LYNNWOOD — It was a decision nearly 20 years in the making.
That’s how long city leaders have been working on a plan for Lynnwood’s new city center.
And on Monday night, the City Council voted 5-1 in favor of a 15-year development agreement for Northline Village, the project that would reshape Lynnwood Square with 1,370 housing units, seven-story office buildings, 170,000 square feet of retail space, and 4,700 parking spots — all within walking distance of the light rail station.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to create a true live, work, play environment adjacent to this transit investment,” said Jamas Gwilliam, vice president of Merlone Geier Partners, who’s heading the project.
Now, the 18-acre plot in the city’s center houses a Grocery Outlet, some restaurants and a defunct furniture store and Best Buy.
Merlone Geier Partners, which owns 35 properties in the Northwest, acquired the site for Northline Village in 2014.
Although there’s no timeline for construction, the agreement sets a framework for how the project will progress, Gwilliam said. Development will occur in phases so things like traffic, utilities and the housing market can keep up.
“If we could do all of this in five years or four years, believe me, we would love to,” Gwilliam said.
Northline Village is one of many projects hoping to benefit from incoming light rail, which is set to open in 2024.
If all goes to plan, the development will bring the city center an entirely new look, with mid-rise buildings and amenities like a dog park and festival street, partially designed by the architects behind University Village in Seattle.
One thing it may not have is low-income housing.
During public comment at Monday night’s meeting, residents worried about being priced out of their homes pleaded with the council to consider requiring low-income housing at the new development.
The majority of council members said they were against that mandate and instead want to provide incentives for developers to build affordable housing.
“I am sorry that we as a council can just give words as far as affordable housing,” said Councilman George Hurst, who cast the lone no vote. “We can sit here and try to sympathize with people but our actions speak louder than our words.”
The City Council is expected to draft an affordable housing plan by 2021. Council President Benjamin Goodwin said he met with the ad hoc housing committee last week and had a good discussion about what a plan may look like. Rules within that plan would not apply to Northline Village.
Gwilliam said the project’s housing isn’t just for millennials, but people like teachers, firefighters and other professionals in the “missing middle” who make between 70% and 120% of the county’s median household income, which is about $87,000.
Hurst also said he was concerned the development would take advantage of the city’s only opportunity zone, a federal designation that offers businesses and investors tax breaks for operating in low-income areas. Merlone Geier Partners would benefit from that distinction despite not providing housing for those low-income residents, he said.
But the company’s primary investments are from nonprofit endowments, Gwilliam said, meaning the tax incentives from opportunity zones wouldn’t apply. However, Merlone Geier Partners could sell pieces of the land to residential or commercial developers that would benefit from the tax breaks.
Hurst said even if Merlone Geier Partners doesn’t get those benefits, the site could be used by low-income housing developers that would.
The city’s opportunity zone extends well beyond the site and along Highway 99, said David Kleitsch, Lynnwood’s economic development director.
“This is a large development in a very large opportunity zone,” he said.
Additionally, the city’s forthcoming South Lynnwood plan will give city leaders other opportunities for low-income housing, Kleitsch said.
Residents were also questioned if the city’s infrastructure could handle the increased traffic Northline will bring.
City leaders pointed to a number of projects intended to alleviate congestion, including improvements at 196th Street, 200th Street and 44th Avenue.
Councilwoman Shirley Sutton was not present at Monday’s meeting.