Skyscrapers along the shore

WOODWAY — The Point Wells industrial site on Puget Sound could one day host some of the tallest buildings in Snohomish County if the landowner’s plans for a dense, mixed-use community are realized.

The first good look at what developer BSRE Point Wells has in mind for the 61-acre proper

ty came during a public meeting Thursday night in Shoreline. A team of high-profile architects and traffic experts explained initial ideas for a project that would take 20 years to build and draw $1 billion in investment.

The plans include nearly 20 buildings of 10 floors or more, with some reaching 16 to 18 stories. Topping out at 180 feet, the tallest building would be only slightly shorter than Everett’s Key Bank Tower or Providence Regional Medical Center Everett’s new medical tower.

Among the presenters Thursday was a landscape architect who helped design the Sept. 11 victims’ memorial in Lower Manhattan. Peter Walker, founder of Berkeley, Calif.’s PWP Landscape Architecture, described a replanted forest dotting a landscape currently dominated by hulking metal fuel tanks and an asphalt plant.

The proposal for nearly 3,100 housing units, a waterfront plaza and a landscaped public pier would complement existing neighborhoods, not dwarf them, Walker said.

“It adds to the larger community,” he said. “We’re offering a lot of amenities that these communities don’t offer.”

Walker is part of the design team led by Peter Busby from the Vancouver, B.C., office of architecture firm Perkins+Will.

Thursday’s meeting was required before the developer can turn in a project application to Snohomish County. That could happen after Feb. 27.

Many neighbors in Woodway and in Shoreline’s Richmond Beach neighborhood want to see the century-old industrial site redeveloped. But there’s obvious alarm at what’s on the drawing board.

“We’re talking way over the top — we’re not in downtown Seattle here,” said Caycee Holt, a core member of the Save Richmond Beach community group. “We’re in the suburbs. Who knew?”

For Fred and Lorraine Ewing, retirees in their 70s who live in Richmond Beach, there are too many unknowns about the project.

“Our infrastructure isn’t able to support that,” Lorraine Ewing said.

For her husband, the wrinkle is that Snohomish County would get all the tax benefits of the project, while King County would cope with the impacts.

John Dewhirst, a retired Snohomish County planner living in Edmonds, wondered how all those high rises right on Puget Sound would be received by the wider community. While impressed with some of the features, he thought the project, as presented, might have a hard time getting approved.

“It sounds really good until you put it in 3-D,” Dewhirst said.

A particular hurdle is that two-lane Richmond Beach Drive is the only way to get to Point Wells. Furthermore, it goes through the city of Shoreline, in King County.
Officials in that city worry about their taxpayers being compensated for impacts the development would have on its infrastructure.

The county’s zoning for Point Wells would allow up to 3,500 housing units.
The county’s approval process is likely to take years.

On Thursday, BSRE Point Wells representatives said they wanted to build 3,081 condos and townhouses — about 12 percent below the maximum under the county rules.

Clusters of buildings would rise up from the Puget Sound shoreline, varying in height from two to 18 stories. Most would stand somewhere in between.
A smattering of shops and restaurants would cater to an estimated 4,500 people living inside the development — a total of about 100,000 square feet of commercial space.

All parking inside the development would be underground, with street-level lanes designed to slow cars to minimal speeds.

Ecologically sensitive features would abound: green roofs, pedestrian-dominated streets and on-site facilities to treat sewage and generate power from organic materials. An underground stream would be restored above ground, with an aqueduct carrying it over railroad tracks that cross the property from north to south.
Point Wells, once built out by 2030 or so, would create 8,000-10,000 vehicle trips through Richmond Beach Drive per day, Busby said. The architect believes that with left-hand-turn lanes and safety improvements, Richmond Beach Drive can handle that.

Right now, the road handles about 500 cars daily.

Last week, the city of Shoreline’s planning commission recommended restricting traffic on Richmond Beach Drive to 4,000 daily trips — less than half of the minimum needed under the proposal. The Shoreline City Council could vote on the recommendation at a Feb. 14 meeting.

State lawmakers also have been looking at ways to restrict Point Wells to the same densities as in Woodway and Richmond Beach, both areas of mostly affluent, single-family homeowners.

There’s also a legal challenge to overturn Snohomish County’s dense, mixed-use zoning for the site being mounted by Woodway, Shoreline and Save Richmond Beach. The state’s Growth Management Hearings Board is scheduled to take up the issue on March 2.

Developer BSRE Point Wells is part of Blue Square Real Estate Ltd. and the Israeli holding company Alon Group. BSRE is willing to spend years and $20 million to $30 million to clean up contamination left by a century of industrial use at Point Wells.

The landowners have brought deep pockets and top-level experts to the project.
Busby has won acclaim for a project at a former industrial site in Victoria, B.C., called Dockside Green.

The project at Point Wells would be comparable, he said, but about three times as big. Busby also designed the new Husky Union Building, aka “the HUB,” under construction at the University of Washington in Seattle. He also designed a high-rise neighborhood south of downtown Portland. Ore., on the Willamette River, which is much denser than what’s being proposed at Point Wells.

Walker’s landscape architecture firm helped design the new Federal Courthouse in Seattle as well as projects in Europe and Australia.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,

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