Pending additional information regarding housing affordability in the city, the Lynnwood City Council voted at its July 22 business meeting to postpone the approval of an ordinance that would amend regulations regarding development agreements in the City Center district.
By a 4-2 margin, the council decided to delay voting on the measure. The motion was opposed by Councilmembers Shannon Sessions and Ruth Ross, with Council President Ben Goodwin absent from the vote.
According to the proposed ordinance, the amendments would give the city more flexibility when negotiating with developers on development regulations. The changes would allow additional options for building design, height, density and parking requirements; but only when the proposal results in a higher-quality product for the public, said City of Lynnwood City Center Manager Karl Almgren.
The proposed code amendment would allow flexibility to occur only in the City Center district — which covers 48th Avenue West to 33rd Avenue West and 194th Street Southwest to Interstate 5 — and the city’s regional growth center, which includes the Alderwood Mall area and portions of the City Center district.
A public hearing at the meeting allowed community members to offer input regarding the proposed ordinance. Among the speakers was Pam Hurst, who expressed concern that the language regarding affordable housing in the proposed ordinance was too vague. Without guidelines established by the city regarding affordable housing, Hurst said she did not believe developers would voluntarily bring such housing to the city.
According to the Housing Consortium of Everett and Snohomish County, Lynnwood is short 1,200 low-income housing units. Additionally, Pam Hurst reminded the council that the city will soon lose affordable housing while Whispering Pines undergoes renovations and after the complex has been rebuilt.
“My hope and prayer tonight is that you all consider updating the proposed vague policy with guidelines that will include a healthy percentage of affordable housing,” she said.
The motion made by Council Vice-President Christine Frizzell to postpone voting on the ordinance was an extension of an amendment proposed by Councilmember George Hurst. During his motion, Hurst proposed that developers be required to include 15% of the units to be affordable housing, based on a 60% income qualification or less of the Snohomish County area median income (AMI) with a term length of 25 years.
“I think this is the type of action we need to take or we’re not going to see affordable housing in Lynnwood,” he said.
While Frizzell agreed the ordinance should be amended, she said she was not ready to set the number of affordable housing units at 15%. Before settling on a set percentage, Frizzell recommended that the council wait to review the Housing White Paper — a document from the city’s planning department that outlines existing conditions, state legislation and affordable housing strategies and was created to provide a baseline knowledge of housing affordability to help guide future decisions.
“With that I am hopeful that we will see some alternatives and we will see some clear direction as to where Lynnwood could and should be going in relation to affordable housing,” Frizzell said.
The Housing White Paper was scheduled to be presented at the council’s July 29 work session meeting.
Opposing the motion to postpone the vote was Councilmember Ruth Ross, who said she did not want to cause delays for city staff whose work may be affected by the postponement. Additionally, she pointed out that if the council was going to discuss numbers regarding housing, that was a conversation that could happen during a council work session meeting.
“I think we have an awful lot to talk about before we come up with something like this right off the cuff,” she said.
Councilmember Shannon Sessions also voted against postponing the vote, because she said the proposed ordinance was bigger than affordable housing.
“This ordinance is also about encouraging and bringing family-wage careers, jobs and businesses here,” she said. “It all is connected to help our entire community.”
In other business, the council unanimously voted to approve the appointment of John E. Galt as the city’s hearing examiner, for an initial period of three years with options for the city to renew the contract subsequently for up to seven years.
During the meeting’s public comment period, residents from Destinations Lynnwood 61+ (formerly SHAG) voiced their frustration about parking issues at the complex that are prohibiting DART buses from being able to pick them up. Geraldine Merrick, a Destinations resident, presented a petition to the council signed by other residents of the complex, who say they depend on the DART buses to get them to doctor appointments.
“I think this is not right,” she said. “It’s violating our rights and something needs to be done.”
According to city spokesperson Julie Moore, the city’s public works director and a team of city staff members will meet with residents at Destinations Lynnwood 61+ and review the issues presented.
“This team will work to discover if these issues are under the city’s purview or the responsibility of the building owner, what in fact are the current conditions and next steps,” she said.
–Story and photos by Cody Sexton