After months of discussion, the Lynnwood City Council voted at its Monday, Dec. 9 business meeting to approve plans for the proposed Northline Village mixed-use development.
The council vote was 5-1 — with Councilmembers George Hurst voting against and Shirley Sutton absent — to adopt an ordinance approving a development agreement between the city and Merlone Geier Partners (MGP). West Coast-based MGP has owned the property since 2014.
Plans for the 18-acre site include multi-family housing, retail, professional office and entertainment spaces, located near 44th Avenue West, 200th Street Southwest and 196th Street Southwest. The project also proposes extending 198th Street Southwest and adding a new east-to-west street through the development. The agreement includes an initial 15-year term, with an opportunity to extend the term by 10 years, depending on the project’s progress.
Prior to voting on the ordinance, the council held a public hearing to hear testimony from residents. During the hearing, some said they were concerned about the lack of assurance that the new development would offer affordable/low-income housing. According to Phillip Overholser, the new development could potentially mean displacement for him and other low-income residents.
“I’m a low-income resident and if these apartments go up and there’s no stipulation for affordable housing and they (build) these apartments at market rate, that means my rent gets jacked up and I’m forced to move,” he said.
Residents who were not aware of the city’s plans to redevelop the area said the council was rushing into a decision. However, Council President Ben Goodwin pointed out that prior to the hearing, the council held three pre-hearing meetings in to work out the details for the development agreement.
“This project is in the path of growth,” he said. “The area is growing and we need to provide housing and ability for those that are coming to have somewhere to live and I think this will do just that.”
Former Lynnwood City Councilmember Kerri Lonergan-Dreke said she was concerned that increased traffic around 200th Street Southwest, 196th Street Southwest and 44th Avenue West could cause congestion in an already heavily-trafficked area.
“These are major intersections in Lynnwood and if we don’t do this right, it’s going to really make the traffic backups during peak times more of an issue than it already is,” she said.
Speaking to the concerns about traffic, Public Works Manager David Mach pointed out that plans are in place to alleviate traffic congestion around the development site, like the 196th Street widening project.
Councilmember Hurst said he is opposing the development agreement because it lacked language ensuring future developments would guarantee affordable housing units. Hurst has been advocating for swift development of city policies to establish an affordable housing policy in Lynnwood.
“I think now we are suffering the consequences,” he said. “Now, we are approving development agreements with no affordable housing and we can sit here and try to sympathize with people, but our actions speak louder than our words.”
Currently, future developers are under no obligations to include affordable or low-income housing units. Per the agreement, multi-family tax exemptions (MFTE) will be available for future developers; however, Hurst said he doubted Merlone Geier Partners would use them to benefit the city.
In addition to being part of the city’s regional growth center, Northline Village sits in Lynnwood’s opportunity zone — a federal government-approved, IRS program that is established by census tracking to find low-income areas. During his remarks, Hurst said that with no language guaranteeing affordable housing, the development wouldn’t serve those in the opportunity zone who need it.
Though the development agreement does not include affordable housing mandates, MGP Vice President of Development Jamas Gwilliam said there will be opportunities in the future to include low-cost housing, which he said would help residents working in the “missing middle” professions.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to provide housing to that missing middle and the ability to participate in the MFTE program or other programs,” he said.
Voting in favor of the ordinance, Councilmember Shannon Sessions said she did not support mandating affordable housing units in future developments. Instead, Sessions said she would prefer offering incentives for developers to find creative solutions for bringing affordable housing to Lynnwood.
“It’s not necessarily a ‘yes, affordable housing’ for this space,” she said. “But it’s also not officially a ‘no.’ There’s still a possibility they can choose to include a percentage of affordable housing.”
Lynnwood officials have been working to with Snohomish County to develop a plan that sets city guidelines for a housing policy. The city is also developing a South Lynnwood Neighborhood Plan — an effort by the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department to address social inequity in south Lynnwood, which is experiencing significant inequities including income and language barriers.
Councilmember Ian Cotton agreed that Lynnwood needs affordable housing but added the city would still benefit from the future developments by gaining new streets, parks and other proposed amenities.
“Is there room for improvement, yes,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement, but in this instance I’m happy with what’s being presented.”
Though the Northline Village agreement has been approved, the project has no timeline and it will be some time before redevelopment begins, said Economic Director David Kleitsch. Plans to break ground on the site are tentatively scheduled for after Sound Transit light rail construction is completed in 2024.
For more information on the project, visit northlinevillage.com.
— By Cody Sexton