Urban mission

MALTBY — It would encompass a geographic area several square miles larger than Everett.

At 25,000 people, it would be the fifth largest city in Snohomish County.

It would protect its residents from sprawling strip malls and crammed, clustered housing developments.

It would take extra-careful measures to protect the salmon, rivers, parks and lakes within its boundaries.

And it would be called Maltby.

Greg Stephens, a Woodinville resident and vice president of the Maltby Neighborhood Alliance, has spent most of his days off from his job as an ambulance driver for the last few years dreaming up a plan for the unincorporated area north of Woodinville, south of Snohomish, east of Mill Creek and west of Monroe.

As large-scale housing and commercial developments creep farther and farther east into the rural and agricultural areas of Snohomish County, the Maltby Neighborhood Alliance decided to ask the Snohomish County Council to be considered for incorporation.

The County Council will decide in the next month or two whether to allow the proposed city of Maltby on its discussion agenda for next year.

The Maltby Neighborhood Alliance, which has about 100 members, envisions a 43.5-square-mile city with a densely populated core, but at the same time a city that remains 80 percent rural.

The group envisions a city big enough for miles of bicycle and equestrian trails, stellar public transportation, and roomy, quiet neighborhoods.

It would also be big enough to attract commercial and industrial businesses. Perhaps a new Microsoft satellite campus built atop the old Cathcart landfill, or a Maltby Marriot downtown.

"It’s the largest growth issue before the county now," Stephens said.

If the County Council agrees to the Maltby incorporation, there would be public hearings and, Stephens hopes, a vote on the proposal. The 13,500 or so registered voters in the would-be city of Maltby could decide for themselves.

Stephens said he and the Maltby Neighborhood Alliance are about to launch an education campaign, including information on their Web site, www.maltbyna.org, and on 200 computer CDs, to make sure everyone in the area is informed about the proposal.

But the road to incorporation lies straight up a very steep hill.

Mary Lynne Evans, long-range planning director for the county Planning and Development Services Department, said last week that the department will not recommend the Maltby incorporation proposal to the County Council.

There are several main problems with the proposal, she said.

First, when an area incorporates as a city, under state law the entire area automatically becomes an urban growth area, Evans said. If Maltby incorporates, that would be more than 43 square miles of area designated for urban growth.

In the next 20 years, the county only needs a maximum of 10 square miles of urban growth area to meet its projected population increase.

"This Maltby incorporation is so large … we have no way to justify it, given our population," Evans said

Second, the area’s infrastructure is not up to urban standards, she said. Given the size of the area and its population density, it would be prohibitively expensive to install water and sewer lines, roads and sidewalks.

Third, that population density presents a problem of its own. Stephens estimates that the incorporated city would have about 25,000 residents, or about 581 people per square mile.

Evans said the average urban area in Snohomish County has about 6,000 people per square mile.

"The Planning and Development Services Department has recommended that it not be considered for those reasons," Evans said. "We cannot legally justify it under our criteria."

But some of those criteria are just what Stephens and his supporters are fighting for — a city with a lot of land, a lot of open space, low-impact development and, most importantly, a lot of local control.

However, Evans said there are no current state guidelines for creating a city with a widespread rural population.

"Incorporation is tough. It’s tough because you have to have a significant tax base to make it pay," she said, "including commercial and some industrial. They probably can’t make enough off single-family homes."

The city of Maltby, if it were to come about, would have a tough time paying its bills, she said.

But Stephens and his group believe in the "if you build it" adage.

"We have decided that what we have is more important than losing out to someone else’s vision of urban development," Stephens said. He wants to do it the new, different way, not what he says is the old, tired, failed method.

"We want Leavenworth, not Lynnwood," he said.

It’s not that it’s a bad idea, but perhaps Stephens is ahead of his time, Evans said.

"I think it’s great that Greg is thinking about that stuff," she said. "I applaud him for it."

Evans said she believes Maltby residents can have the same amount of input about their area by going to the County Council.

"The County Council is very receptive — it’s just that people don’t try," she said.

Stephens responded that neighbors in all corners of the proposed incorporation area feel the county can do it, but they believe they can do it better.

"We have no illusions," Stephens said. "We’ve been at this for over four years now, going back and forth with the county trying to get them to do some planning. It’s getting nowhere. Now we’re presenting them with a plan. … All we’re saying is, ‘Let us do it.’"

At the well-known Maltby Cafe on Maltby Road, where the atmosphere is cozy and the food is home-cooked, one of its owners said she sees change coming.

Barbara Peter has co-owned the cafe since 1988 and lives just a few streets away. She hadn’t yet heard of the Maltby Neighborhood Alliance’s efforts to incorporate the area.

"Maybe a year or two ago, there was talk about that sort of thing," she said. "You know, I’m not sure I know what benefit that brings to incorporate. It’s a little-town atmosphere. You get to know people. I would prefer it to stay the way it is. But, change happens."

Reporter Jennifer Warnick: 425-339-3429 or jwarnick@heraldnet.com.

For those interested in viewing the plans for the proposed city of Maltby, they will be available soon online at www.maltbyna.org.


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