Lynnwood City Council discusses Regional Growth Center Plan, returning to in-person meetings

Members of the Lynnwood City Council discuss the Regional Growth Center Subarea Plan Monday night.

The topic of future residential growth in Lynnwood took center stage during the Lynnwood City Council’s March 7 business meeting.

The discussion came after city staff introduced to the council Lynnwood’s Regional Growth Center (RGC) Subarea Plan. This plan – which will happen concurrently with the city’s 2024 Comprehensive Plan – will state the area’s community vision, determine appropriate development plans and land uses, identify needed infrastructure projects and respond to changes and opportunities presented by Sound Transit’s light rail extension. 

The plan is in the very early stages of development. City officials are working to gather data and get community input the plan, which isn’t set to be adopted until June 2024. Until then, the council will be receiving quarterly updates about the planning process.

The RGC plan would support development to house 25,000 new residents and support 21,000 new jobs – an idea that was opposed by some councilmembers. 

Councilmember Jim Smith said the city is planning for growth that current residents don’t even want. 

“What good does this do for Lynnwood?” he asked. “Between what we have done, and what is in the process of happening that’s already going to be built: haven’t we done our part? Sometimes we just have to say no. I don’t want the City of Lynnwood to become garbage just to help somebody else.”

Councilmember Patrick Decker said it’s going to be nearly impossible to get an additional 21,000 workers on and off the roads every day when the city already has problems with traffic. 

“How do we get 21,000 more workers … in and out of Lynnwood every morning at 8 o’clock in a way that those businesses can actually function?” he asked. “Because we can barely get the people we have now. I recognize the light rail is coming in. But you can’t get 21,000 people on a light rail up to Lynnwood. My sons ride that every day and it’s full already without another 21,000 jobs in Lynnwood. They’re asking for the impossible here.”

Lynnwood’s Senior Planner Kristen Holdsworth said she understands the council’s frustration and assured them that the city is looking at multiple ways to accommodate this state Growth Management Act requirement. 

While current residents may not want Lynnwood to expand to accommodate 25,000 more residents, Holdsworth said if they don’t move in that direction with the state-required RGC plan, the city could receive a hefty fine for noncompliance.

“I think the antithesis of the statement ‘If you build it, they will come’ is if you don’t build it, they won’t come, because they won’t have any place to come to,” Decker said. “I guarantee you, if you build it, they will come, and we may not want that many people here.”

“It’s a fine line because if you don’t build it, housing prices continue to skyrocket,” Holdsworth responded. “We’re trying to manage all of these competing priorities at the same time.”

“I understand that,” Decker said. “But let me ask a question. Recent multifamily construction in Lynnwood: What percentage of that is affordable? Just because we build multifamily, doesn’t mean it’s affordable. I look at every new construction that’s gone in recently and I am astounded at $2,000 a month rent for a one-bedroom, one-bath (apartment) in Lynnwood. We’re [already] not creating affordable housing.”

Decker said while none of this expansion information is particularly new to the council, some councilmembers will never agree with it. The council’s job is to speak for the residents of Lynnwood, not the county or the state, he said, and councilmembers will continue to do so for as long as the county keeps forcing them into unwanted expansion.

In other business, the council discussed returning to in-person council meetings, but didn’t make a decision on logistics for that. However, the council agreed to meet in-person at Lynnwood City Hall council chambers for their March 14 session. 

At that meeting, councilmembers will vote on two rules for the return of in-person meetings:

  • Councilmembers may attend three meetings virtually throughout the year
  • Executive sessions must be attended in person

During their Feb. 28 discussion on attendance, councilmembers had originally decided to limit councilmembers to two virtual attendances per year. However, after more discussion on Monday, they decided to change that number to three.

“I was just thinking maybe two isn’t enough since we’re just coming out of this new way of doing things,” Councilmember Shannon Sessions said. “It might be harder for some to be able to transition as well.”

Councilmember Josh Binda and Council President George Hurst agreed with Sessions, with Hurst stating the council should extend virtual attendance to four per year.

Originally, councilmembers talked about only allowing one virtual attendance and requiring prior council approval, but after further discussion, they also decided against that.

“Instead of saying there should be limitations on what reasons there are,” Councilmember Binda said, “we just leave it at a number, and that’s the certain amount you have to use.”

Binda said if there are limitations put on what reasons are acceptable, it could lead to quarreling and resentment in the council. What may be seen as a valid reason to some to attend virtually, may seem unnecessary to others, and Binda said he can only see that as a hindrance.

Sessions agreed with Binda and said no one should be able to tell councilmembers what they can and cannot use their virtual meetings for.

“We’re all adults here. Why you need to [attend virtually] is no one else’s business. But once you use them, you use them. And they’re gone,” she said.

The council also decided to postpone until a later time a conversation on the safety of the councilmembers during in-person meetings.

In another matter, the council discussed the proposed expansion of the Harris Ford car dealership on Highway 99. The project includes demolishing the existing satellite showroom, constructing a new single-story, 4,300-square-foot showroom, and expanding the sales lot around the new showroom.

For the expansion to take place, Harris Ford will need to purchase a small portion of 64th Avenue West from the city. If the city agrees, Harris Ford is planning to use some of its existing property to add a dedicated right-turn lane on 200th Street Southwest to mitigate traffic issues. 

A map of the street Harris Ford is requesting to purchase, as well as a visual of where the right-turn lane will be constructed.

Economic Development Manager Ben Wolters said if the dealership is able to break ground this spring and have the project finished by the end of the year, Ford Motor Co. will reimburse Harris Ford for the cost of construction. Wolters is expecting the expansion to benefit the city with more car sales – which means more tax revenue for Lynnwood – as well as an improved city image with a nicer lot and better landscaping.

Councilmember Smith said he doesn’t understand why the city would even consider this proposal. He said that whatever the street gets appraised at, Harris Ford would be allowed to purchase it for half the price. Because of this, Smith said the deal doesn’t make any sense, and doesn’t see a point in taking more away from current residents in the name of expansion.

Sessions disagreed with Smith, saying she doesn’t see residents losing anything in terms of this expansion project. She also said she didn’t see a point in the city holding on to one block just because selling it wouldn’t make them a lot of money.

“Sometimes things that need to happen aren’t money-makers, and that’s okay,” she said.

Council President Hurst and Councilmember Julietta Altamirano-Crosby agreed with Sessions, seeing this deal as something positive that should happen.

“I don’t know if a street is worth much to the city until we think about selling it,” Hurst said.

The council will hold a public hearing regarding the Harris Ford expansion during its March 14 business meeting, and is set to vote on the development agreement at its March 28 meeting.

— by Lauren Reichenbach

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