Waterfront condos could start a tussle between Snohomish County, Shoreline

WOODWAY — A proposal to build up to 3,500 condominiums on the southwesternmost tip of Snohomish County may be a distant speck on the development horizon.

Even so, it’s already provoking intense debate.

Would that many homes fit in with the neighboring communities of Richmond Beach and Woodway? Who would police them? And would such a development dump too much traffic onto nearby roads?

Those concerns have prompted the city of Shoreline, just over the King County line, to consider annexing Point Wells, which is entirely within Snohomish County.

Snohomish County is unlikely to let the area go.

Meanwhile, a petroleum and asphalt facility continues to operate on the industrially zoned site. Any redevelopment is years away and must clear a series of hurdles that includes rezoning and extensive environmental cleanup.

“Right now, nothing’s on the table, therefore everything is on the table,” said Snohomish County Council Chairman Mike Cooper, who represents the area. “That site, that’s an absolute jewel for quality of life. It’s also way too expensive to do just open space and oceanfront.”

The next big step is likely to come in the months ahead when the County Council considers changing the zoning to allow dense urban housing. No specific date has been set, but it’s expected to happen in June. An environmental impact statement needs to be completed first.

“It’s too early to tell what this is going to play out to be,” county planning director Craig Ladiser said.

Shoreline is holding a planning commission hearing Thursday night to discuss amending its long-range plan to address development at Point Wells.

The parcel of unincorporated Snohomish County sits on a 61-acre wedge between Shoreline and Woodway. It has two-thirds of a mile of sandy beach.

For the past century, the site has been a terminal for storing, processing and distributing petroleum and asphalt. The site’s current owner, Paramount of Washington LLC, bought it in 2005.

An original proposal, floated two years ago, would have put 1,400 condo units on the land, after contaminated soil is removed. The environmental impact statement likely to be completed in early June is measuring the effects of a development more than twice that size.

The owner envisions a mix of residential, commercial and retail uses, said Steve Ohlenkamp, a Seattle-based consultant representing Paramount.

“We have to work with the local jurisdictions,” Ohlenkamp said. “That’s the big question here. You get the zoning, but then you have to design the project.”

Even though Shoreline would prefer to see the area redeveloped, it’s concerned about the scope of the proposals. They don’t want to see 6,000 new people move in next door, officials said.

That’s more than the approximately 5,500 people currently living in that city’s Richmond Beach area, and quadruple the 1,370 residents in Woodway.

“We think that’s way too dense, that’s way too many people,” Shoreline city planning director Joe Tovar said. “A smaller number would make sense.”

The area is like a cul-de-sac that’s only accessible through Shoreline. The only way in or out is two-lane Richmond Beach Drive.

Snohomish County has a policy that says it never again wants to let an area straddle counties. When Bothell expanded into the county in 1992, it caused all types of headaches for officials on both sides of the dividing line.

Tovar said Shoreline’s situation is completely different from Bothell because Point Wells is so small and cannot be reached from Snohomish County.

Shoreline’s fire and police chiefs have also written letters to Snohomish County’s planning department voicing their opposition to any dense residential development at Point Wells.

Woodway Mayor Carla Nichols said she too supported some type of residential development, but agreed with Shoreline about the density.

“How it gets developed is the important part,” Nichols said. “Woodway is very interested in being involved in the design and the review of this project so it is compatible, not only with our community, but with the city of Shoreline.”

Point Wells lies in Woodway’s urban growth area, so the town also might consider annexing it. The mayor said building an access road through Woodway would be impractical, if not impossible, because it would have to go over an unstable bluff.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465 or nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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