A view of the eastern lakeshore of Lake Stevens that includes lakeshore and urban growth area that is a part of the city of Lake Stevens’ annexation area. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A view of the eastern lakeshore of Lake Stevens that includes lakeshore and urban growth area that is a part of the city of Lake Stevens’ annexation area. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lake Stevens annexation advances without public vote

Local leaders revisited the proposal after city staff said an advisory vote isn’t a legal option.

LAKE STEVENS — City and Snohomish County leaders have passed a major annexation plan without an advisory vote they previously said they would pursue to gauge voters’ thoughts on the proposal.

The Southeast Interlocal Annexation, which is not yet final, includes roughly 3,000 more residents on about 500 acres east and south of the lake, plus the lake itself. That land is now unincorporated.

The County Council voted 3-1 on Wednesday to approve an agreement outlining the terms of the annexation. Council members Megan Dunn, Jared Mead and Nate Nehring said they felt comfortable passing the agreement after receiving additional comments from residents following a meeting on March 9, when the advisory vote was discussed.

“I’d love to be able to do an advisory vote for every vote we ever take,” Mead said. “But at the end of the day, I think we’re elected to these positions to make these kind of tough decisions and think about future impact and what that’s going to mean for housing, for the environment, for planned communities.”

“I think that (the county) council seems to be on the same page as far as this being the right thing to do for the future of the community and Snohomish County and Lake Stevens,” Mead said.

County Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright voted against the agreement, saying she still preferred that an advisory vote take place first.

“I am not trying to stop this annexation,” Wright said. “I want to be clear. I think it probably is a good idea — maybe now or maybe in the future — but I think that is up to the citizens affected in this area to decide.”

Members of the Lake Stevens City Council, which approved a similar agreement last month, have said the annexation is a way to provide a more structured form of government within the area and manage future growth. City leaders have also said the addition would be another step toward their goal of becoming “One Community Around the Lake.”

The state Boundary Review Board for Snohomish County will have 45 days to review the annexation, said Lake Stevens Planning Manager David Levitan.

But first, the City Council will need to revise its recent annexation ordinance to reflect a new effective date of July 16, Levitan said. That revision is scheduled for May 11, he said.

The annexation is occurring via a new method, authorized by a state law passed last June, under which the city and county may formally agree to allow unincorporated land to be annexed within urban growth areas. Unlike other methods, this new path to annexation does not require a vote of residents who would be affected by the boundary change.

At the March 9 meeting, residents urged the city and county councils to gather more input from people who live in the area, so the councils agreed to pursue an advisory vote.

Residents also spoke out against the proposed annexation, raising questions about whether it would affect the land’s development potential or strain city resources.

But city staff urged the City Council to revisit the annexation plan at a March 23 meeting.

The new law does not provide an option for an advisory vote, staff told the council then.

Officials also cited an influx of public comments received since the March 9 public meeting expressing support for the annexation.

“We’ve got to do what’s best for Lake Stevens. And we’ve always been committed to one community around the lake,” said City Councilman Marcus Tageant. “This is our opportunity to do that. So I’m all for it.”

Mary Dickinson was the only City Council member to vote against the annexation agreement. She said she preferred an advisory vote to “let the people have a say.”

Residents who spoke at the Wednesday County Council meeting included proponents and opponents of the annexation.

Some continued to push for a vote.

“I believe it’s the fairest way for the people in the area to have our voices heard,” said Michael Jones, who lives within the annexation boundaries and is against the change.

Others who reside in the unincorporated area pressed the County Council to pass the agreement, saying they have long considered themselves residents of the city.

“We need to be able to have a vote in our own city’s election,” said Kate MacKenzie. “This is essential in making sure that our area is cared for and that we get the services we need. If this were to go to an advisory vote, this would prevent us in voting in yet another election.”

County Councilman Sam Low was absent from the Wednesday meeting. He previously recused himself from the annexation deliberations to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Low voted in favor of another annexation while serving on the Lake Stevens City Council years ago. His wife is also general manager of the Lake Stevens Sewer District.

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

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