Council debates City Center plan updates, discusses utility rates

Lynnwood City Council President George Hurst discusses the proposed City Center Planned Action Ordinance updates.

The Lynnwood City Council at its Aug. 1 work session continued to debate the value of increased residential growth that will occur as a result of proposed updates to the City Center Planned Action Ordinance.

At the council’s Feb. 22 meeting, Lynnwood Development & Business Services Director David Kleitsch said the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), adopted in 2004, does not reflect changes in development regulations and market conditions. It also limits future development capacity, which is inconsistent with the city’s Community Vision, he said.

The most important aspect of the proposed update will revise the development scenario of City Center to increase overall capacity from 9.1 million square feet to 12.3 million square feet. Office square footage will increase from 4 million to 4.25 million, and residential square footage will increase from 3,000 to 6,000. Retail square footage is set to remain the same.

Councilmembers continued to have mixed feelings about the housing unit increase and voiced their concerns again on Monday night.

While some councilmembers are against the proposed growth, Council President George Hurst argued that the plan has been reviewed by the city’s Planning Commission, which is made up of seven Lynnwood residents.

“That’s what we wanted, right?” Hurst asked. “To hear directly from residents about it.”

Hurst said the commission unanimously approved the updates and recommended that the council vote in favor of them as well.

“To me, that is so important [to take into account],” he said. “This is more of an ordinance that will allow development to happen, but it doesn’t dictate that development to happen. So we’re not saying we will go from 3,000 to 6,000 housing units, we’re not dictating that that’s going to happen. It’s driven by the market and driven by developers.”

However, not all councilmembers saw the potential for growth as a good thing. Councilmember Patrick Decker pointed to the new apartment building that is being constructed between Home Depot and Costco, which is only 500 units. He asked the council to imagine a building six times that size right in the center of the city.

“Just do the math,” Decker said. “We’re talking about putting 3,000 units into the City Center as things stand now. That is a lot of people. I was just in a small town that clearly had not planned for growth, and it took me 20 minutes to go … three blocks. I advocate that we stay with the 3,000 and if the infrastructure can support it, we can always make changes and increase that later. You cannot unbuild a building. You can always build more later, but you can’t undo what is already done.”

Councilmember Jim Smith shared the same sentiment, saying Lynnwood is inviting more people in than it can reasonably sustain. He also said that building more apartments is not making housing more affordable, which is something he wants to see in Lynnwood.

“We’re not getting affordable housing when we’re putting in more and more apartments,” he said. “We’re just getting more and more apartments. When we talked about the City Center project, it was supposed to be unique. It was supposed to keep the charm of Lynnwood. And we’re not keeping the charm of Lynnwood. We’re making multimillionaire developers’ multi millions double.”

Although public comments were not allowed during the work session, the council allowed former councilmember Ted Hikel to come forward. Hikel was present when the City Center Planned Action Ordinance was created in 1993.

Hikel voiced his disapproval of the new ordinance, saying city staff have completely forgotten why it was originally created.

“This was not just a housing project,” Hikel said. “This was to get better-paying jobs in the city. We were dying because our basic job was retail: that is at the bottom of the pay scale. I have not heard a word from the staff of ‘Where are the jobs?’ You have plenty of apartments there, and you want to build more. But where are the jobs? Where are the office buildings with the white-collar workers? You’re not emphasizing that at all. If you’re building more and more apartments and you’re just expecting those people to get on a train and go to Seattle, you’re missing the whole point of the project. The project was to bring good jobs to the city. Why are you not [saying], ‘We’ll put in more apartments if we have more jobs.’ That’s what you’re missing. This is not just another 3,000 apartments. This is changing the whole idea of what the City Center was supposed to be.”

Councilmember Shannon Sessions pointed out that even if the city council does not approve these updates, it won’t prevent apartments from being built in City Center – it will simply prevent them from having a streamlined permitting process through the planned action ordinance. Because of this, Sessions said she would be voting to approve the updates, even though she doesn’t necessarily agree with the growth.

The council will vote on the updates at its Aug. 8 meeting.

In other business, the council discussed an ordinance to authorize a 2022 bond issuance for the city. While the council had previously approved the bond measure in March 2021, Lynnwood Finance Director Michelle Meyer said it was being brought back to the council due to the cost increases associated with the Community Justice Center and additional proposed projects.

The new bond ordinance would set the parameters for the refund of the 2012 bond funds, which mostly covered the construction of Lynnwood’s Recreation Center; issue an additional $8.9 million toward the construction of the justice center and an additional $4 million to acquire property for the future Town Square Park.

The increase in the justice center budget includes the approximately $6 million the council was already aware of as well as the $2.3 million increase to complete the Community Recovery Center, which the council approved at its June 25 meeting. According to Meyer, the recovery center’s budget falls under the justice center bond because they are part of the same building.

How the city will fund the Town Square Park acquisition was discussed at the council’s June 27 meeting. One option discussed was to use $4 million in parks impact fees and add the remaining $4 million to the bond issuance.

However, Council President Hurst asked city staff to reconsider using park impact fees as construction won’t take place for another nine years because there is a current 10-year lease on the property.

Councilmembers Sessions and Decker disagreed, saying they want to see the acquisition funding stay as is.

“I am very much in favor of keeping this as it is,” Decker said. “I do think city finances may become very stressed over the next few years and I’d much prefer not to put us into more debt that people down the line are going to have to figure out how to pay for.”

The council is set to vote on the issuance at next week’s meeting.

In addition, the council agreed to approve four applications for its Lynnwood Convention Center’s (LCC) day-uses. Each year, the city council is allotted four free use days at the LCC and requested applications from community organizations to use part, or all, of one of those days.

The council received eight applications, but some were rejected due to dates not being available or organizations wanting to host an event elsewhere.

The four that were brought before the council were Day of the Dead, Verdant Health Commission, Pacific Chamber Orchestra and International Women’s Day events.

The council is set to approve these events at next week’s meeting.

Senior Project Manager Sergey Tarasov discussed the slight increase and decrease in utility rates.

The city council also received its third 2022 utility rates study update Monday night. According to Senior Project Manager Sergey Tarasov, the third part of the update focused on deciding if utility users are getting adequate services for the rates they are paying.

Tarasov said since the council received its second utility update, rates had changed slightly, and provided councilmembers with the new rates. While rates only increased or decreased by approximately .5% to 1%, Tarasov said staff wanted to ensure the council stayed up to date.

Since the last update, water rates decreased while sewer and stormwater rates increased slightly. According to Tarasov, this will only minimally affect users’ bills.

 “We’re not proposing any structural changes at this time,” Tarasov said. “The rates are doing what they need to be doing: collecting appropriate revenues and sending the appropriate signals. So we’re keeping it simple this time around, applying the increases across the board, proportionally to both fixed and variable charges for all utilities.”

City staff will return in September to further discuss utility rates with the council.

–By Lauren Reichenbach

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