The Lynnwood City Council at its May 29 business meeting approved — after a public hearing on the matter — a development agreement for the Alderwood Mixed Use Project, an 18-story, multi-family residential and commercial building that will replace the recently demolished Alderwood Medical Building just east of Alderwood Mall and south of the Alderwood Mall Toys ‘R Us.
The council also held a public hearing — but did not take action on — a proposal for a comprehensive plan amendment and rezone to accommodate a proposal from the Housing Authority of Snohomish County to tear down and rebuild its aging Whispering Pines housing development, located at 18225 52nd Ave. W.
The council approved the Alderwood Mixed Use Project, located at 18631 Alderwood Mall Parkway, by a 5-2 vote after holding a public hearing on the matter. As approved May 29, the project — which will sit on 1.87 acres — allows for a property exchange between the city and Cosmos Development Company to facilitate the realignment of Beech Road, with the goal of improving traffic in the area.
Councilmember George Hurst voted against the agreement after expressing several concerns, including mitigation credits that the company will be receiving and the relative lack of parking for the 349 living units — a total of 395 spaces, which includes parking for visitors and retail — and the fact that it is a “market-rate” project that doesn’t include affordable housing.
Staff speaking to the proposal — including Economic Development Director David Kleitsch and Community Development Director Paul Krauss — noted that zoning regulations related to parking in the project area take into account direct access to transit on Alderwood Mall Parkway, as well as other amenities that the area provides within walking distance, such as dining and entertainment.
Krauss also said that Lynnwood has the highest per-capita amount of housing that “falls within the affordable range” in Snohomish County — surpassing even Everett. The Alderwood Mixed Use Project is “the first market-rate housing project that we’ve seen in this development boom,” Krauss said. “We’ve had two senior projects and one workforce housing project go under construction.” In addition, some of the city’s existing affordable housing has been renovated and the Whispering Pines proposal also under consideration through a comprehensive plan amendment is another example of how affordable housing may be expanded, he said.
Hurst proposed that the council take more time to study the Alderwood project before approval, but that suggestion failed on a 2-5 vote, with Councilmember Shirley Sutton joining him. The development agreement also was approved by the same 5-2 vote, with Hurst and Sutton voting no.
Parking concerns continued to be a topic of conversation throughout the evening, both in council discussions about this project and in citizens’ opinions expressed about a possible comprehensive plan change to allow for a larger project and additional living units at Whispering Pines.
“We still are a suburb,” said Councilmember Shannon Sessions. “We still need our vehicles. We’re not ready to do that little of parking yet.”
During a question-and-answer session with the council, Oscar Del Moro of Cosmos Development Company also addressed the parking issue. He explained that the retail inside the planned building is intended to serve residents, rather than being a destination that people would drive to.
Approximately 80 percent of the units will be one-bedrooms, with a few three- and two-bedroom units, he said. “It needs to be affordable,” he said. “We’re gambling on the unique location, the unique destination, the unique visibility of the project.”
Del Moro said his company is planning for “the next generation” of residential housing in Lynnwood, adding that the project “it is probably two to three years ahead of its time.” He estimated it will take a year to permit and two to three years to build, plus a year “to take the kinks out of it,” positioning the project well for the opening of Lynnwood’s light rail station in 2024.
“Our vision is always for tomorrow. And getting to tomorrow has some growing pains,” he said. Del Moro added that residents in other cities, such as downtown Seattle and Bellevue, are “rebelling” against having a parking place included as part of their rent, and would rather deduct it so they can lower their rental cost.
He said he would prefer to manage any issues that come up later, through valet parking or finding other ways to provide internal parking, rather than building more parking spaces upfront — at a cost of $50,000 to $60,000 per space — that might go unused later.
Regarding the proposed comprehensive plan amendment and rezone for Whispering Pines Apartments, the council heard a presentation about the matter from City Planning Manager Todd Hall. He explained that the city received a request from the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO), to amend the land use designation to allow the Whispering Pines, which it owns, to be changed from medium-density multifamily (MF2) to high-density multifamily (MF3) and an accompanying rezone from multiple residential medium density (MRM) to multiple residential high density (MRH).
HASCO is proposing the amendments because the sewer and fire alarm systems are failing on the current Whispering Pines building, which is 50 years old, and HASCO must rebuild the apartments. Under the current zoning, the rebuild would include 219 units, which represents a loss of 19 units from the current 240. Rezoning the property would allow for the construction of between 350-400 units as well as more open space, with the goal of providing a greater mix of income levels and age groups in the apartment complex, HASCO officials said.
Whispering Pines is bordered by commercial and multi-family housing to the north and west, a mobile home park to the south and single-family residences to the east.
