Top (L-R): Nicholas Swett, Stephanie Vignal, Benjamin Briles, Connie Allison. Bottom (L-R): Eric J. Cooke, Brian Holtzclaw, Melissa Duque, Adam R. Morgan.

Top (L-R): Nicholas Swett, Stephanie Vignal, Benjamin Briles, Connie Allison. Bottom (L-R): Eric J. Cooke, Brian Holtzclaw, Melissa Duque, Adam R. Morgan.

Mill Creek candidates divided on future of housing, growth

Eight people are vying for four City Council seats. Some of them are railing against new apartments.

MILL CREEK — As four City Council members prepare to face off with political newcomers in the Nov. 2 election, contenders have offered different ideas about how to strike a balance between preserving the city’s small-town character and keeping up with south Snohomish County’s rapid growth.

Mill Creek was first a developer’s community, planned decades ago to surround a golf course in the woods east of I-5. But what started as little more than a homeowners association in the 1970s is now a city with few empty parcels left to build on.

The city’s population has grown to roughly 21,000, according to the U.S. Census. Meanwhile, home prices skyrocketed, apartment complexes sprung from the ground and traffic swarmed local roads.

Some candidates have expressed support for more housing units and commercial space along public transit corridors. Others have adopted an anti-apartment stance to maintain the status quo of quiet subdivisions and cul de sacs.

Brian Holtzclaw (left) and Eric Cooke.

Brian Holtzclaw (left) and Eric Cooke.

Position 4: Brian Holtzclaw vs. Eric Cooke

Brian Holtzclaw, who also serves as mayor, was first elected to the council in 2013. He faces challenger Eric Cooke, a tax collector for the state Department of Revenue.

Holtzclaw hopes he’s re-elected so he can “hit the ground running” next year to address a budget shortfall and other issues facing Mill Creek.

Much of the general fund comes from taxes and fees generated by new construction, but that revenue stream is beginning to dwindle, he said.

Mill Creek is also re-evaluating its fire service contract. Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue, formally known as District 7, has for years served Mill Creek. But if the city wants to continue contracting with the district past 2022, residents will have to pay more, he said.

“We have some very tough issues to face. And there are a lot of complex moving parts to it, with the fire contract, budget issues and so forth,” said Holtzclaw, 55. “It’s important to have someone with experience and background.”

An attorney by profession, Holtzclaw is general counsel for Lynnwood-based homebuilder Village Life. He was previously the president of the board of directors for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, a trade group with wide influence in the county. He still volunteers as a board member.

He has a few ideas for how the city can reach “long-term fiscal sustainability” without raising taxes, he said.

Expanding City Hall’s passport services could provide more funding, he said. The city could also raise revenue by putting into use what is known as the DRCC site, a cluster of properties it owns next to the Mill Creek Sports Park.

The council is considering a range of options for developing the land, including a fine arts center, recreational space or another community asset.

Cooke also wants to see the DRCC site become something that can make money for the city.

Sales tax is another option for balancing the budget, said Cooke, 45. Like Holtzclaw, he wants to boost revenue by making the city more attractive to businesses of all sizes, instead of raising tax rates.

This is the first bid for public office for Cooke. His work has provided him insight into how to work with businesses, he said.

Cooke distinguished himself from Holtzclaw by saying he is not as “pro-development” as the mayor.

“My hope is for Mill Creek to keep its small-town feel,” he said in a written statement for Snohomish County’s local voter pamphlet. “Our city residents do not want more multi-story apartments along Bothell-Everett Hwy.”

He also sees a need for “smart zoning” and more thoughtful decisions about managing growth, he told The Daily Herald.

“We don’t have that much vacant space in Mill Creek anymore,” Cooke said in an interview. “The vacant space we do have left — let’s keep it green.”

Adam Morgan (left) and Melissa Duque.

Adam Morgan (left) and Melissa Duque.

Position 6: Adam Morgan vs. Melissa Duque

Melissa Duque is challenging Councilmember Adam Morgan, picked by the council last fall to succeed Mike Todd, who resigned to become the city’s director of public works and development services.

The winner will serve two more years to finish Todd’s term.

Duque vied for the appointment to the open seat last fall, but she came up two votes short in the final round of votes by the council.

She narrowly led the Aug. 3 primary race, with 1,873 votes, compared to Morgan’s 1,852 votes. A third candidate, Shannon Warren, got 140 votes.

“I have a good understanding of the issues, both talking to city staff (and) also with the volunteers that I’ve worked with over the years,” said Duque, chairwoman of the city’s Park and Recreation Board. “I think that sets myself apart because I come from that perspective.”

Duque, 37, works as a project manager for nonprofits and foundations. With a background in marketing and communications, she wants to see the city become more proactive about discussing problems with residents and responding to their concerns.

The city should find ways to help families and businesses recover following the pandemic and keep housing affordable for working-class residents, Duque said.

The “no more apartments” mantra of some council candidates is “just a soundbite,” she said.

