Site preparation for housing development is underway at the property known as Frognal Estates. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)

Site preparation for housing development is underway at the property known as Frognal Estates. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)

Site prep underway at contested development near Mukilteo

The site near Picnic Point recently sold for $24 million after the previous developer filed for bankruptcy.

PICNIC POINT — Construction preparation has begun again at a controversial development site south of Mukilteo. And this time, it’s under the direction of a new developer.

Lennar Northwest paid $24 million for the roughly 22 acres known as Frognal Estates, just north of Picnic Point Elementary School.

The land has already been approved for 112 homes and cleared of trees, despite objections from neighbors, who have long argued the subdivision would create landslide risks on the steep and environmentally sensitive terrain.

Lennar is a national homebuilder with corporate headquarters in Florida and several local subdivisions, including Spring Ridge in Bothell and Glacier View in Snohomish.

The past developer, John Lakhani of Everett-based Integral Northwest, sold the property because of hangups in project financing. Lakhani’s Frognal Holdings filed for bankruptcy last summer.

The sale, which closed in April, breaks the record for the highest amount paid, per single-family lot, for undeveloped land with engineering approval for new homes in Snohomish County, according to Land Advisors Organization. Lennar paid about $214,000 per lot. The past record, about $179,000 per lot, was also set by Lennar when it purchased an engineered plat in Bothell for the Montevallo development, according to Scott Cameron, a founding partner of Land Advisors Organization’s Bellevue-based Washington division.

The agency listed the property in the fall and received multiple offers, Cameron said.

The high price reflects a shortage of developable land, not only in Snohomish County but also in many other parts of the state, he said.

“There’s not enough land in our market,” said Cameron, whose firm also sells land to builders in counties such as King, Pierce and Skagit. “It’s across the board. It’s definitely a trend that we’ve seen accelerate in 2021.”

Locally, home prices are soaring amid mounting demand for residential properties — particularly in small cities and suburbs, which appeal to longtime urban dwellers who are looking for a change of pace as telecommuting becomes more common.

Frognal Estates has been a source of controversy since the first permit applications were submitted under the name Horseman’s Trail in 2005.

Site preparation for housing development is underway at the property known as Frognal Estates. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)

Site preparation for housing development is underway at the property known as Frognal Estates. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)

The previous developer won a series of court battles to advance the plan and secured permits from the county to log and grade the site in 2018.

Later that year, neighbors tried to strategically park their cars to prevent crews from reaching the site to begin clearing trees. But they were forced to move by sheriff’s deputies, who told them the vehicles were illegally parked.

The county later issued another permit, allowing the development to move toward home construction.

The Sno-King Watershed Council, which has for years protested the construction of Frognal Estates, maintains that the subdivision would have negative impacts on the environment.

Bill Lider, a civil engineer who serves on the council’s board, contends the stormwater plans for the development are still inadequate. He recently raised more concerns with county planners, saying the developer plans to allow required “bioretention facilities” — meant to remove pollutants from runoff by filtering it through soil — to be used as recreational spaces, too.

Lider also argues that the grading likely won’t be completed by a July 1 deadline, so the new developer must re-apply for a stormwater permit because of updates to the county’s drainage manual.

County Planning and Development Services spokesman Jacob Lambert said it’s up to the developer to comply with county stormwater rules.

“It is the responsibility of the developer to ensure the stormwater site plan meets all county requirements, which could result in plan revisions being submitted to the county,” Lambert said in an email. “The county would review such revisions to verify compliance with current stormwater regulations.”

A county inspector recently observed rough grading, stump removal and material grinding at the site, Lambert said.

A spokesman for Lennar Northwest declined to comment on the status of the development.

Until recently, the plan’s backers still needed a key approval from a utility district that will serve the homes.

Alderwood Water and Wastewater District OK’d sewer system plans for the development about three weeks ago, said John McClellan, the district’s engineering and development director. The plans have not yet been released but will be once the developer pays an administrative fee, he said.

The district sought input from a geotechnical expert to assess the sewer plans, which require installing infrastructure on a steep slope, McClellan said. After the district provided some feedback on the developer’s initial proposal, the project team tweaked the designs based on those comments and submitted new versions that the district found acceptable, McClellan said.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; rriley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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