Hall noted that during a recent Lynnwood Planning Commission hearing on the issue, neighbors had expressed concerns about the number and height of the proposed units, and environmental and traffic impacts from the increased number of residents. However, he said that those issues would be addressed later, once a formal development application is submitted.
HASCO Development Director Kirsten Cane explained that adding the residential units would help Lynnwood address its growing population. HASCO owns 2,200 housing units throughout the Snohomish County and six housing communities in Lynnwood. It also administers the county’s Section 8 voucher program, and approximately 500 Lynnwood residents receive HASCO subsidies to help with their rent in both private and HASCO properties, she said.
The housing authority is required by state law to serve at least 50 percent of the residents within each HASCO property who are below 80 percent of the area median income of $77,000.
With the Whispering Pines redevelopment, HASCO is interested in developing a mixed income community “that deconcentrates poverty and allows people opportunities to have affordable rents as well as rents that are unrestricted, so people of different income levels can live together in the same community,” Cane said.
If the rezone is approved, HASCO would be able to exceed the current zone’s height limit of 35 feet and maximum lot coverage requirements of 35 percent. However, HASCO Program Integration and Support Manager Janinna Attick said that “practically we would be limited to building to a maximum of six stories on the site,” due to the high construction costs of steel and concrete buildings.
“We are very conscious of the potential impact of our development on the single-family neighborhood to the east,” she said, adding that the effect on nearby single-family residential is the main concern that HASCO has heard so far from the community. To mitigate this impact, in addition to a landscaping buffer required by code, HASCO plans to place buildings no taller than three stories on the site’s east side (which is what the current zoning allows). Building heights could increase up to potentially six stories closer to 52nd Avenue West and Highway 99.
She added that HASCO has not yet put any resources into a building design, preferring to wait to see whether the rezone is approved before proceeding. However, Attick did introduce a “preliminary concept” for the council to see.
HASCO is also aware of parking concerns from the community and the city council, and Attick said that they “plan to incorporate ample parking into the site,” which could be a combination of underground and first floor and surface parking depending on the final site design.
Tenants in the existing Whispering Pines complex have already been notified of HASCO’s intent to rebuild the property, giving them three-and-a-half years notice before the expected property vacation date of August 2021, followed by demolition and construction in 2022, with the property being available for tenants in 2023, Attick said.
HASCO is committed to providing housing search assistance for those residents displaced by the construction, including those that might be available in other HASCO-owned buildings as well as other income-restricted buildings, she said. A particular focus has been placed on finding nearby housing for residents who have children attending Cedar Valley Community School, so their children can stay in their existing school, Attick added.
Answering questions from City Councilmember Ian Cotton following HASCO’s presentation, City Planning Manager Todd Hall said that staff is looking into the possibility of maintaining the medium density zoning on the site’s eastern to address the concerns that single-family homeowners have about project impacts.
Because the plan is to offer up to 50 percent of units in the redeveloped Whispering Pines project to those with non-restricted incomes, Councilmember George Hurst asked whether the project could potentially end up lowering the overall number of reduced-rent units available. HASCO’s Cane said it could, which is why they are hoping the city will approve a comprehensive plan amendment to allow for more dense zoning. The trend in developing such projects, she said, is have tenants a mix of income levels to reach a goal of “deconcentrating poverty.”
Answering another question from Hurst, Cane said there is a current wait list of eight years for Section 8 housing in Snohomish County.
Several residents who live near Whispering Pines offered testimony during the public hearing, citing a range of concerns related to the proposal, including parking and height impacts that the zoning change would bring. Karen Walls, who has lived near Whispering Pines for more than 40 years, said she worries about what would happen if HASCO decided to sell the property. The single-family residents would be “stuck with whatever that (new) developer wants to do because all bets are off” related to the number of units and building heights, she said.
Mindy Woods, a former tenant at Whispering Pines several years ago, noted that at the time she and her son lived there, the complex had a black mold problem. A result, they developed secondary mold poisoning, lost their apartment and became homeless. While Woods was able to receive a Section 8 voucher, it took eight months to find another apartment that would accept the voucher for housing, she said.
“We have…a low income housing crisis that we need to address,”Woods added. Nearly 47 percent of Lynnwood’s population is renters, “and we need to provide mixed-income renting abilities for folks.”
“We cannot keep Band-Aiding this complex,” Woods said of Whispering Pines. “We need to fix it and we need to fix it properly to make it safe, affordable and clean housing for everybody.”
After hearing the testimony and public comments, the council agreed to keep the public hearing open until June 11, at which time they would continue to discuss the issue.
— By Teresa Wippel