Songaia resident Brian Bansenauer looks up at a Western red-cedar tree growing near the property line separating the cohousing community from the new Crestmont Place 25-lot development in Bothell on Thursday, June 1. Bansenauer and others from the Songaia community worked with developers to help save the tree pictured as well as many others in the area. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Songaia resident Brian Bansenauer looks up at a Western red-cedar tree growing near the property line separating the cohousing community from the new Crestmont Place 25-lot development in Bothell on Thursday, June 1. Bansenauer and others from the Songaia community worked with developers to help save the tree pictured as well as many others in the area. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Sustainable Bothell community compromises with developers

BOTHELL — At Songaia, they pride themselves on living lightly on the land. So when a national homebuilder prepared last year to raze the woods on either side to make way for housing developments, a sense of dread rippled through their community of ecological ideals.

At first, they resisted. Before any foundations got poured, however, they decided to change their tune. Songaia residents are now striving for harmony with the more traditional suburbs taking shape next door.

“Overall, what has happened to Songaia has been pretty traumatic,” said resident Scott “Scotty” Buckley. “We have watched all these trees being ripped up. We have watched all this development that wasn’t sustainable and wasn’t in line with our values. That said, this is a story about adaptation. This is our attempt at positive adaptation and change.”

They’ve worked with the developer to save a few dozen trees and plan a landscaped buffer of edible plants, which they’re calling a “food forest.” They struck an agreement to give their members first crack at buying some of the new homes, before they hit the open market. They believe they have lined up at least three sets of buyers and would like to attract more.

What they have accomplished, Buckley and others say, could instruct other neighborhoods as they come to grips with the area’s rapid growth.

The name Songaia means “Song of the Earth.” About 50 residents live in 15 homes arranged around a commons. They tend a collective garden and consume the harvest at shared mealtimes.

Founding members bought the land in the 1980s. Most of the houses got built in 2000. Today, their way of life is a model within the cohousing movement, where people set out to build communities of like-minded neighbors. They’ve also grown into a teaching center for permaculture, a type of farming that strives to be self-sustaining.

After years of rural tranquility, rumblings of development began to approach the area beyond Bothell city limits.

As the regional economy roared, the appetite for housing grew. Along 39th Avenue SE, rural lots gave way to neighborhoods with names like Oakmont, Bellemont and Claremont.

Songaia, too, would get new neighbors: Crestmont Place.

Pacific Ridge Homes of Bothell planned to build the neighborhood of 25 homes on 4-plus acres on along Songaia’s northern border. Along the southern border, they planned Parkview Ridge, a 54-home development on 9.5 acres. The asking price for the least expensive homes is expected to start at just under $700,000.

Pacific Ridge was acquired by national homebuilder D.R. Horton in 2015.

Songaia lost a series of county land-use appeals last year, before reaching a settlement.

“Pacific Ridge was pleased to work with the Songaia community to address their concerns — including the installation of our first ever ‘food forest,’” said Marissa Awtry, a D.R. Horton spokeswoman. “We look forward to having Songaia as neighbors to our Crestmont Place and Parkview Ridge communities.”

From afar, Songaia now stands out as a patch of trees surrounded by construction sites and newly minted suburbs. Across a landscape of terraced dirt and fresh lots, a red house with solar panels peaks through a gap in the trees. A 30-foot-tall retaining wall at Parkview Ridge rises fortress-like near a yurt and an electric car charging station on Songaia property.

“That wall is something else,” said Nancy Lanphear, one of the community’s founding members. “This is just unreal.”

Along the other property line, Brian Bansenauer, president of Songaia’s condo association, stood next to a western red cedar they had worked with the developer to save.

“The crazy thing is that they would have cut it down, scraped off the topsoil, brought in new topsoil and, most likely, planted a sapling western red cedar,” Bansenauer said.

He looked forward to how the food forest might foster relations between Songaia and Crestmont Place.

“You have plums and figs and berries that people are going to be picking on the buffer,” Bansenauer said. “We see it as a real way to start conversations with those neighbors.”

Patrick Paul, an architect who lives in Songaia, predicted that families moving into the new homes would be drawn to their greenery.

“We’ve got goats and fruit trees and woods,” he said.

Buckley chimed in: “And we have open space … They don’t get that, they get a video-game room in each house.”

Since forging the agreement last year, interactions with the developer have been good.

“They’ve really gone the extra mile to do everything they said they would do,” Paul said.

Songaia offers up its experience to other existing neighborhoods where people worry about development: It helps to have a united voice and to strike up early conversations with the builder. Once residential zoning is in place, preventing development outright might be an unrealistic goal.

“They try to stop it at all costs, which is usually not going to happen,” Bansenauer said. “It’s how you integrate with the new development — that’s the important piece.”

To learn more about Songaia, go to:

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
County Council delays vote on requiring businesses to take cash

Concerns over information and enforcement postponed the council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance Wednesday in Snohomish County.

A girl walks her dog along a path lined with dandelions at Willis D. Tucker Community Park on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Spraying in Willis Tucker Park resurfaces debate over herbicides

Park staff treated about 11,000 square feet with glyphosate and 2,4-D. When applied correctly, staff said they aren’t harmful.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

Most Read