Three Lakes

A blog for members and friends of Three Lakes Neighbors for Responsible Growth, dedicated to monitoring and maintaining the rural environment of central Snohomish County, Washington

Monday, June 13, 2005

Action Alert - Public Hearing


Changes considered to the Unified Development Code

Snohomish County Council

Public Hearing

10:30 a.m., Wednesday, June 15, 2005

8th Floor, New County Administration Building

3000 Rockefeller Avenue, Everett


The County Council will be accepting both written and oral comments about changes they may consider to the Unified Development Code. One change in particular that is of great concern to Futurewise and Pilchuck Audubon Society, is the recommendation made by the Council-appointed Technical Oversight Committee that would eliminate the county’s option to treat code enforcement as anything other than a crime.

Right now, the county has the choice of working with people who violate the county’s regulations to protect neighbors and water quality informally, as a civil violation, or in extreme cases as a crime. This allows the county to tailor the penalty to the seriousness of the violation.

This hearing is the public’s first opportunity to voice concerns and to tell the Council that the change would affect their quality of life by virtually shutting down all protections of our health, safety and welfare from people who violate protections for neighbors and water quality.

Right now county staff can tailor its response to these violations to resolve the problem in the quickes and best way. If the county can no longer use civil procedures to solve these problems, then the county would have to charge every code violation as a crime. This will be expensive, slow, hard to prove, and may involve people who unintentionally violate the county codes in an expensive and time consuming criminal process. It would take away the anonymity of those who complain about a code violation, it would require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and it would take the process from the Hearing Examiner to Superior Court -- a very costly, time consuming process.

For more information, please contact Linda Kuller, Snohomish County PDS, 425-388-3311.

(Forwarded by Bev from Futurewise)

Response or comments can presumably be sent by e-mail but I will have to track down the address. Watch for another Blog with information, or look here for an update.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

We have won the first battle! Get ready for the next one.

The members of our organization are somewhat up to date on the status of our battle with developers in our neighborhood, but now that we have gone through the entire process and won (for now) it's time to bring the casual visitor to our Blog up to date.

This battle started over a year ago, when a local developer, Cimmaron West, filed an application to put in a Rural Cluster Subdivision, Panther Lake Ridge, on a ridge next to the BPA Power line that crosses Three Lakes Road west of 163rd, about a mile north on 163rd. As per the process, signs were posted and a notice was sent by the Snohomish County Planning and Development Department to all the neighbors adjacent to the proposed development.

What usually happens in a situation like this is that a few of the neighbors comment on the development plans, the developer makes a few cosmetic changes, a public hearing is held, and the developer eventually gets a permit for the development.

In this case, however, more than a few neighbors became concerned about this development. We already have more than 60 properties that are accessed via 163rd, which is probably a higher than normal number because the entire west side of Panther Lake is platted into smaller lots left over from the old town of Three Lakes, which was in existence for around 30 years at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the the area is zoned as R5, which means that lots should be 5 acres, the new Panther Lake Ridge (PLR) development would place 32 homes on small lots in one corner of 107 acres and and increase the traffic on the lower end of 163rd by 50%.

The nearby neighbors and residents of lower 163rd cried Foul! This didn't make sense. So they put out flyers at every residence in the culdesac and called a public meeting at the Three Lakes Community Church. Bev Setzer and Rick Wertz-Whitman outlined to the packed hall the details of the planned development and revealed to all of us that this was to be a Rural Cluster Subdivision, which at the time didn't mean much to us.

The result was that we held a series of meetings, did a lot of research on the laws affecting this, gathered names, and got organized. We formed a non-profit organization. We started an e-mail list and a phone tree for commuications. We all sent in our comments on the development, pointing out the things about it that did not meet the legal requirements that the County Council has set up for RCS's.

As a result of our inputs and involvement, the Planning Department paid more attention, and the developer was forced to revise the plans several times. It seemed clear to us that he had tried to sneak through with minimal compliance, and we demanded complete compliance. Eventually, as part of the process, the Planning Department decided that they were more or less satisfied with the plans, and it was time to move on to the official Public Hearing. They also issued a Determination of Non Significance under the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). We decided it was time to hire a lawyer.

