Lynnwood City Councilmembers question plans for growth management, considers switch to elected judge

During its March 20 work session, the Lynnwood City Council questioned plans for growth management and city planning, heard a proposal to switch to a full-time elected judge and considered findings on the definition of an essential public facility (EPF).

Mandi Roberts and Karl Almgren spoke about plans for the city for an hour and a half.

Community Planning Manager Karl Almgren and Otak consultant Mandi Roberts presented an update on Lynnwood’s Comprehensive Plan, igniting so much discussion that the time allotted for the item tripled, lasting an hour and a half. The state’s Growth Management Act requires all jurisdictions within Pierce, King and Snohomish counties to update their comprehensive plans and development regulations by December 2024, and every 10 years thereafter. The conversation largely focused on council objections to the city’s estimated population growth and housing plans.

Roberts began by presenting research that polled Lynnwood communities about their preferences in places to live. Residents who were surveyed praised Lynnwood for its parks and trails, overall location, the library, shopping and dining options, transit options and people.  Survey respondents also said they appreciated nearby areas for their parks and water features, “village” type environments, cleanliness, diverse food options, street trees and downtown areas. For the next 20 years, residents surveyed said they anticipate both challenges and opportunities in Lynnwood, including traffic management, cost of living and homelessness, the light rail, future growth, jobs, cultural and community spaces and fun places to visit.

Census data indicates that Lynnwood’s population will grow to 63,735 by 2044. Previous estimates stated that the population would grow to 56,041 by 2035, meaning that Lynnwood must be able to accommodate 7,694 more people with housing and employment over the next two decades. 

Throughout the presentation, Councilmembers Jim Smith and Patrick Decker objected to population growth accommodations.

Lynnwood is only required to update its growth management plans every ten years, though it was more frequent in the past.

“Look at what Lynnwood has done throughout the last five, 10 years compared to cities around us. It looks like Lynnwood is taking the brunt of all of this. And the rest of the cities are going ‘Hey, Lynnwood’s taking care of it and we really don’t need that,’” Smith said.

“It may look like that but we’re working in several communities right now including Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace and Mill Creek. Mill Creek kind of feels like that too,” Roberts replied. “I recognize your concerns, I really do, but therein lies the whole reason why we’re doing a 20-year Comprehensive Plan,” The plan’s function, Roberts said, is to ensure Lynnwood had plans in place to support its housing and infrastructure when growth occurred.

Decker objected to the possibility of residential building near Edmonds College, particularly those developments that would interfere with the string of automobile dealerships along Highway 99. 

“If I may, it’s not our plan,” replied Director of Development and Business Services David Kleitsch. “These are for discussion, and this is the discussion we need to have. There are areas there that are auto and there are areas there that are not auto, but we have to strike a balance and maybe the balance is that this doesn’t get expanded,” Kleitsch added.

“Well, you just said we got to build 8,000-some odd jobs and there’s a lot of smaller businesses in that area by the college there that I want to support,” Decker replied, “and I don’t want to see change to that zoning that would destroy those jobs in favor of pushing more high-rises along that stretch. I know we’re talking about it and this is a plan but for me, quite clearly, it’s a nonstarter.”

Three options were presented to manage growth in Lynnwood: inaction, where the city would grow without a plan; a concentrated growth plan and a dispersed growth plan. Concentrated growth would focus growth and transportation plans in the City Center and Alderwood areas while inaction would result in the most dispersed growth throughout Lynnwood. Dispersed growth would bring greater growth to the City Center than inaction but less than the concentrated growth plan.

“We can’t put gates up on the roads to keep people from moving in,” said Councilmember George Hurst, later reinforcing the need to plan and prepare for Lynnwood’s eventual future as a productive city. “We’re not forcing people to move here. This is just what’s going to happen because of what we have here.”

Jobs were also a focus of the discussion. To generate more high-paying jobs within Lynnwood, Hurst asked where office spaces would be located among all the residential building being planned. While some options were identified, Decker argued that with technological innovation, people with high-paying jobs could often work remotely and commute to larger commercial areas once or twice per week. 

“While it would be good if we were able to have offices to have some of those high-paying jobs, what we need to focus on is making sure Lynnwood is a community where people want to live. Let me restate that. A community where families who are paid a good salary want to live.” Decker said. 

