WOODWAY — A developer seeking to build more than 3,000 condos at Point Wells has offered to pay for extra Snohomish County planning staff to expedite the project.
That has some neighbors worried about a potential conflict of interest. Their issue isn’t with Blue Square Real Estate’s offer to pay for three county staff positions as much as the wording in a draft contract.
“It needs to do all that it can to avoid the appearance of favoritism,” said Tom McCormick, a retired lawyer who lives nearby in Shoreline.
Point Wells is the largest residential development proposed in Snohomish County. It would occupy about 60 acres of unincorporated waterfront next to Woodway. The land currently has fuel tanks and an asphalt plant.
The project would take up to 20 years to complete and would include high-rise condo towers of up to 17 stories, shops and a public pier.
The main source of contention for neighbors has been limited access to the property through a two-lane road from Shoreline in King County. Both Shoreline and Woodway want to annex the area for future tax revenue and to have more control over the project’s impacts.
As for the staffing contract, some of the objections from McCormick and other neighbors center on language that would give Blue Square “first-priority right” to use the time and services of certain county employees. They also take issue with a clause in which the county would give assurances that Blue Square’s staffing payment would result in “the timely and efficient processing” of the project application.
“The county should never be saying it’s a time-sensitive matter,” McCormick said. “It should not matter to the county whether it’s processed quickly or not.”
The contract specifies a full-time planner, a half-time engineer and a half-time records specialist, employed up until the the end of 2015. No dollar amount is specified.
County Planning Director Clay White confirmed that his department was reviewing a draft.
Though White was unaware of any similar arrangements in Snohomish County, he said they were commonplace in other Washington jurisdictions.
Extra staff could speed planners’ review of Point Wells, while preventing the complicated project from holding up approval for smaller developments.
“It benefits all parties,” White said. “When it comes time to do to the review, we’ll have time to do it.”
A legal consultant for the nonprofit Municipal Research and Services Center in Seattle said that, on its face, there’s nothing concerning about the developer paying for staff costs.
“The employees aren’t answerable to the developer in any way,” Bob Meinig said. “The fact that the funds come from the developer doesn’t create any legal issue.”
Blue Square operates locally as BSRE Point Wells and is a subsidiary of Israeli holding company Alon Group. The company submitted a permit application for the development in 2011. A court battle over whether the project would have to adhere to stricter building rules, with lower density, ended in April after the state Supreme Court ruled in the developer’s favor.
Snohomish County planners aren’t likely to issue a draft environmental impact statement for the project until next year. A key component of that document will be a traffic study that Shoreline and Blue Square are working on jointly.
Point Wells: What to watch
Shoreline has filed an appeal in Superior Court opposing the Snohomish County Boundary Review Board’s unanimous ruling last month stopping the city from taking over sewer service at Point Wells. Taking over the sewer service there would strengthen any future attempt by Shoreline to annex the area. No court hearing has been scheduled.
County code requires Blue Square to have a second access road to Point Wells. The company plans to wait for the county to issue a draft environmental impact statement before deciding whether to seek a deviation from that requirement, attorney Gary Huff said. Woodway and the developer have not discussed the possibility of a second access road through the town, both sides confirmed.