Phyllis Hopkins, left, and Debbie Wetzel at the site of the Cathcart Crossing project on Sept. 22, in Cathcart. Hopkins is one of 13 neighbors who was left out of the loop about a public hearing and comment period for the proposed development, an appeal alleges. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Phyllis Hopkins, left, and Debbie Wetzel at the site of the Cathcart Crossing project on Sept. 22, in Cathcart. Hopkins is one of 13 neighbors who was left out of the loop about a public hearing and comment period for the proposed development, an appeal alleges. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Neighbors appeal 286 townhomes off Highway 9 in Cathcart

Residents are protesting what they say is a lack of transparency. The Snohomish County Council will hear their appeal Oct. 5.

CATHCART — Approval of a 286-townhome development has sparked an appeal from Cathcart-area residents.

The project, called Cathcart Crossing, is at Highway 9 and Cathcart Way, about 5 miles south of Snohomish. Pacific Ridge-DRH LLC has proposed 286 townhomes plus a fast-food restaurant and a mini-storage warehouse.

The county hearing examiner gave the development a green light on July 7, following a public hearing on June 14. Now, some neighbors are appealing the decision.

The appeal, filed on Aug. 22, alleges the county failed to notify 13 neighbors about a comment period and hearing. The appeal also claims there was also an undisclosed real estate deal between Snohomish County and Pacific Ridge-DRH. Those are just two of six points in the 47-page appeal paperwork.

The Snohomish County Council will hear the appeal at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 5.

Debbie Wetzel, a Cathcart-area resident, filed the appeal with Woodinville resident Katrina Stewart.

“My frustration was they really should notify the people who live there,” said Wetzel, a retired paralegal. “They should err on the side of caution, and make sure the public has an opportunity to speak.”

County spokesperson Kent Patton declined to comment on the appeal.

Cathcart Crossing is not the only development planned for the area.

Pacific Ridge-DRH has proposed a much larger project on county-owned land to the west. The 12-phase project would bring “1,263 new housing units … a mix of apartments, townhouses, single family residences and 165,600 square feet of commercial space,” on 145 acres, according to permit documents. That project still needs preliminary site plan approval.

The County Council approved the sale of the surplus 145 acres to Pacific Ridge-DRH for $40.3 million in 2021. The company is owned by billionaire homebuilder Donald R. Horton.

Wetzel, 61, often takes her dogs to a nearby dog park off Cathcart Way. She first learned of plans for Cathcart Crossing last fall when she noticed a proposed land use action sign nearby.

“I ran over and looked at it and said, ‘This doesn’t look like the right place for that,’” she said, describing the neighborhood as “a rural, quiet community.”

Cathcart Crossing project site along Highway 9 on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 in Cathcart, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Cathcart Crossing project site along Highway 9 on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 in Cathcart, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Wetzel said she grew up in the Alderwood Manor area east of Lynnwood and watched it turn from rural into suburbs. She worries the same will happen to the Cathcart area.

The 31-acre property where the townhomes are proposed is known as Cathcart South. It’s a piece of vacant land Snohomish County had been wanting to sell for years.

The land is part of about 600 acres the county bought in 1986 for a regional landfill. The dump closed in 1992 after reaching capacity. In 2005, the Snohomish School District purchased 63 acres of the old landfill site, opening Glacier Peak High School and Little Cedars Elementary School. Another chunk was turned into the 84-acre Willis D. Tucker Community Park.

The county wanted to sell Cathcart South to be turned into apartments and businesses, with easy access to transit. It’s zoned Planned Community Business. The site is adjacent to property the county bought in 2015 for a future park-and-ride lot.

Neighbors were invited to learn of a possible property sale and development at an open house in October 2017. In 2018, the County Council declared the land surplus and moved to sell it, later publishing a notice seeking buyers.

In 2020, Pacific Ridge-DRH agreed to buy the 31-acre property. An original purchase price of $10 million was lowered to $8.5 million on the condition the company construct a park-and-ride at the county’s adjacent property, according to purchase and sale agreements obtained by The Daily Herald.

The pending real estate deal came as a surprise to Wetzel, who said she only learned about it at the June 14 hearing on Cathcart Crossing. A 52-page staff report on the project makes no mention of it.

Wetzel later discovered, through a public records request, the county had been talking with Pacific Ridge-DRH as early as 2017. Emails forwarded to The Herald confirm the conversation. Wetzel said the lack of transparency has been frustrating.

“It’s very pro-developer and anti-public,” she said. “What about us? What about the people who live here?”

The hearing examiner, she said, should have considered the traffic and environmental impacts of the townhomes and park-and-ride projects together, linked through the sales agreement.

“Land-use review was inadequate and incomplete,” the appeal claims.

The Cathcart South sale was completed on July 13, one week after the hearing examiner’s decision.

The appeal also alleges 13 neighbors were left out of the loop about a comment period in May and the hearing in June.

In July 2021, the group “Concerned Citizens of Clearview” sent a letter to the county about Cathcart Crossing, describing concerns about “uncontained urban sprawl” and improper notification about the project. Fourteen signed the letter with their addresses and phone numbers, requesting to receive project updates. In 2022, only one received notice of the upcoming hearing and comment and appeal period for an environmental review, the appeal states.

“That really bothered me that they were not being forthcoming to the public,” Wetzel said.

A third part of the appeal concerns appearance of fairness, and whether the hearing examiner should recuse himself from review of a project involving sale of county property.

A fourth point alleges the staff report was not made public before the hearing. The council dismissed the appeal’s fifth and six points because they are outside the scope of its jurisdiction.

Plans for a 286-townhome development, fast food restaurant and mini-store restaurant at Highway 9 and Cathcart Way. (Snohomish County Planning & Development Services)

Plans for a 286-townhome development, fast food restaurant and mini-store restaurant at Highway 9 and Cathcart Way. (Snohomish County Planning & Development Services)

Wetzel said she has other concerns not addressed in the appeal. She said neighbors were under the impression there would be an “urban village” at Cathcart South, citing language in the county’s comprehensive plan. She envisioned a sit-down restaurant, shops and senior housing.

She said Cathcart Crossing plans, with 286 townhomes, a fast-food joint, and mini-storage facility, are a letdown.

Even as the outcome of the appeal is not yet known, plans are progressing for the park-and-ride, with a hearing set for Oct. 20.

The park-and-ride will be served by Community Transit. The agency’s long-range plan, adopted in 2011, mentions the need for such a facility in the Cathcart area. Roland Behee, director of planning and development for Community Transit, said the project will expand transit access and future connections with Link light rail as the region grows.

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jacq_allison.

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