Council briefed on planning, undergrounding and a request for tax exemption

Community Planning Manager Karl Almgren

At its work session March 4, the Lynnwood City Council heard several briefings from Lynnwood’s Business and Development Services (DBS) personnel. All four presentations were led by Community Planning Manager Karl Almgren, who was joined by DBS staff.

The first item included an update on the progress of Imagine Lynnwood, the title of Lynnwood’s 2024 Comprehensive Plan update. 

The Comprehensive Plan is a document that guides the city’s decisions over a 20-year period, serving as a blueprint for development. It is also meant to reflect the vision and priorities of the city and its residents while meeting the requirements of state and federal law.

The focus of the council presentation was on the new community health and public safety element of Imagine Lynnwood.. Staff explained that it was informed by Lynnwood’s Healthy Community action plan and older versions of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. 

The goals include:

1. Further public safety by providing service to the community to maintain a safe environment for the public, while being equitable and efficient.

2.  Connect community members with appropriate resources in times of need.

3, Support community health and social well-being through policies, programs and the built environment.

Each goal includes a draft list of policies to guide Lynnwood’s public safety planning. Examples include the development of a disaster resilience system, facilitating programs and resources through the Community Justice Center, supporting emergency response teams and connecting underserved community members to medical services. 

Councilmember Nick Coelho

Councilmember Nick Coelho inquired about a specific item listed under goal 2, which reads as follows:

Ensure human service programs including food providers, hygiene centers, and shelters are regularly available and located near commercial centers where transit and non-motorized facilities exist.

Coelho said that the way this item is worded appeared to be exclusionary as it specifies where the programs and facilities providing assistance would be located and thus seemed improper for a guiding document. Almgren replied that this was the opposite of the intent – that the policy was intended to increase accessibility by ensuring resources were close to each other and not “on an island”– and noted the item’s wording could be reworked.

Community resource examples

Councilmember David Parshall suggested that Lynnwood’s Municipal Court could be consulted for input due to the court’s role in the criminal justice system. Almgren agreed, saying that so far staff had spoken with the police department to gain insight. 

Examples of before and after undergrounding.

The next item up for discussion was an ordinance proposed during 2023 that had not moved forward due to scheduling conflicts. DBS staff recommended that the council approve the ordinance, which mandates  undergrounding electrical utility lines in the Lynnwood regional growth center for safety reasons. Electrical utility lines can be a safety hazard and additionally, staff said that undergrounding the lines is more aesthetically pleasing. 

The ordinance would apply to areas being developed or redeveloped.

Existing high-capacity transmission lines along I-5 and the Interurban Trail, which provide critical regional service, are exempt. A similar ordinance, enacted in 2006, applies specifically to areas within the city center.

Coelho asked how this would financially impact smaller developers looking to establish housing within the regional growth center. Algren replied that the answer was complex.

While the process of undergrounding is generally more expensive than providing elevated power lines, some spaces requiring aerial access would be already subject to a mandate from the fire department. He added that undergrounding utilities would maximize the amount of land that could be developed and that “piecemealing” the undergrounding – for example, delaying it until later – would ultimately be more expensive than doing it all at once.

“The time to do undergrounding is at the time of development,” Almgren said, adding that exceptions are made in response to project size and challenges surrounding certain sites.

Coelho then asked if financial assistance would be made available to developers impacted by the undergrounding requirement. Almgren replied that some costs may be mitigated by a credit in the traffic impact fee that is charged for city services during development. Another way to lessen or mitigate costs would be to combine projects, such as waiting for Sound Transit to underground utility lines in the path of Link light rail extensions.

A description of the Koz project.

Another item presented by DBS staff was a request from developers representing an incoming housing project called Kōz on Alderwood Boulevard. Kōz representatives have asked to use the Lynnwood Multi-Family Housing Tax Exemption (MFTE). Koz’s proposed agreement is a 12-year contract that, in exchange for the tax exemption, would ensure that a portion of the 199 units built would be designated as units for families with low or moderate incomes.

The program is an “ad valorem property tax exemption,” which means that the tax exemption applies to residential property taxes assessed to the value of new housing construction. It does not apply to Kōz’s commercial spaces or the value of the land itself. The MFTE program was adopted by the City of Lynnwood in 2007 as a way to increase housing supply.

For 12 years, 20 units would be available to rent by households at or below 80% of area median income. Another 20 units would be available to rent by households at more than 80% but below 115% of area median income.

Already under construction, Kōz on Alderwood Mall Boulevard is projected to open in February 2025. 

Representing her company Koz, Cathy Reines attended remotely to field questions from councilmembers.

Council President George Hurst asked if the developers were also using state Opportunity Zone funding. Cathy Reines, founder and owner of Kōz, confirmed they were and that the company was going to hold onto the property for at least 10 years so that it could take full advantage of the tax benefits conferred by the state program. Hurst recalled that early proposals for the Kōz project were aimed toward providing workforce housing and asked if that was changing. 

“No, that’s correct,” Reines replied. “Forty of the units will be income restricted…However, all of the units in the building – the rents within those units– fall between 60-70% of area median income.”

Parshall asked what would happen at the end of the 12-year agreement. Almgren said that the state has allowed extensions to these tax-exemption programs but the legislation involved has not yet been adopted by Lynnwood. The item would be brought to council in the future, he added.

Coelho said he observed that a “giant chunk” of the building was missing and it appears that it will be used for a second-story patio. He asked why the choice was made to have a patio instead of more apartments. Reines said the decision was made to ensure that all apartments have windows. Almgren confirmed that the design choice was common and occurred naturally during development in response to the need for air flow and light.

Changes to an existing Pylon sign

The last item presented by DBS staff was a request from Alderwood Towne Center to approve its master signage plans. The center, located at 3105 Alderwood Mall Boulevard, seeks to create directional signs that point shoppers to the plaza entrance and parking as well as modify existing signage.

Councilmember Patrick Decker asked if the directional signage was truly necessary as parking is self-evident. City staff replied that part of the intent was to direct people to the entrance and draw attention to the area.

Details of the Alderwood Towne Center development agreement.

In other business, the council also interviewed Chris Collier, Frank Percival and Ty Tufono-Chaussee for an open position on the Lynnwood Public Facilities District Board. Councilmembers will choose one of the three candidates at their next business meeting March 11. Councilmember Josh Binda suggested that the council use a ranked-choice voting system but Hurst said that they’d likely stick with a more standard “vote for one” system. 

Councilmember Patrick Decker attended the majority of the meeting over Zoom.

–By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis

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