In preparation for the Hearing, we worked closely with our lawyer, providing information, ideas, and a lot of drafts of briefs. We took a lot of pictures of the area, drew maps, did research on the Internet, made numerous trips to the Planning Department office to review and get copies of the public record. We started a Web page so we could exchange information. Then we started another web page to help us raise money to pay for the lawyer.

I'll go into details in a later post. The bottom line was that on the most important issue, the location of 31 lots on the Ridgeline, the Hearing Examiner agreed with us that their was other buildable land off the Ridge, and thus per the County law, houses had to be built there instead of on the ridge. So he denied the application, (without Prejudice, which means that the developer can apply again with a modified proposal).

However, we weren't done yet. The process allows a request for reconsideration from either party, and both of us did make requests. However, the Hearing Examiner left Snohomish county for a better job in King County, and they had to hire a new one. This delayed the Reconsideration hearing for 5 months. The new Hearing Examiner upheld the findings of the first one. We had until today to file an Appeal, but both sides decided not to Appeal.

So as of today, the Development is dead. However, it probably hasn't gone away. The developer will probably make some changes to the plans and try again. The whole process starts over, however, so there will be a new notice, and new comment period, and new Public Hearing.

During the first battle, we told the developer several times what would satisfy us. He chose to ignore that and offer some trivial mitigation. We hope that the next time around he will modify his proposal be more in accord with what we feel is appropriate, and we can be more cooperative. But don't hold your breath . . .

In my next Blog, I'll talk more about our Community, or organization, and what I think we have gained from going through this process.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Seattle Times: Opinion: Growth blueprint must be balanced for housing [Builders speak out on the Growth Plan]

The Seattle Times: Opinion: Growth blueprint must be balanced for housing: "The debate over how Snohomish County will manage future growth is about to take center stage as the county embarks on the public hearing phase of its 10-year comprehensive plan update. The outcome will impact everyone's quality of life.

At issue is how the county is going to accommodate the approximately 300,000 new residents state forecasters say will live here in the next 25 years. This expected level of growth is significant and raises many questions. One that must be addressed is: How are we going to house 300,000 more residents in Snohomish County?

Unfortunately, the 'preferred alternative,' or blueprint for growth, put forth by the county fails to adequately address our current shortage of land on which new housing could be built, forcing us to rely heavily on 'infill housing.'"

The Developer's organization speaks out on growth issues in Snowhomish County, in the Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times: Snohomish County News: Program preserves farmland

The Seattle Times: Snohomish County News: Program preserves farmland: "Chet Hoberg's 40 acres of corn were just a few permits away from becoming a subdivision when Snohomish County government stepped in.

Hoberg had never farmed the fields, leaving that to the people who leased his land. He bought the land as an investment in 1971, and after his wife's death in 2003, he felt it was time to cash in.

His situation turned out to be the catalyst Snohomish County needed to pull together a purchase-of-development-rights program that had been in the works for several years. Hoberg's property was zoned for 5-acre residential lots.

Yesterday, County Executive Aaron Reardon delivered a check for more than $500,000 to Hoberg. The county didn't buy the land — it bought the right to develop the land. Now Hoberg's farm must be used only for agriculture, ensuring at least 40 acres of green in Tualco Valley, near Monroe, as long as farmers are willing to farm it."

This is a program that might be usable in our area to help preserve our agricultural land and green space buffers. It won't do much good in our current rural cluster fight, since the land for PLR is not agricultural land. However, when they come after the blueberry farm . . .

HeraldNet: High court asked to relax deadline

HeraldNet: High court asked to relax deadline: "OLYMPIA - An Edmonds couple turned to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday for help in restarting their legal fight with Snohomish County over the rezoning of a neighboring property.

Tom and Ann Conom opposed the Snohomish County Council decision in 2004, but their attempt to overturn the action in court died when a King County Superior Court judge said they had missed a deadline for requesting an appeal hearing.

The couple want the high court to find that the error did not harm Snohomish County or the landowners, and order the lower court to consider the appeal."

This case would have interesting implications for all of us. Right now an appeal has to be filed within 7 days of a decision. If the Washington Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision, there would be less strict deadlines. However, it's probably unlikely that they will do so.