The former public works site at 1201 Bonneville Ave. is slated for affordable in housing in the “Midtown” district of Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The former public works site at 1201 Bonneville Ave. is slated for affordable in housing in the “Midtown” district of Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

In ‘Midtown,’ Snohomish aims to balance small town flavor with growth

Building guidelines and affordability goals for the new district were sketched by a 13-person task force.

SNOHOMISH — A T-Mobile salesperson, a high school student and eleven of their neighbors helped shape the future of “Midtown,” a new special zone for housing and commercial growth along Avenue D.

Over the past decade, developers have erected many single-family homes, but few apartments, condos or townhomes in Snohomish. The city of 10,000 people has long needed to diversify its housing options, Planning Director Glen Pickus said.

There are over 4,000 homes in the city. About 64% are single-family and 36% are multi-family, and about 45% of residents are renters. The city expects the population to rise to 12,000 people by 2035, meaning possibly over 1,000 homes — a mix of single- and multi-family — need to be built, according to the city’s planning website.

Snohomish’s housing crisis is like a microcosm of Snohomish County, Pickus said. The newly minted Midtown district, a one-mile strip spanning from Sixth Street to Highway 9, will hopefully allow the city to begin to chip away at the issue.

Ethan Martez was a Snohomish High School student while serving on the Midtown Planning District Task Force. Now heading to Western Washington University in the fall, he said he realized “by the time I hit 30, I don’t think I’d be able to afford to live in the city of Snohomish.”

Planning for growth in Snohomish has for years been a tug-of-war between a desire to maintain the city’s small town flavor and a desire to provide more affordable housing, City Council President Tom Merrill said.

In 2019, Snohomish County officials announced they would be selling a 10-acre public works property along Avenue D. The city saw a chance to set guidelines for how that property is developed and, hopefully, as an aside, to create more affordable housing, Pickus said. Ultimately, the city is trying to increase the number of homes so people can afford to live here, Pickus said.

The former mayor, John Kartak, assembled a task force to help tackle that challenge. They held seven public meetings, using public comment and polls to help guide their goals.

The former public works site at 1201 Bonneville Ave. is slated for affordable in housing in the “Midtown” district of Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The former public works site at 1201 Bonneville Ave. is slated for affordable in housing in the “Midtown” district of Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Pickus said the task force was modeled after a similar rezoning process in Mountlake Terrace.

“It could’ve been a really contentious issue,” he said, but the task force worked out community concerns before bringing proposals to the City Council.

Many concerns were centered on building heights and maintaining brick-and-wood design elements that keep Snohomish’s historic feel.

“To have a citizen committee made up of a lot of different viewpoints produces a better vision for the city of what that might be than just, say, putting experts on it or the City Council itself deciding what it is right,” Merrill said.

The outcome was a special zone that promotes “more intensive development” with architectural and urban design standards that continue to define the “Snohomish Character.” Building heights were limited to 45 feet in the south, from Sixth Street to Tenth Street; and 55 feet in the north, from Tenth Street to Highway 9.

City Council members formally adopted an ordinance creating Midtown in February.

Martez feels the slow expansion of affordable housing has been tied to “who’s been in charge” in local government — until recently, a conservative mayor and a more conservative council.

“Snohomish has been a very small town,” he said, “and a lot of the city wanted to keep it like that.”

Merrill said the new, more progressive council wants to support the city’s inevitable growth, without losing the small town feel.

The council began considering incentives for developers to erect affordable housing in Midtown at Tuesday’s council meeting.

City planning staff brought six proposed incentive programs, including earmarking a portion of new development for affordable housing, known as “inclusionary zoning.”

Some council members and planning staff were leery of inclusionary zoning. In Seattle, most developers have preferred to pay a fee in lieu of building affordable housing, according to reporting by The Urbanist. Those fees are collected by the city’s Office of Housing and used for city housing investments.

“This isn’t an incentive, it’s a requirement,” Pickus said. “It could be a deterrent. … A developer may walk away from Midtown, if they have to provide affordable housing.”

Based on recommendations from planning staff, the city council decided to explore eight- or 12-year property tax deferrals for affordable multi-family properties; to expedite permits on multi-family projects; and to waive or reduce city permit fees. Staff will likely come back to council with their recommendations later this year.

Pickus said he envisions Midtown blossoming into a livable space: storefronts beneath apartment homes, as well as spruced up shopping centers.

“For our city to grow and allow for new families to move in,” Martez said, “we have to allow for people of all incomes to afford a place to live.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commerical vessel operators.

George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade softball past Gig Harbor

The pair combined for three homers as the Bruins won the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)
Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.