By WARREN CORNWALL and JANICE PODSADA
MUKILTEO — Paine Field, the county’s hub for air traffic, has flown into turbulent skies with plans to play host to a shopping mall along its western border.
The proposed 12-acre project, anchored by a large grocery store, is being touted as a way for the county-owned airport to finance operations while offering people a neighborhood-friendly development.
But some Mukilteo residents see it as yet another shopping center along a congested highway lined with similar projects, this time endorsed by county government.
They have lobbied to block the development, and they take their campaign to the Snohomish County Council Wednesday, as the council considers whether to approve an option for a lease needed for the project to move forward.
"You could make a shopping center that’s 500 percent better than what we’ve got. It’s still no good. We still don’t need it," said Dr. Scott Casselman, a physician and Mukilteo resident helping to lead a citizens group called Citizens Active for Mukilteo’s Preservation.
The disputed land is a small forest of alders and conifers sandwiched between Highway 525, also known as the Mukilteo Speedway, and the airport’s runway.
Tentative plans call for a 63,000-square-foot grocery store, a parking lot and smaller buildings housing a bank, restaurant, coffee shop, and gas station on approximately 12 acres. The proposed lease would enable the developers, Seattle-based TRF Pacific, Inc., to build on as much as 80 acres in the area.
The initial project could bring as much as $275,000 per year into airport coffers, money that would help pay for projects such as pavement maintenance and replacement of the airport’s aging fire engines, Paine Field director David Waggoner said.
The commercial development would be among the most lucrative and most community-friendly options available to the airport, Waggoner said. The area is zoned for light industrial businesses and could have recruited warehouses or other manufacturers to the site that would be less attractive, he said.
The airport and the developers have tried to meet local concerns by promising to have a minimum 40-foot buffer and an average 60-foot space between the road and the development, rather than the usual 25-foot requirements, Waggoner said.
"There will be no section of speedway that is developed to this standard," he said.
That doesn’t persuade Casselman, who said he would rather see the county leave one of the last uninterrupted strips of forest along the highway, or create at least a 150-foot buffer of trees.
He questioned the need for a shopping center when there is one less than a mile south of it on Highway 525 and three others nearby on that highway or Highway 99.
"That project is something we don’t need," he said.
Rick Parks, vice-president of leasing at TRF Pacific, said his firm will try to build a development that satisfies residents’ wishes.
"We are particularly sensitive to how the property is going to be set back from the street and how the trees are going to be incorporated," he said.
Mukilteo officials are leery of the development but fear if it’s not a mall, they could be left vulnerable to expanded air traffic at the airport.
"There’s been a lack of definition as to what they want to construct there," Mukilteo Mayor Don Doran said.
City officials aren’t interested in acquiring veto power over the project, Doran said, but they are asking to be better apprised of what the impact would be on the community.
"What we’re looking for is to be treated as adjacent property owners who are going to feel the significant impacts from this project."
Because the grocery store would be located on county property, Mukilteo won’t be collecting needed business tax revenues.
The problem with that scenario is that when it comes to delivering needed services, the city will be tapped, Doran said.
"Where are the police officers, EMS going to come from? We suspect we’re going to be the logical providers of these types of these services," Doran said.
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