County sued over new growth standards

Growth control advocates are suing Snohomish County to overturn policies that allow more suburban housing and more congested roads.

The environmental group Futurewise and the Pilchuck Audubon Society are targeting rules that will allow minicities to spring up in rural areas. They also want to reverse a boost in housing for 411 acres in Marysville along Highway 9.

Snohomish County faces a lawsuit to overturn several new policies:

* Housing and shops allowed on 411 acres called Whiskey Ridge along Highway 9 in Marysville.

* “Swiss cheese” rules that favor large blocks of farmland.

* Urban development at Snohomish’s Harvey Field airport.

* Minicities, called fully contained communities, allowed in rural areas.

* No plans to improve dozens of roads.

About a dozen policies face objections, but the groups’ chief concerns are about county traffic standards.

“They’re going to have all this growth, but no plan to pay for it,” Futurewise planning director Tim Trohimovich said.

The lawsuit is expected to be discussed by the Snohomish County Council during closed-door meetings with county attorneys.

Democratic County Councilman Dave Somers, a fisheries biologist, is a current member of Futurewise. The environmental group, formerly known as 1000 Friends of Washington, opposes sprawling housing projects.

Somers was traveling to a national conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday and could not be reached for comment.

The county approved its state-mandated comprehensive plans for population and housing growth in December. The changes took effect Feb. 1, and anticipate 277,000 more people living here by 2025, a 42 percent increase in population that would put Snohomish County at about 933,000 people.

About $1 billion in roadwork is anticipated in the next 20 years, and the county is projected to fall more than $200 million short of funding.

Also, 44 of 56 monitored roads will fall below county traffic standards, Trohimovich said.

“While we think there are many good provisions (in Snohomish County’s plan), it doesn’t contain provisions necessary to minimize the impact of growth,” he said.

The lawsuit comes from two well-known environmental groups and eight individual critics who have battled the county’s policies and plans for years.

The Pilchuck Audubon Society claims 1,500 members in Snohomish County, and has fought the county on its growth plans since 1994. Futurewise has challenged Snohomish County plans since 2003.

The suit was expected, county executive director Tom Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t think it will be the last,” he added.

The issue will be decided by the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board.

The county’s adopted plans switched only four square miles of rural land for suburban housing and commercial development, Fitzpatrick said. That was unlike 1996, when suburban areas were more broadly expanded.

Whiskey Ridge was sufficiently analyzed, Fitzpatrick said. County documents show an estimated $5.9 million in roadwork, 3,400 people and 185 jobs for that area.

Transportation plans are as precise as possible, he said.

“There’s a lot of science in it, but a lot of art as well,” Fitzpatrick said. “We were adopting a plan for 20 years. When you get to transportation, you do the best analysis you can, and you try to plan to handle the various traffic impacts, but there is no certainty to it.”

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or

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