Lake Stevens condo development stirs concern of neighbors

LAKE STEVENS — Plans to start work on a housing development that was approved by the city a decade ago have caused concern among neighbors.

It’s one of a number of projects around the region that were set to start before the recession, but were derailed by the economic downturn. In Lake Stevens, there was building during the recession, planners say. However, there are a handful of builders in the area who now are picking up projects that stalled years ago.

Neighbors near the planned development in north Lake Stevens, near Highway 92 and Callow Road, say they feel blindsided. They want the decade-old development agreement and environmental review to be updated before anything is built.

Officials note that the city is bound by the agreement, which expires April 25.

The plan is to build 288 condominiums on part of a 70-acre property. They would be detached, single-family houses, said Russ Wright, the city’s community development director. While condominiums often are associated with apartment or townhome layouts, they also can be houses.

A public meeting about the project was held last week and another is planned for 5 p.m. Thursday at the Lake Stevens Community Center, 1808 Main St.

Neighbors note that the area has wetlands, uneven ground and wildlife. They’re concerned about crowding on already strained roads and in a school district that just started work on a new elementary to keep up with growth.

When Jeff Johnson moved into his home in 2008, he noticed signs that talked about the importance of a Native Growth Protection Area behind his house. He chose the property because it borders the stretch of greenery. Now, he’s worried the construction will destroy it.

“This is a wildlife area. I can’t believe they’re tearing this up,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem right.”

Two parts of the project may abut nearby neighborhoods, Wright said, but designs call for some kind of greenbelt or buffer between existing homes and new ones. Development would take place on about 40 of the 70 acres. More than 26 acres would be preserved as Native Growth Protection Areas or open spaces, he said. Another five acres are meant for park space.

Johnson and Shane Mahoney, another neighbor, went to the meeting last week where developers and city planners talked about the project.

They didn’t know the property behind their neighborhood was slated for development until earlier this month, they said. Having public meetings a couple of weeks before the development agreement expires feels rushed, like the city and builders are trying to “ram it through at the 11th hour,” Johnson said.

“One of my concerns is they’re using regulations from 2006 for their critical area review, and a lot of those have been changed,” Mahoney said. “There’s a lot of nature back there, and they’re using plans that are 10 years old.”

The city in 2007 signed a development agreement allowing the project, which is in an area annexed into Lake Stevens in 2006 and zoned for high density or multifamily housing.

Work was put on hold and the land has since changed hands. Citing the economic downturn, the city and new owners later signed a five-year extension to the agreement.

Under state law, a development agreement is binding on successors of the parties who originally signed it, and the project is governed by the regulations in place at the time it was signed.

“We can’t arbitrarily change the rules in the middle of a project,” Wright said. “As long as they remain consistent and fulfill the existing conditions of the development agreement, they can move forward with their project.”

The agreement automatically terminates “unless construction continues under a building permit issued before the expiration of this Agreement,” according to the document.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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