Lynnwood City Council postpones decision on Whispering Pines rezone

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Lynnwood City Councilmember George Hurst makes a point about the Whispering Pines proposal while fellow councilmembers — from left Christine Frizzell, Shirley Sutton and Benjamin Goodwin — listen. (Photo by Mardy Harding)

Pointing to a need for additional details, the Lynnwood City Council at its Monday, June 11 meeting postponed a decision on whether to approve a comprehensive plan amendment and rezone for the aging Whispering Pines housing development, located at 18225 52nd Ave. W.

The June 11 meeting was a continuation of a May 29 public hearing on the matter. And although the council heard more public testimony and asked some new questions about possible alternatives to the proposed rezone, councilmembers agreed that before making a decision, they would like to see a development agreement. This is an agreement the city would enter into with HASCO about the “use and mitigation of development of that property,” according to the Lynnwood municipal code. A development agreement would allow the city to comment on proposed uses of the land so the development meets mutually agreed upon standards.

City Planning Manager Todd Hall told the council that the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO), the owner of the property, needs a decision before the July 9 business meeting. Hall also said that HASCO has no intention of submitting a design for a new development until the council makes a final decision on zoning.

Current and future land use under the proposed plan.

HASCO must rebuild the apartments because the sewer and fire alarm systems are failing on the current Whispering Pines building, which is 50 years old. Under the current zoning, the rebuild would include 219 units, which represents a loss of 21 units from the current 240. Rezoning the property would allow for the construction of between 300-400 units — half of which would be market price, and the other half affordable housing; all of the complex’s current units are described as affordable housing.

Concerned citizens —  some of whom also attended the previous meeting —  voiced their opinions June 11 regarding different elements of the plan. The common thread among all testimonies was the concern that this proposed rebuild will lower the number of affordable housing units on the property, which is going in the wrong direction considering there is an eight-year wait list for a limited number of affordable housing spaces. Additionally, those living in Whispering Pines range from low-income to Section 8 housing qualifiers (see federal definition of income levels for subsidized housing here). According to one resident, many Whispering Pines tenants are concerned that they will not be able to find housing they can afford once the complex is torn down and rebuilt.

HASCO officials have said they will work with current residents to relocate them to other affordable housing units. “We’ve already started making connections with the property owners of the other income-restricted properties within the elementary school boundary, and we’ll be doing the same thing with the properties that are within the middle and high school boundaries,” said Kristen Cane, the Director of Snohomish Housing Authority’s Development and Policy, in an interview prior to the meeting. Cane said that HASCO’s goal is “to make sure that any vacant units that come up in those properties, we can help connect our existing residents to those opportunities so they can stay within their same school area.” HASCO also has a portfolio of over 700 units in the south county area, where they plan to use the same strategy. “If we know that units are becoming available we can help match up families that would like to move early from Whispering Pines one of those properties which are also income restricted,” she said.

Whispering Pines is located at 18225 52nd Ave. W. in Lynnwood.

About 30 percent of current Whispering Pines residents have Section 8 vouchers, according to Cane, meaning they are not limited to income-restricted properties because the federal government subsidizes their rent. However, these vouchers can only be used at market-price housing options that accept them.

Darlarae Osborn, who lives in Whispering Pines, said in a later interview that her main concern is the amount of housing options that will realistically be available for the current residents of Whispering Pines.  Osborn said many of her neighbors live with disabilities and on limited incomes, and after making calls to a few units, she discovered the wait times don’t appear to accommodate the number of people who will be displaced. And Osborn doesn’t want to leave Lynnwood, where her daughter and father both live. “I love Lynnwood,” she said.

Osborn also described the psychological and emotional stress she  experienced in the past when she moved from Whispering Cedars, where she lived for 17 years. “I just want to get in somewhere, and I just want to be there till the day I die. I don’t want to move,” she said. Osborn also said that relocation money would be helpful, as well as services to help her find new housing.

Karen Walls, who has owned a single-family home next to Whispering Pines for more than 40 years, told the council she was concerned about the precedent that the rezone would set for the future redevelopment. “The whole point of rezoning this is to have more people in the same amount of space for residents,” she said. “But with that comes infrastructure issues, such as street congestion and increased crime potential.” She said she was worried that if this rezone is approved, other medium-density properties will see the same changes.

“What will be the reasoning to say no to other developers?” Walls asked the council.

Walls also said she was concerned that HASCO officials could change their minds and exceed their currently hoped for six stories on the property.

Whispering Pines resident Dawn Wickert criticized the proposal of adding more single-resident housing, such as one-bedrooms and smaller apartments, to the rebuilt Whispering Pines. HASCO’s representative Cane said this element was designed to help house those currently “doubling up” on housing right now by living with friends or family, so they have a home of their own.

“For us, it’s meeting the demand of the growing population that’s already in Lynnwood, that’s overcrowded and underhoused, they already have cars and they’re already driving and parking in the neighborhood,” Cane said.

Wickert said she understands why HASCO is waiting to create a plan, so resources and time aren’t spent if the zoning were to not be approved. However, she said, “We should be making data-driven decisions here, not changing the codes without a plan.”

The city council took the same approach and elected to continue the hearing at a further meeting, hoping for more details about alternative scenarios to come forward, and to see a development agreement with details of HASCO’s project.

— By Mardy Harding

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