EVERETT — A stretch of tranquil, wooded land is at the heart of a tempest for neighbors.
A city proposal to declare 92.5 undeveloped acres as surplus, with the intent to sell it, has drawn opposition from residents in the adjacent Valley View neighborhood just east of I-5, which overlooks the Snohomish River valley. The property, a watershed named after Wood Creek, which runs through it, is two parcels, the smaller of which is not within the city.
Snohomish County records show the property’s value is more than $14.6 million, but because much of it would be unsuited for development, the city’s appraisal is $3 million.
Over the past two weeks, dozens of people have called and emailed city officials. An online petition started last Monday had 451 backers as of Sunday. Social media, including Facebook and NextDoor, have been hotbeds for organizing.
“If they sell this land, it is never, never coming back,” said Michael Wright, who has lived in Valley View for 27 years.
Mayor Cassie Franklin and the Everett City Council postponed a vote, originally set for last last week, until this Wednesday. City staffers were taking the extra time to “review and evaluate” residents’ concerns, Everett spokesperson Kimberley Cline said in an email.
Several people told the city council during last Wednesday’s meeting that they are concerned about environmental loss, unstable hilly terrain and traffic, should the land be sold and developed.
“I’m not a fanatic about nature,” Valley View resident Babby Skowyra said in an interview with The Daily Herald. “I love nature. I think we all need to because it’s going away. We fear looking like tree huggers, but if we don’t we’re not going to have any.”
Wood Creek used to serve as the city’s water supply in the early 1900s. The property was privately owned back then. Everett acquired it many years later. When Everett bought Lake Chaplain near Sultan and built a pipeline to the city, the old water system became obsolete.
Everett’s utility department has owned the Wood Creek property since then.
“It’s had no use,” said Paul McKee, who works for Everett’s Real Property division.
Some city leaders see the sale as good use of a public holding. If sold, parts of it could become single-family housing under current city and county zoning.
During Wednesday’s meeting, City Councilmember Brenda Stonecipher asked staff to consider selling only chunks of the parcels.
Rising housing costs have made home ownership increasingly prohibitive in the county. One solution: Build more. Allowing the unused space to be developed into housing could alleviate some of the strain.
But developing that property wouldn’t do any good if further erosion destroys those new homes, Skowyra said.
“Any development is going to destabilize that ravine,” she said. “What about the longevity of those structures?”
In 2011, five homes on Burl Place and Panaview Boulevard began to slide or slump due to erosion. Residents sued the city in 2013 for property damage, clean-up and restoration costs, emotional distress and legal costs but did not specify a dollar amount. Everett leaders denied they were to blame for the slide.
The clearing of vegetation and poor drainage practices can trigger landslides, an expert from the state Department of Natural Resources told the City in 2014. A map of landslide hazards in Everett from 2006 shows the area as having medium, high and very-high slopes.
Skowyra led the petition and has knocked on neighbors’ doors since learning about the potential sale.
In 2014, she moved from Edmonds to Valley View’s remote cluster of single-family homes, tucked away east of I-5, west of Larimer Road and south of Lowell.
This is her first time getting active in local government, which she felt compelled to do after her neighbor told her to see the laminated notice attached to a chain-link fence at the end the street.
As part of Everett’s Rethink Zoning process of evaluating future housing need, the Valley View area and the nearby Wood Creek parcels are to remain zoned for single-family residences.
The city council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the surplus property declaration at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.