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How will new council solve density puzzle?

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By Jeff Sax
Published:
I found Jeff Switzer's Dec. 15 article about the Snohomish County Council denying plat approval for a seven-unit condo project in Lynnwood quite interesting. My interest has less to do with why the council voted 3-2 to deny -- I have not reviewed the record and would be remiss to be critical of the vote without all the facts -- but rather with my concern about the over-arching policy issues that seem to directly contradict the goals the majority on the council proscribe to.
Advocates for property rights have been at odds with the inherent goals of the state's Growth Management Act since its inception. The GMA required policymakers over the last 15 years to make very difficult decisions when drawing growth boundaries, leaving some land owners with down-zoned property (reduced value) and others up-zoned (increased value). The goals of the community seem to override the desires of the land owner.
The rallying cry from those promoting "smart growth" has made the case over and over that we must limit urban sprawl into the rural areas in order to limit public infrastructure costs, preserve open space and protect resource land. The result is to increase density in the existing urban areas, with promised urban amenities being required of developers. The council's recent vote declaring 164th Street at ultimate capacity is a direct result of the density and infill policies of the last 15 years.
The contradiction that I referred to is what the council proposes to do with the current comprehensive plan growth projection of 300,000 new people if they deny permitting the density infill required under the Growth Management Act. They will respond with commentary about design standards, neighborhood character and lack of infrastructure as reason to deny.
You can anticipate new policies from the new council to be seated in January to create new regulations such as design standards, add a tree retention ordinance and new restrictions on rural development. All of which will further reduce the infill required by the comprehensive plan while adding to the purchase price of new homes for future Snohomish County residents.
It will be quite interesting to watch the two new council members navigate the apparent contradiction. The voters who just elected them (all of whom live with in the urban growth boundary) by and large did so due to the "smart growth," anti-development message that both men expressed in their campaign messages. However, state law and the county comprehensive plan requires that 85 percent of the new population growth be added to those very urban growth boundaries inside of which those voters reside.
Quite a puzzle, wouldn't you say?

Jeff Sax, a former member of the Snohomish County Council, is a Realtor with Windermere Real Estate in Lake Stevens and president of Cascade Resources Group, a land use consulting firm.

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