City Council hears staff recommendations on affordable housing, reviews quarterly financial report

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Lynnwood City Council members listen as Council Vice President Christine Frizzell (right) makes a point at the council’s Aug. 5 work session.

The Lynnwood City Council at its Aug. 5 work session continued its discussion with city staff regarding a proposed ordinance amending future development agreements for the City Center district and regional growth center. The discussion focused on a last-minute proposed amendment at the council’s July 22 business meeting that would require future developments to include affordable housing. 

At the July 22 meeting, a public hearing was held for a proposed ordinance that would amend the city’s development agreement procedure and criteria. The proposed code amendment would allow flexibility to occur only in the City Center district — which covers 48th Avenue West to 33rd Avenue West and 194th Street Southwest to Interstate 5 — and the city’s regional growth center, which includes the Alderwood Mall area and portions of the City Center district.

Following the public hearing, Councilmember George Hurst proposed an amendment that would require future developers to include 15% of the units to be affordable housing, based on a 60% income qualification or less of the Snohomish County area median income (AMI), with a term length of 25 years. The proposal was met with hesitation from Council Vice President Christine Frizzell, who said she was not comfortable setting the number of affordable housing units at 15%. By a 4-2 margin, the council decided to postpone the measure until its Aug. 12 business meeting, by which time the council would have additional information regarding housing in the city.

During the Aug. 5 meeting, Lynnwood City Center Project Manager Karl Almgren presented four possible “unintended consequences” the city may face if future developments required affordable housing.

First, Almgren said the proposed affordable housing amendment implements inclusionary zoning without an understanding of the related costs and feasibility. Inclusionary zoning usually come with a “bonus” to help offset the cost of providing housing units below market value. Also, requiring that affordable housing be included in market-value housing developments could delay developments or dissuade developers from wanting to build in Lynnwood, he added.

Karl Almgren presented four unintended consequences of requiring affordable housing as part of future development agreements.

Next, Almgren said the proposed amendment would impede the city’s Multiple Housing Unit Tax Exemption (MFTE) and requiring affordable housing units in developments would place a higher burden on development than the current MFTE policy. According to Almgren, this would likely result in fewer projects pursuing development agreements and the MFTE. Last, the amendment did not provide time for public comment or enable staff to vet the proposal and inform council of the considerations.

“Those are the preliminary analyses,” Almgren said. “We have not done a deep review of the amendment for other possible impacts.”

During the discussion, Councilmember Hurst said he was still concerned that the language in the development agreement codes is too vague and developers in the City Center district and regional growth center may not include affordable housing units in developments unless they are required to do so. Citing previous development agreements for housing developments near Alderwood Mall, Hurst pointed out that none of the agreements included requirements for affordable housing. As a result, no affordable units were included, and Hurst said he is concerned history will repeat itself in the City Center district.

“This is the area that we’re supposed to have affordable housing,” he said. “I fear that we’re losing a chance to write affordable housing within our plans.”

Additionally, Hurst said not establishing mandates that ensure affordable housing goes against the city’s vision as a welcoming place for residents.

“My concern is that we as a city say, ‘all are welcome here,’” he said. “Are we really being welcome to everyone if we don’t make sure there’s some sort of affordable housing?”

Councilmember Ruth Ross — who voted July 22 against postponing the vote — reminded the council it could make additional amendments to the development agreements at a later time when they have a better idea of what a housing policy in Lynnwood would be.

“Anything that we do along these lines is changeable,” she said.

Council Vice President Frizzell said she agreed that while the city needs a housing policy, she is comfortable with the terms of the initial proposed ordinance.

“I want to go forward, but I want to go forward for the right reasons and with the right information at our fingertips,” she said.

Recently, the council invited developers, members of housing authorities and other community stakeholders with housing expertise to join the council in a roundtable discussion regarding housing in the city. Frizzell said the council needs to take more “big steps” before establishing a city housing policy.

In other business, the city’s Finance Director Sonja Springer presented the first-quarter financial report for the city. The report highlighted three months of the 2019-20 biennial budget. Additionally, Springer presented proposed amendments to the biennial budget that included carrying over unfinished contracts (encumbrances) from 2018, adjusting the beginning fund balances to the actual beginning fund balances and a few other amendments.

Among the amendments is the appointment of a public affairs and communications specialist for the Lynnwood Police Department. According to Police Chief Tom Davis, the position will serve as a media spokesperson for the police department and coordinate activity related to media and community communications.

The draft budget amendment ordinance is scheduled for review and adoption at the council’s Aug. 12 business meeting.

–Story and photo by Cody Sexton

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