EVERETT — When Jean Satti-Hewat and Mary Dean look around the city’s downtown, they see undeveloped land and rows of deserted storefronts.
It’s the ideal place, they say, for the high-density development the city is preparing for in the Metro Everett plan. If passed, the plan would allow buildings as high as 25 stories in some areas downtown, in part to absorb population growth.
Satti-Hewat and Dean, along with others who live in the Norton Grand historic area within the Port Gardner neighborhood, want the city to do more to protect older homes from the anticipated arrival of taller buildings.
Growth targets set by the Puget Sound Regional Council dictate that the city plan for 55,000 more people and nearly 40,000 new jobs by 2035. That’s roughly 50 percent more people than live there today. And with little vacant land left, the city must grow taller.
“Most of the growth has to come in the form of redevelopment — tearing down existing buildings and building something bigger in its place,” said Allan Giffen, Everett’s director of planning and community development, during a recent meeting of the planning commission.
Some in the historic neighborhood, which spans Norton and Grand avenues from Pacific Avenue to just north of 38th Street, fear the proposed changes in the Metro Everett plan could eventually wipe out houses there. Preparing to continue the fight, residents recently draped 15-foot-wide banners in protest across two homes.
“If downtown were vibrant and built up, then maybe you can look elsewhere (to add density),” Satti-Hewat said. “But there is more than enough space downtown.”
Public input has indicated the community wants growth to be directed downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods, and near Everett Station and along other transit corridors, according to David Stalheim, a planner for the city.
The Norton Grand area, which lies outside the southern edge of the area defined in the Metro Everett plan, is an easy walk to downtown restaurants and stores. It’s also close to transit — all amenities the city wants in areas it’s funneling growth.
While the Metro Everett plan doesn’t touch the historic neighborhood, the group’s concerns lie with the recommended changes to adjacent streets and alleys.
The group has won some concessions from the city and the planning commission as a draft of the plan was being refined. They were able to avoid increased building heights for new construction in the historic district. And the group persuaded commissioners and staff to lower the proposed maximum building heights from abutting streets and alleys to create a buffer zone around the old homes.
Proposed heights range from four to eight stories in streets surrounding the historic district, according to the draft plan. They’re lower than today’s standards — but not short enough to satisfy some in the neighborhood.
“Is a family going to want to buy a home with a huge building behind it?” Dean said.
The group worries if developers build to the maximum height allowed, new buildings will loom several stories over the historic homes across the alley — creating an overshadowing canyon effect.
“We will end up being a valley of short single- and multiple-family homes surrounded on three sides by towering buildings,” said Jim Dean, husband of Mary Dean.
The couple bought their historic house, built in the early 1900s, along Grand Avenue nearly two decades ago. The couple has lovingly restored the three-story home.
“If we don’t do a transition that is effective or good, it will put all our historic places at risk,” he said.
Satti-Hewat said the Norton Grand district is being treated differently than other historic districts. She pointed to the Rucker Grand and Riverside areas, where the city capped building heights at three or four stories on surrounding streets and alleys bordering downtown.
In letters sent to the mayor and City Council in July, the Historic Commission and Historic Everett, a nonprofit advocacy group, both supported lower building height maximums adjacent to the Norton Grand district.
The Historic Commission said the recommendations would create a buffer zone “vital to maintaining the character and livability of one of Everett’s most important and historic neighborhoods.”
Stalheim, the planner, said the building height maximums the city eventually settled on for streets and alleys adjacent to the historic district are consistent with apartments that are currently being built in that area.
“We’re trying to be respectful of the really nice neighborhood,” Stalheim said.
He said it will take a while before developers start building high-rise apartments.
Other changes bordering the historic neighborhood include potentially allowing commercial and office buildings, which Mary Dean said will be intrusive.
“We’re going to lose the views, but that’s not the issue,” she said. “It’s the number of people who will be driving through our neighborhood.”
The City Council is holding hearings on various elements of the Metro Everett plan through August. They are expected to take final action at the end of the month.
“Planning for growth is really difficult because it requires change,” said Clay White, a principal planner at LDC Design, a Woodinville-based company, and a former planner for Snohomish County. “Changing communities are a difficult road to navigate.”
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @lizzgior.