EVERETT — A plan to build about 3,000 condos on a Puget Sound industrial site still falls far short of legal requirements, Snohomish County officials insisted last week as the proposal’s backers sought to defend a revised version of the years-old pitch.
If constructed as developer BSRE Point Wells now envisions, parts of the high-rise community would be too tall and too close to landslide hazard areas and single-family homes surrounding the site, south of Edmonds near Woodway, county planning supervisor Ryan Countryman argued during a hearing that started on Wednesday.
Instead of changing its plans to solve some of those problems, BSRE is asking for two variances that would give it special permission to disregard the provisions of county code the plan would violate.
“We’ve granted three extensions to the project where the applicant promised to redesign things. But the resubmittals were just modest tweaks to the initial set of plans,” Countryman told Snohomish County Hearing Examiner Peter Camp on Thursday. “We’re at an impasse. They’re asking for variances to get out of important code requirements. They haven’t shown that they meet the requirements to receive those variances.”
Dan Seng, the project’s lead architect, said designers concluded there was no way to satisfy legal requirements without asking for the variances.
The potential upsides of the project — including public beach access and an environmental cleanup — often get lost in discussions about the details of the development, he testified.
“I think in concept (and) the goals of the project are sound, and they benefit the community,” said Seng, of the Seattle-based firm Perkins+Will.
Even if the hearing examiner allows the project to advance, BSRE would still face a slew of hurdles before crews could break ground — including addressing critical questions related to the instability of nearby land and contamination at the development site, which is now a petroleum storage facility and asphalt production plant.
Final arguments in the case have been delayed. The Hearing Examiner’s Office had to schedule another virtual public meeting on Nov. 24 after a project opponent noticed that the developer had apparently failed to post near the site one of two legally required hearing notices.
BSRE, an acronym for Blue Square Real Estate, has for nearly a decade sought to build the condos over the objections of neighbors and government authorities. Some of the buildings would reach heights of 180 feet, or about 17 stories.
County staff recommended against the project’s approval in 2018, too. Then, the hearing examiner concluded that it could not be built as proposed, and the Snohomish County Council upheld the examiner’s decision on appeal.
Last summer, King County Superior Court Judge John McHale provided the developer additional time to seek approval for the project. The plan’s backers met a court-imposed deadline to resubmit paperwork by Dec. 18.
Under McHale’s decision, BSRE still must address the issues that the county hearing examiner identified.
BSRE has appealed the Superior Court decision.
The county’s chief engineering officer, Randy Sleight, has denied the developer permission to build in a landslide hazard zone.
On the steep terrain north of the development site, there’s curved tree trunks, cracks in a roadway and other evidence of instability, Sleight testified on Thursday.
BSRE’s plans don’t accurately depict the setbacks needed to provide a buffer between the new construction and the landslide zones, Sleight said.
He also cited other problems with the drainage designs, including a trench excavation that could put contractors at risk and a pumping plan that would disrupt natural groundwater flows.
“This is an unstable area folks. And it is not a trivial matter to introduce, by design and concept, things that are likely to fail,” Sleight said.
County officials suggested that BSRE might be able to obtain Sleight’s approval for part of the development, if drainage problems and other details are worked out. But a second phase of development — a proposed “urban plaza” to include homes, shops and restaurants on the northern side of the site — isn’t likely to get the green light unless it’s moved elsewhere.
BSRE has argued that there’s no other place within the development site to build the urban plaza.
John Bingham, a geotechnical engineer who works on the project, asserted that the county had misinterpreted some of the developer’s plans. The plans depicting drainage and landslide zones accurately reflect the site’s conditions, testified Bingham, who’s on the management team of Seattle-based consulting firm Hart Crowser.
A recent lawsuit raises questions about who will decontaminate the site. When BSRE purchased the land from Paramount of Washington for nearly $20 million in 2010, the former landowner pledged to clean up the land by June 1, 2020. But Paramount hasn’t made any progress on the cleanup, BSRE argued in a lawsuit it filed against the company in Snohomish County Superior Court in February.
Paramount contended in a subsequent legal briefing that BSRE hasn’t upheld its end of the companies’ deal because the development plans are still unapproved. According to Paramount, representatives of BSRE said at a meeting earlier this year that they “did not expect to ever receive approval” of those plans; instead, the developer was “actively marketing” the Point Wells property to “third parties for industrial or other non-residential use,” Paramount’s attorneys said in the legal filing.
Bill Krepick, a Woodway resident who has long objected to BSRE’s plan, asked on Wednesday for a moratorium on the development of the Point Wells site until the toxic wastes there have been removed.
“When there are so many open issues of noncompliant, unresolved solutions after nine years, it is ludicrous to allow this development charade to continue,” Krepick told the hearing examiner.
InSeptember,the hearingexaminerrejected a request from BSRE that the hearing be postponed because two key legal questions, related to the variance requests, are still under consideration in the Court of Appeals. At issue are county code provisions that require setbacks from tall buildings to lower-density residential development and that bar buildings higher than 90 feet unless there’s a “high capacity transit route or station” nearby.
During the first three days of the hearing, those testifying against the project repeatedly emphasized that BSRE has long been aware of the problems with the plan. County officials referenced countless discrepancies in technical drawings.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Countryman, the county planning supervisor, said when describing vast inconsistencies in calculations BSRE used to determine how much building can occur at the site.
The developer’s representatives argued that their conclusions, based on a standard code-mandated formula, were accurate. Those who devised the proposal simply had a different interpretation of what dimensions to include in those calculations, said Seng, the lead architect.
Seng also testified that the county permitting process “has not been painless or easy to understand.”
The hearing will continue on Thursday, when a few more representatives of BSRE are set to testify.
Before the hearing closes, the public will have a last chance to comment on the proposal at the additional public meeting, to be held at 10 a.m. on Nov. 24 via Zoom.
For details on how to join the meetings, visit snohomishcountywa.gov/189/Hearing-Examiner.
After the final public meeting, BSRE and the county Planning and Development Services department will each submit written final arguments to the hearing examiner. Camp has not yet scheduled a due date for those closing briefs.
His decision on whether to let the development advance will come later. The hearing examiner typically issues a decision within 15 days after the close of a hearing; however, in the case of more complex projects, that can take longer, according to Countryman.
Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; email@example.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.