LYNNWOOD — In the end, it was the neighborhood petition that convinced her to vote no.
Lynnwood City Council member Shannon Sessions said a proposal to rezone and expand the Whispering Pines affordable housing complex off Highway 99 made sense to her. The proposed building height didn’t bother her, nor did opponents’ claims of a possible increase in criminal activity. She even said she could see herself living there.
But opponents from neighboring single-family homes to the east, who brought a petition filled with more than 100 signatures, swayed her and other council members.
On April 22, they voted 4–3 to reject the proposal.
Sessions was joined in her vote by Benjamin Goodwin, Ian Cotton and Shirley Sutton.
Council members Christine Frizzell, Ruth Ross and George Hurst were in favor of the rezoning.
The proposal was brought to the City Council by the Housing Authority of Snohomish County, and would have let the group rebuild Whispering Pines bigger than ever. The property hosts a collection of two-story buildings, totaling 240 units on 52nd Avenue W.
The housing authority’s idea was to change the western 7 acres into high-density zoning, removing a limit on how tall buildings can be. The remaining 40 percent — on the eastern side — would stay medium density, only allowing up to three stories.
The new construction could have held between 300 and 400 units, with buildings likely no taller than six stories, due to the cost of building higher. Representatives from the housing authority envisioned more open space, amenities and better access for people with disabilities.
Keeping the current structure isn’t an option, housing authority executive director Duane Leonard said. The 50-year-old complex is dilapidated. The sewer system is in a constant state of collapse. The fire alarm system doesn’t comply with code and will have to be replaced by 2022 — if it’s not, the apartments will be vacated.
But replacing the fire alarm system and sewers would be too costly, Leonard said, so the housing authority created a plan to start from scratch.
With the vote, Leonard was unsure Thursday what will happen next. Rebuilding with the current zoning only allows for 219 units, and that might not pencil out in the organization’s budget.
If a compromise can’t be reached with the city, the authority may consider selling the property instead, Leonard said.
He said he was disappointed in the council’s decision.
“Fear won the day when it came down to voting, and that’s unfortunate,” he said.
This is the third proposal that has been struck down by the city. The first would have allowed taller buildings on the property, but the council rejected the idea last year. Another suggestion would have put a height limit on high-density development, but the city’s planning commission decided such a change had too broad of an impact.
The most recent amendment was an attempt at compromise.
It wasn’t enough to appease neighbors.
During public comments at the April hearing, neighboring residents said they felt left out of the planning process. They raised concerns about building height, street parking, traffic and what they perceived would be increased criminal activity.
“It’s like you’re selling the city out,” said James Henderson, who lives nearby. “There’s got to be better ideas than sticking so many people in such a little area.”
Another speaker referred to the affordable housing complex as “Whispering Crimes.”
Leonard said opponents had painted an unfair picture of the new Whispering Pines. He said it would be like any other apartment complex, and certainly nicer than what is currently there.
He blamed some of the pushback on the housing authority being unable to present a draft design of the apartments. It didn’t make sense to spend money on an architectural design when it was unclear what zoning they were working with, he said.
As a result, he said, the conversation devolved into a game of “What if.”
For Council member Sessions, who called for a vote at April’s meeting, the discussion had reached a stopping point. It was time to make a decision.
“We’ve talked this to death,” she said.