Neighbors from the Maltby area react with frustration and disbelief at the prospect of a 360-unit apartment complex proposed on rural Paradise Lake Road. The Dec. 14 meeting at the Brightwater Center was arranged by The Wolff Co., which is seeking permits from Snohomish County to build the project. (Noah Haglund / The Herald)

Neighbors wary of proposed high-density development in Maltby

MALTBY — Anxious neighbors packed the meeting room and pelted the hosts with concerns about the high-density apartment complex proposed next to their rural community.

Representatives from The Wolff Co., the developer, appeared shocked at the large turnout.

They had scheduled a presentation on Wednesday night to discuss the 360-unit complex they hope to build on Paradise Lake Road, just east of Highway 522. With traffic already choked at peak times, locals wondered how the multifamily development on former farmland might complicate their lives.

“You have no idea what traffic is like around here. It’s crazy. You need to spend some time on Paradise Lake Road,” said Karla Bullatt, who has lived nearby for more than 20 years.

Turning to the audience of 150 or more at the Brightwater Center, Bullatt said, “All of you know this.” A chorus of yeses followed.

If the apartment complex gets built here it’s likely to stick out. There are no other apartments in the area, which is characterized by homes on 5-acre lots. As neighbors pointed out, there are no bus stops, no grocery stores or much of anything else in the way of amenities. There are only a couple of gas stations, a couple of churches and a couple of schools, where traffic already is blamed for chronic tardiness.

The project would replace that landscape with 16 buildings on nearly 17 acres. The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments would rent for market rates. An old farmhouse and other buildings on the property now are slated for demolition.

Greg Van Patten, a Wolff Co. employee who oversees development in the greater Seattle region, tried to field the questions as they piled up.

“The last thing in the world we want is to create a community that is so inconvenient that nobody wants to live there,” Van Patten said. “We never want to create a project that our neighbors hate.”

Much of the crowd met that statement, and others, with mocking laughter.

Wolff, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, does billions of dollars in business and specializes in multifamily developments. It is pursuing the Maltby project under the name Snohomish Garden Development Co. It paid $12 million in October for the three parcels that make up the site, tax documents show.

The developer submitted an application to Snohomish County in November. Planners are reviewing the project. Their decision can be appealed.

The consultants who discussed the project on Wednesday included Clay White, a former Snohomish County planning director now working at a private firm.

Guy Palumbo, a newly elected Democratic state senator for the 1st Legislative District, knows the proposed apartment site well; he lives about a half mile away.

“It doesn’t make any sense from a smart-growth or a planning standpoint,” he said.

Palumbo focused on improving Highway 522 during the recent campaign. Paradise Road, he noted, is a rural county arterial carrying urban levels of traffic. It’s failing where it meets with Highway 522.

State and local officials are trying to gain traction on long-awaited improvements for the intersection. Some of the people at the table are County Councilman Sam Low, Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas and Monroe schools officials.

The state Department of Transportation earlier this year drew up new plans for a potential fix on both sides of Highway 522: Paradise Lake Road to the east and Maltby Road to the west. At an estimated cost of more than $50 million, that concept would eliminate the traffic signal on Highway 522 in favor of a bridge connected to a raised roundabout.

There’s no funding, aside from $10 million that wouldn’t start to be available until 2025.

“That money is out there —it’s far out— and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the entire project cost,” Palumbo said.

State transportation officials also are looking to widen Highway 522 between Paradise Lake Road and the bridge over the Snohomish River. That would cost an estimated $76 million and create four continuous lanes from Highway 9 to U.S. 2, without any bottlenecks.

“The stakeholders have unanimously said they view the overall widening as a higher priority than the interchange at Paradise Lake Road,” said John White, a WSDOT assistant regional administrator for Snohomish and King Counties.

That leaves neighbors in Maltby fretting about congested roadways — and the chance that new developments will make things worse.

The apartment site sits at the edge of Maltby’s urban growth area. It used to have the same zoning as the houses to the east, where land-use rules typically allow just one home per five acres. The County Council in 2005 approved an up-zone at the request of the former property owners to designate the land as “planned community business.” That classification allows for multifamily housing as well as a variety of smaller businesses.

Jeff Lupp, who also has lived in the area more than two decades, called the apartment proposal “totally inappropriate.”

“We understand there is going to be growth and development,” Lupp said. “This is so out of line with the area.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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