property to “third parties for industrial or other non-residential use.” That’s according to a legal document penned by Paramount’s attorneys in response to a breach-of-contract lawsuit the developer filed against the former landowner in Snohomish County Superior Court in February.

Attorneys for BSRE argued in the lawsuit that Paramount, which uses the site to store marine fuels and for mixing asphalt, hasn’t made any progress on a pledge it made 10 years ago to clean up the land by June 1, 2020. Paramount, though, contends that BSRE hasn’t held up its end of the companies’ deal because it hasn’t gotten permission to build the development.

Whether BSRE Point Wells gets the green light to develop the roughly 60-acre property in the most-southwest corner of the county is now up to Hearing Examiner Peter Camp, who denied an earlier version of the project in 2018.

A decision could come this summer.

Staff at the county’s Planning and Development Services department found the latest version of the developer’s high-rise plan was riddled with discrepancies and deficiencies, including buildings that would violate height and setback requirements of the county code. County planners concluded the developer didn’t meet special circumstances to be exempt from those rules, according to a staff report that was distributed on Friday to those involved.

The county’s chief engineering officer also denied the developer permission to build in a landslide hazard zone.

The recommendations mark a new chapter in a years-long saga that has pitted BSRE against government authorities and neighboring residents in its quest to build roughly 3,000 condos — some of which would reach heights of 180 feet, or about 17 stories.

An architectural model of the planned development of 3,080 waterfront condos at Point Wells near Woodway. (Blue Square Real Estate)

An architectural model of the planned development of 3,080 waterfront condos at Point Wells near Woodway. (Blue Square Real Estate)

Doug Luetjen, an attorney for BSRE, declined to comment when reached by phone on Friday.

BSRE, an acronym for Blue Square Real Estate, purchased the site from Paramount for nearly $20 million in 2010. The developer has been seeking approval for the project since 2011.

In 2018, county staff recommended against the project’s approval, and the hearing examiner concluded that it could not be built as proposed. On appeal, the Snohomish County Council upheld the examiner’s decision.

Then, last summer, King County Superior Court Judge John McHale provided the developer additional time to seek approval for the project. McHale’s decision focused on whether development applications had been processed correctly under the urban center code when they were submitted in 2011. The plan’s backers met a court-imposed deadline to resubmit paperwork by Dec. 18.

Under the court decision, BSRE still must address the issues that the county hearing examiner identified.

Throughout the project, traffic and transit access have been major sticking points.

The only way to drive to the site is through two-lane Richmond Beach Drive in Shoreline. BSRE has proposed building a second access road to 116th Avenue West in Woodway.

The examiner also faulted the development plans on other grounds. He said they placed proposed buildings too close to water. There was also unfinished work to address landslide and earthquake hazards, he said.

In BSRE’s new proposal, the number of condos was reduced slightly, from 3,085 to 2,846. The latest submittals called for 45 buildings, 17 of which would be higher than 90 feet.

BSRE also changed the location of some buildings and revised drawings so that the structures would be outside of a shoreline buffer.

The developer envisioned shops, a public pier and an open-air amphitheater, too.

Surrounding neighborhoods consist almost entirely of single-family homes.

Chief Engineering Officer Randolph Sleight rejected BSRE’s argument that buildings have to be built in a landslide hazard area because there’s nowhere else to put them.

In a letter included in BSRE’s development application, a geotechnical engineer said the project would actually increase slope stability and improve drainage conditions at the site. But Sleight found that the company’s analysis didn’t accurately represent the site’s conditions.

The developer is also seeking variances so that it does not have to comply with two provisions of county code: one that requires setbacks from tall buildings to lower-density residential development; and another that bars buildings higher than 90 feet unless there’s a “high capacity transit route or station” nearby.

Some of the development plans depict a Sound Transit commuter rail station. But the developer didn’t include anything in its application material that showed that the transportation authority has committed to the project, according to county staff.

BSRE has also applied for a permit needed to operate passenger ferry service that it proposed. But county planners recommended that the hearing examiner deny that request, too, saying the plans lacked information about the ferry’s environmental impact.

“We’re pleased that the county agrees with us that BSRE’s 2019 application still doesn’t adequately address critical issues,” said Tom Mailhot, a local resident who serves on the board of the Sno-King Coalition, which opposes the project.

He cited the landslide risks and transit access problems.

“An argument of ‘please let us ignore those requirements,’ to me, isn’t a very good argument,” he said.

County planners also found flaws in the fundamental calculations that were used to determine how much building could occur at the site under county code.

Planning and Development Services is working with BSRE to schedule a public hearing this summer, said Michael Dobesh, a division manager for the department.

“Once the hearing has concluded,” Dobesh said in a statement, “the Hearing Examiner will issue a decision.”

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

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