If elected, she would push for more funding for the city’s roads and work to address residents’ underlying fears about traffic and other impacts of multi-family development, she said.

“Infrastructure needs to be a dominant part of the conversation when there’s any talk about development and what it means for our area,” Duque said.

Morgan, 37, asked for written questions and said he wouldn’t have “a moment of time” for an interview. He’s a former Merrill Lynch financial advisor who now owns a small business “focusing on community revitalization,” according to the voter pamphlet. State records show he is the registered owner of Porch Light Homes, a construction and real estate business.

“I have brought my experience as a small business owner to provide simple real world solutions to solving the city’s larger issues,” he said in his statement.

He’s running on a platform of “fiscal responsibility” through “smart planning, controlled spending and innovative revenue solutions.”

Morgan also supports snow removal, resources for police and “smart zoning,” the pamphlet says.

“Uncontrolled growth leads to stress on city resources,” he wrote. “Growth must be made mindfully to all potential impacts upon Mill Creek.”

Benjamin Briles (left) and Connie Allison.

Benjamin Briles (left) and Connie Allison.

Position 3: Benjamin Briles vs. Connie Allison

Councilmember Benjamin Briles is running against Connie Allison to keep the seat he was appointed to last fall.

Briles was chosen by the council to fill the seat left empty by former Mayor Pam Pruitt’s abrupt retirement.

The 37-year-old Boeing engineer summed up his priorities in a few words: public safety, public works, and parks and recreation. Mill Creek needs to invest in an aging infrastructure, from street signs to stormwater drains, as growth continues inside and outside city borders, he said.

The City Council should also play a role in keeping housing prices attainable, Briles said. He and his wife bought their home eight years ago, but they wouldn’t be able to afford it in the current market, he added.

“I’ve talked with a number of people in the city who are concerned about where their kids are going to live,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way for people who are a part of our community now to remain a part of our community.”

He sees potential for new “mixed-use development,” combining commercial and residential spaces, along bus rapid transit routes through Mill Creek.

Community Transit’s Swift Green Line runs north-south, with stops along the Bothell Everett Highway and near Paine Field. The transit authority’s new Swift Orange Line is to open in 2024, connecting Mill Creek with Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link light rail extension, now under construction.

“We can do a lot of good by not being diametrically opposed to any more multi-family housing in Mill Creek,” Briles said. He lived in an apartment complex on Highway 527 before buying a home, he said.

Allison, a manager for Boeing Global Services, has taken a hard-line stance against more apartments.

She said the city has done enough to provide housing options for people with lower salaries. She cited the Farm, a large apartment complex approved by the city in 2019, with units reserved for lower- and middle-income residents.

“I don’t think that the city needs to do more to restrict the fair market of real estate,” she said.

However, Allison said, she could be open to rezoning for condos or townhomes on the stretch of 164th Street that will be next to the new Orange Line, she said.

The first-time candidate described herself as a “goal-oriented problem-solver.” She has learned how to manage people from various backgrounds at Boeing, where she oversees a team that supports development projects, she said.

If elected, she said, she would focus on making Mill Creek more “livable” by improving public safety, reducing traffic, maintaining sidewalks and making other positive differences in residents’ day-to-day lives.

“We’ve had a lot of growth,” she said. “And none of the infrastructure has changed.”

Stephanie Vignal (left) and Nicholas Swett.

Stephanie Vignal (left) and Nicholas Swett.

Position 2: Stephanie Vignal vs. Nicholas Swett

Nicholas Swett is trying to unseat Mayor Pro Tem Stephanie Vignal, who was appointed to the council in 2019 and then elected later that year to finish the final year of a four-year term.

Her goals remain the same, she said, including expanding parks and planning infrastructure projects to meet the demands of growth in the long term.

“Ultimately, I want to be on the council to protect our quality of life. I’m raising a 7-year-old,” said Vignal, 46.

Before she had her daughter, she worked in residential and commercial property management. She now represents the city on the Alliance for Housing Affordability, made up of members from local governments throughout the county.

She wants to collaborate with other local and state leaders to “increase housing stock” for what is known in the housing industry as “the missing middle” — the wide range of housing options between detached single-family houses and multi-story apartments.

“We’re going to have to work with the county as a whole to come up with answers and solutions,” she said. “This is not something that we can solve by ourselves in the city.”

Swett declined multiple requests from The Herald for an interview.

“Sorry. I don’t think that the media is trustworthy,” he said in an email to a reporter. “I know nothing about your paper. Thanks for asking.”

At 54, Swett is a first-time candidate. Before the pandemic, he was a mechanic at MacDonald Miller Facility Solutions, according to the county’s voter pamphlet. Now he works for the maintenance department at Inglewood Golf Club in Kenmore.

In a written statement for the pamphlet, Swett said the city should focus on “keeping our streets safe and clean, reducing costs at city hall and preserving the small town feel Mill Creek has to offer.”

Incumbent Councilmember John Steckler, who is running for Position 1, is unopposed.

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

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