Stanwood to tweak housing rules

By Brian Kelly

Herald Writer

STANWOOD — The city’s development rules are more flexible than a rubber Slinky, and town officials are now planning to tighten up the regulations to prevent abuse.

"What we’re finding is that developers have a way of getting around the current code," said Stephanie Cleveland, Stanwood’s community development director.

"The code allows a new (residential) development to come in under the standards that were in place when the surrounding area developed," she said.

The problem is the old rules that developers can choose to follow do not have the environmental protection provisions that are included in the rules the city adopted later. There are other problems, as well.

"It’s dangerous," Cleveland said, adding that the developer of a proposed triplex is using the loophole to avoid open space and storm-water requirements.

The existing rules that need reworking cover "in-fill" development: new projects that are built in established neighborhoods. The intent of the existing rules was good, planners say, because it allowed new homes to be built under old standards in the cases where following the new rules would negatively impact a neighborhood. It didn’t make sense to have new homes built 25 feet away from the property line when the existing homes only had 5-foot setbacks, for example.

But the city has discovered the existing rules are too flexible, and developers can basically pick and choose which new regulations they will follow.

"There are a couple things we really hate. The language is really broad," Cleveland said, and it covers all aspects of development, including rules on sidewalks, setbacks, parking, hillside standards and landscaping. The code also doesn’t allow the city’s planning director or other officials to make judgments on when the new or old rules should apply.

"It kind of leaves the door wide open," Cleveland said.

"We think some flexibility is OK, but not broad range, without meeting any criteria. It’s just too much," she said.

City staff has been working to change the development rules since March. Planners hope the city council will soon agree to repeal Stanwood’s standards for in-fill development and add a new section to the city code that will still allow new development in existing neighborhoods to be tweaked in design so it fits well with existing houses. The new section will give the planning director authority to allow changes to a project’s design if it fits with existing nearby buildings and doesn’t pose a threat to public health, safety or welfare.

The city council will consider an ordinance that would change the development code at its meeting on May 7. The rules are expected to receive final approval on May 21.

You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to

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