A proposal to tear down and rebuild the Whispering Pines apartment complex remains at a stalemate as the Lynnwood City Council unanimously decided at its March 11 business meeting to wait to hear more information before voting on the matter.
The council’s decision to reschedule its vote to March 25 came after a public hearing regarding changes to the city’s official zoning map and the future land-use map that would accommodate the project.
The council has been considering whether to approve a proposed comprehensive plan amendment and rezone that would allow replacement of the 240-unit Whispering Pines apartments — located at 18225 52nd Ave. W. — with a taller structure capable of housing 350 units. If the ordinances are not approved, any new complex constructed on the site would only be able to house 219 units, due to new parking requirements.
A remodel is required for the 50-year-old building, owned by the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) because the current building’s sewer and fire alarm systems are failing. All of the building’s current units are labeled as affordable housing, but the new building would be able to accommodate both affordable and market-value units.
HASCO Executive Director Duane Leonard said the current building is “at the end of its economic life” and will be closed down by the end of December 2023. HASCO is not legally required to relocate displaced residents or cover moving costs, but Leonard said HASCO will continue to work with residents to locate new affordable housing. To offset the inconvenience, HASCO provided residents with a 30-month notice and promised not to raise rent or fees for tenants.
In considering the proposal from HASCO, the council requested the city attorney look into whether the rezone decision can be made contingent on obtaining a development agreement. This would allow the council an opportunity to have more say in the development process, said Council President Ben Goodwin.
“I do like the idea of the rezone — if it’s possible — being contingent in this case,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s right for us to require that they have a development agreement.”
The city council currently has no review authority over project design review applications, leaving approval of development proposals to the community development director, said City Planning Manager Todd Hall.
“If HASCO — or any other property owner — submits something it would be reviewed by staff, with no planning commission approval or review by council,” he said.
The council and HASCO are currently in a Catch-22 — the council is requesting a building design from HASCO before approving a rezone, but HASCO is hesitant to pay for building designs without knowing what the zoning will be.
“I would be committing an act of malfeasance in my view if we hired designers and architects, spending tens of thousands of dollars without knowing what the zoning was,” Leonard said.
Council President Goodwin said he sympathizes with HASCO’s reluctance, but would feel more comfortable with a contingency that would allow the council to have more input on the building’s future design. The contingency would permit the council to review development designs from HASCO before amending zoning regulations and allow the council to view more options for the project.
“I think it’s important that we see other potential (situations) that could happen if we don’t allow some form of rezone for HASCO’s ideas for the property,” he said.
The decision to delay Monday’s vote was also in response to the absence of two councilmembers and unanswered questions from HASCO – like the percentage of units that would be low-income versus the number that would be set at market value. The council has been waiting for a year for some of those questions to be addressed, said Councilmember Shannon Session.
“They’re still the same questions from last year that really haven’t been answered,” she said.
During the public hearing, the council also heard testimony from residents who live near the Whispering Pines apartments and were concerned about the project’s impacts on their neighborhood. One resident, Karen Walls, said she was against the rezoning because a building higher than two stories would affect the natural lighting of her home.
“We will see a reduction of direct sunlight from the three-story building going in,” she said.
The proposed height would create a 45-degree angle in which the sun would be hidden behind the complex, creating a premature sunset, Walls said.
Lynnwood resident Mark Smith said the new project had the potential to help the city by serving as workforce housing. Smith said it should not be seen as a place to house the homeless or those with mental illness, but instead as an opportunity for people who work entry-level jobs.
“Workforce housing right now is the Holy Grail of affordable housing,” he said. “It accommodates people who are working families. These are folks who are trying to rebuild their lives or make better lives for them and their children.”
In other business, the council heard a presentation from Economic Development Director David Kleitsch on improvements being made to the city’s Development and Business Services (DBS). He explained that DBS is made of four departments — community development, economic development, fire prevention and public works.
It is the goal of DBS to address issues that have been raised regarding some departments – in particular related to the slow pace of issuing business licenses, which Councilmember George Hurst said has caused some people to not bring their businesses to Lynnwood.
“I think this is a positive step to put it out there we’re changing and ready to move forward,” Hurst said.
The city council also unanimously approved the ordinance regulating pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The ordinance was drafted to protect citizens from threatening or intimidating behavior caused by aggressive solicitations.
Some were concerned the ordinance could give cause to discriminate against the homeless population in the city. Lynnwood Police Commander Rodney Cohnheim said the purpose is to promote safety, not cause a problem for the homeless.
“I really appreciate the thoroughness of the definitions and the wording that protects pedestrians and drivers,” said Council Vice President Christine Frizzell.
- -By Cody Sexton