New building limits for rural Snohomish County

EVERETT — Future suburban-style developments in rural areas will be a little harder to see and a bit less dense as a result of new rules that the Snohomish County Council passed Wednesday.

Councilmen hailed the changes to “rural cluster” subdivisions as a fair compromise.

“I still have some issues with it,” said Councilman John Koster, whose district includes largely rural northern stretches of the county. “It’s a darn sight better than seeing rural clusters go away.”

The County Council is trying to balance the rights of property owners with preservation of rural land. The new rules were approved by a 4-0 vote. Councilman Brian Sullivan was not able to attend for personal reasons.

Rural cluster housing developments have been allowed here since the 1990s, but as more started to be built in the past few years, they became more controversial.

Environmentalists decried the loss of open space and farmland. Farmers and other property owners objected to the loss of their property rights.

“Ultimately, I think the County Council landed in exactly the right place on this issue,” said Mike Pattison, government affairs manager with the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

Barbara Judd isn’t happy.

“I’m disappointed that they didn’t do anything for wetlands protection. That was my main concern,” said Judd, who became involved in the issue after learning that a rural cluster subdivision was going in next door to her house outside Snohomish.

Maxine Tuerk, of Snohomish People Opposed to Rural Cluster Housing, said she wished the county would have required larger separations between the developments and forested areas.

The new rules did increase protections, said Council Chairman Mike Cooper. “The existing code actually gave more to developers,” he said.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3494 or

Rules for clusters

Some of the changes for developments known as “rural cluster” subdivisions include:

Limiting land available for such developments to areas of at least seven acres.

Decreasing the number of lots allowed in a cluster to 13 from 30.

Requiring more green space between the developments and other areas.

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