“I agree, let’s attract folks that have a high income,” Hurst said, “but I also think we need to build housing that folks that teach or do service jobs are able to live in Lynnwood too.”

The planners said they will continue to research growth management options and monitor upcoming legislation as part of the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update process.

Hurst thanked planners for their work before receiving information on his February inquiry.

The meeting continued with a discussion about essential public facilities. Hurst had directed Lynnwood’s Development and Business Services Department to research how an “essential public facility” is defined by Washington law following the controversial Jan. 30 opening of an outpatient methadone clinic near the Alderwood Boys and Girls Club. Protests against the facility esacalated tensions among Lynnwood city leadership, residents and officials from the Washington State Department of Health. The council, unaware of the program until a month prior, was unable to prevent the facility’s opening nor place regulations on its intake. 

As it turns out, the opioid treatment program was not actually an essential public facility under to Lynnwood’s Municipal Code, Community Planning Manager Algrem said. The facility was to provide outpatient – not inpatient –services, so it was defined by Lynnwood as a “clinic.” The permitting process for a clinic does not require public notice, comment or public hearing so Lynnwood regulations were followed, Almgren explained.

Councilmembers Patrick Decker and Jim Smith at Monday’s meeting.

Smith asked Almgren why he had not informed city leadership of the methadone clinic. Almgren stated he treated it as any other permitted-use building application, one of many that Lynnwood regularly receives. Kleitsch mentioned that the city previously had a methadone clinic and reassured the council that communication about these types of developments coming to Lynnwood would improve in the future. 

At the moment, possible limitations that could be placed on outpatient substance abuse facilities include restricted zoning, requiring conditional use permits, distance from specific areas and requiring public outreach programming. However, those limitations cannot preempt legislation by the State of Washington. State Senate Bill 5624, now being considered in the state Legislature, would add opioid treatment programs to the list of essential public facilities, prevent cities from imposing maximum capacity restrictions and remove the requirement to hold a public hearing. 

After further discussion of the matter, councilmembers determined that communication improvements regarding such facilities were the best strategy for the time being. 

In other business, the city administration recommended that Lynnwood transition from having one part-time appointed judge to a full-time elected judge. City Administrator Julie Moore said that Judge Valerie Bouffiou, appointed in late 2021 for a four-year term, is currently maxed out on her schedule of 34 hours per week. The proposal to switch to a full-time position was most recently brought to the council in 2020, when 32,572 cases were submitted to Lynnwood Municipal Court. In 2022, 49,683 cases were submitted. Based on those annual Lynnwood case load figures, the state recommends 1.87 full-time judges, Moore added.

Patrick Decker finishes speaking against an elected full-time judge position.

Decker disagreed with the administration’s assessment, stating that technological improvements reduced the labor of a single part-time judge and case load was not indicative of labor requirements. 

Moore noted that the deadline to add a position to the Snohomish County election ballot was approaching in mid-April and added that — should the council follow the administration’s recommendation — the vote should occur at the council’s next business meeting March 27. 

Moore also said that if the council decided to proceed with an elected judge, a clause in Bouffiou’s contract would end her employment without cost to the city. Council President Sessions said that since this issue comes up every few years, Bouffiou would be well aware of the situation.

Shannon Sessions spoke about previous instances where the council was asked to consider a full-time judge.

Some councilmembers expressed concern about possibly losing Bouffiou as Lynnwood’s judge, although she could choose to run for election to the position. “One thing that was very important with Lynnwood is that we [councilmembers] got to interview judges. That we got a judge that worked for the city and wasn’t just elected,” said Smith. 

During the council comments portion of the agenda, Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby informed attendees about a need for volunteers at Lynnwood Food Bank and Councilmember Shirley Sutton talked about an upcoming NAACP gala in Everett. Decker spoke in support of Gov. Jay Inslee’s proclamation of the Persian holiday Nowruz.

— By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis

  1. What does, “we got a judge that worked for the city and wasn’t just elected” mean? Worked ‘for the city’ vs ‘for the people’?

    I don’t want to jump to that conclusion but IDK any other understanding without clarification.

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