Lake Stevens growth curtailed

By Warren Cornwall

Herald Writer

New development on thousands of acres of land around Lake Stevens will come largely to a halt for now, following a vote by the Snohomish County Council on Wednesday.

Before developments can start on much of the land on the lake’s western and southern shores, property owners will need to prove they can provide money for road construction and stream protections, which could cost millions of dollars.

The regulation, approved by a narrow 3-2 margin, is the centerpiece of a plan shaping the future of county-governed land near the city of Lake Stevens. The vote caps years of contention. Its outcome might be different if it were taken two months from now.

The three seats providing the supporting votes could all change hands following Tuesday’s election. Initial election results show two of those seats switching from Democrats who voted for the measure to Republicans with backing from the housing industry, which opposed the new Lake Stevens plan.

The new limits, called a development phasing overlay, are intended to help ensure that growth doesn’t outpace neighborhood infrastructure such as roads, said county council chairman Dave Somers.

"We have to stop creating slums that people can’t drive around in, don’t have parks, and where surface water problems aren’t taken care of. Somebody’s got to pay for them," Somers said before voting for the provisions.

On Wednesday, he trailed Republican opponent Jeff Sax by nearly 1,000 votes. Final results should be available Friday.

But councilman Gary Nelson said the restrictions would hurt property owners. Although it would make it difficult to develop land, landowners would still have to pay taxes on their property as if it could be built on, he said.

"I personally don’t think that this plan is workable," he said.

John Davis wondered what he could do with the 10 acres he owns near the lake’s western side, which he had hoped to develop.

"I still owe $110,000 on it, and now it’s worth zero. But these socialists, they don’t care," he said, indicating some in the audience who supported the ordinance.

Under the ordinance, a person wanting to put more than one house on a piece of land subject to the limits would need to show the county where the money would come from to fix nearby infrastructure affected by the development. That money might come partly from the property owner, or property owners who band together. It doesn’t affect developments already under way.

The county estimates about $120 million worth of road construction projects and $3 million in stream protection projects are tied to the 4,000 acres covered by the restrictions.

Lake Stevens city administrator Dave O’Leary said he feared singling out Lake Stevens would prompt developers to go elsewhere. But after six years of waiting for the development plan, he welcomed having a new guide for development in the urban growth area around the city.

"We’re glad that we have a plan. It’s been a long haul," he said.

Kristin Kelly, who lives several blocks south of the area, said it’s wrong of property owners to believe there is a guarantee that they can do whatever they want with their land.

The county has expanded the city’s eventual growth boundary, so the development limits help counterbalance that, she said.

"This is a good compromise. I’d be very upset if a new council tried to undo what has just been accomplished," said Kelly, a member of Citizens for Responsible Growth.

Already, one housing industry lobbyist said his organization will file a legal challenge against the ordinance, and may press the new council to revive the issue.

"It’s vampire legislation. It won’t stand the light of day," said Mike Pattison of the Snohomish County-Camano Association of Realtors.

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to

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