EVERETT — A developer is once again arguing that the Snohomish County Hearing Examiner erred when he rejected a high-rise condominium project that for years has been a source of controversy.
Late Friday afternoon, developer BSRE Point Wells asked the County Council to reverse the recent decision, saying the planning department recommended against the proposal without giving the project team “any meaningful chance to respond to any questions or concerns noted by the County.”
BSRE’s written appeal, more than 100 pages long, is the latest action in the developer’s decade-long push to build homes on an industrial site between Puget Sound and a steep hillside near Woodway — despite concerns that neighbors and government authorities have repeatedly raised about landslides, traffic and other issues.
In its latest iteration of plans, the developer envisions about 2,800 units with shops, restaurants and public beach access. Some of the buildings proposed would reach heights of 180 feet, or about 17 stories, according to paperwork submitted by BSRE, an acronym for Blue Square Real Estate.
The County Council is scheduled to hear the appeal at 1:30 p.m. on March 31.
Last month, Hearing Examiner Peter Camp gave county planning officials permission to deny the proposal “because of substantial conflicts with county code,” including buildings that would be too tall and too close to landslide hazard areas.
Staff at the county Planning and Development Services department say the project’s backers have had many chances to correct the problems with the land use application, the first version of which was filed in 2011.
Camp denied one iteration of the project in 2018, and BSRE appealed that rejection, too.
When the County Council upheld the hearing examiner’s 2018 decision, BSRE asked King County Superior Court to review the denial.
King County Superior Court Judge John McHale gave the developer additional time to seek approval for the project.
But instead of revising designs to comply with county code, developer BSRE Point Wells sought exceptions to the rules it would break when submitting its latest round of plans in December 2019, county planning staff testified during a days-long hearing before Camp last fall.
In the hearing examiner’s latest ruling, he agreed the developer failed to prove that special circumstances qualified the plan for those exceptions.
BSRE now contends that county planning officials “took every opportunity to attempt to prevent BSRE from succeeding” in obtaining approval for the most recent version of the plans.
Attorneys for the developer also argued in their Friday appeal that the county should have extended the deadline for the latest round of designs because a state court had not yet ruled on another appeal the developer filed, regarding two county code provisions in question.
That ruling, on BSRE’s appeal of the King County Superior Court Decision, came last week.
The state Court of Appeals concluded on Feb. 8 that the case “is not ripe for review” because “there is no final judgment” on the development proposal for the court to address.
The court provided no further clarification on the main two code provisions county officials have said that the plan would violate.
One rule requires setbacks between tall buildings and lower-density residential development.
The other rule bars buildings higher than 90 feet unless there’s a “high capacity transit route or station” nearby.
The county’s chief engineering officer has also denied the developer’s request for a “deviation,” or special consent, to build in those otherwise-prohibited hazard areas.
Ryan Countryman, a supervisor for the planning department, disputed BSRE’s allegation that planning officials acted in bad faith while reviewing the proposal.
BSRE has “spent years arguing against needing to make any changes to the plans,” Countryman told The Daily Herald on Tuesday. “The material that they’ve provided us has a lot of obvious internal inconsistencies and conflicts between their own documents that a project manager on their end should have caught and addressed. It’s not the county’s role to perform quality control for the applicants.”
If the County Council upholds the most recent rejection of the project, BSRE may again choose the court system as a last resort for a favorable decision.