EVERETT — To hear Snohomish County planners tell it, the developer trying to build thousands of condos along Puget Sound next to Woodway wants its project approved without showing how it meets relevant land-use requirements.
County permitting supervisor Ryan Countryman urged the hearing examiner to turn down the proposal. Countryman said he’s been frustrated by a lack of information from BSRE Point Wells. The company, he testified last week, “has attempted to shape code to match the project.”
“That gets the process backward,” Countryman said. “The project still cannot be approved as proposed.”
The planner went on to outline five areas of “substantial conflict” where BSRE’s plans for more than 3,000 condos fall short. Seven years and three deadline extensions after the permit application, he argued, it’s time to deny the project.
Gary Huff, an attorney representing BSRE, asked the examiner for more time. Slow responses and changing requirements from the county, he contends, haven’t helped his client meet deadlines.
“There is plenty of blame to go around, but it’s not all on us by any means,” Huff said.
BSRE also spent more than three years fighting lawsuits that aimed to stop or scale back the proposal, he noted.
The sides made opening arguments to hearing examiner Peter Camp on Wednesday and Thursday. Expert testimony is scheduled to continue this week.
Then it’s up to Camp to decide what to do with one of the more complex projects the county has ever considered. The examiner could deny it or grant an extension. If he does nothing before June 30, the permit application will expire.
BSRE’s project would plunk a new community with Seattle-like density onto a 60-acre site in unincorporated Snohomish County that now hosts a marine fuels depot and an asphalt plant. It’s surrounded on three sides by single-family zoning in Woodway and Shoreline.
More than a century ago, there was a salt marsh on the property. That was filled in 1910, said project architect Dan Seng from the firm Perkins + Will. Royal Dutch Shell and later Chevron used the site until 2005, when it was sold to Paramount Petroleum.
In 2010, Paramount transferred ownership to BSRE, a subsidiary of Blue Square Real Estate. Paramount and Blue Square were part of the same Israel-based conglomerate.
BSRE submitted its building application in 2011.
After years of back-and-forth, county planners say BSRE’s Point Wells plans still don’t meet code requirements in five key areas: building heights, parking, shoreline restoration, designing a second access road and critical areas, which include habitat and natural hazards.
“Any of the five areas … would constitute an individual grounds for denial of the project as a whole,” Countryman said.
Huff told the examiner, “The amount of detail that has been asked of us goes well beyond what the code requires.”
Building heights might be the biggest obstacle.
BSRE’s plans show 46 buildings. Almost half —20— are 90 feet or taller.
The land’s urban center zoning typically limits buildings to 90 feet. The allowable height can double to 180 feet if the development has access to high-capacity transit, such as a highway or a commuter-rail station.
Sounder commuter trains already pass through Point Wells daily. They share the line with Amtrak and freight trains, running from Everett to Seattle with stops in Edmonds and Mukilteo.
“Having a Sounder station here is likely the only way there will ever be access to high-capacity transit,” Countryman said.
BSRE has offered to build a station at Point Wells. However, there’s been no apparent contact with Sound Transit about those plans since 2014, said Kamuron Gurol, the agency’s north corridor development director. Gurol said getting an easement from BNSF Railway, which owns the tracks, “likely would be very challenging.”
The Sounder north line also has suffered from poor ridership and high costs.
The county has rejected the idea of letting BSRE start work on shorter buildings, then allowing taller ones after completing a rail station.
Traffic impacts have worried neighbors since the development was proposed. The site, for now, is only reachable by car via a two-lane road that goes through Shoreline and a sliver of Woodway.
Shoreline had been cooperating with BSRE on a traffic-impact study, but officials there now say that process is “at an impasse.” Several of them testified last week to concerns with the project. They were among the 19 people who spoke during public comment periods.
If the project moves forward, it would take up to two decades to build out. Years of environmental cleanup would have to happen first.
In addition to condos, the Point Wells development would include more than 30,000 square feet of office space and 90,000 square feet of retail.
Typically, the examiner issues a decision within 15 working days after the end of a hearing. Given its complexity, a Point Wells ruling could take longer.