LYNNWOOD — One thing is certain: The current Whispering Pines apartment complex in Lynnwood will be torn down by 2022.
Whether it will be replaced or not, and what that would look like, is another matter.
That’s up to the Lynnwood City Council. A zoning amendment being considered would allow the Housing Authority of Snohomish County to rebuild the apartments, on 52nd Avenue West near Highway 99, bigger than ever.
Whispering Pines is a mixed-income complex that accepts Section 8 low-income housing vouchers. It’s home to 240 units, spread out among a collection of two-story buildings.
The housing authority’s proposal, which is also recommended by the city’s planning department, suggests rezoning the western 7 acres into high density. That technically would lift a limit on how tall the structures could be. The remaining 40 percent would stay medium density, only allowing for up to three stories.
With the rezone, the housing authority is considering up to 400 units, though that’s not final.
A public hearing was held earlier this week, but council members chose to hold off on a vote. The issue will be picked up again at the next meeting, on March 25.
Keeping the current structure isn’t an option, housing authority executive director Duane Leonard said. The nearly 60-year-old complex is dilapidated. The sewer system is in a constant state of collapse and the fire alarm system recently failed and doesn’t comply with code. A fire marshal accepted a temporary fix, but said the whole system will have to be replaced by 2022. If it’s not, no one will be allowed to live there.
Rebuilding without a zoning amendment would be questionable, Leonard said. The current zoning would only allow for 219 units. Leonard wasn’t sure if it made sense to develop the whole site only to have fewer people living there. If the council denies the housing authority’s proposal, he said, it would be back to the drawing board.
Selling, at the moment, isn’t an option.
“We haven’t even entertained the thought,” Leonard said at Monday’s meeting.
Council members were asked to rezone Whispering Pines last year. Back then, the housing authority suggested upzoning everything, but that was met with objections from neighbors to the east, who live in single-family homes. The current amendment is an attempt at compromise.
During a public hearing in May, speakers raised concerns about building height, street parking, traffic and other disturbances.
City councilmembers also questioned what the redevelopment would look like. Leonard offered few answers ahead of Monday’s meeting.
“That’s really putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “We can’t really start spending a bunch of money on architects and design before we know what the zoning is going to be.”
At council meetings held last summer, housing authority representatives said the buildings would be no taller than six stories, due to the cost of concrete and steel needed for taller buildings. They also talked about including more open space, amenities and better access for people with disabilities.
Leonard said the goal isn’t to see “how many units we can cram onto the space.”
Current residents will be displaced during the rebuild. Leonard hopes giving them 3½ years notice will allow them time to plan. Otherwise, the housing authority will do what it can to connect people with other options for low-income housing, he said. Residents who stay until the end may get their deposits back, no questions asked.
“It’s going to create a certain level of anxiety no matter what,” he said. “At least they have time to process it.”