Lynnwood City Council rejects Whispering Pines rezone proposal

Lynnwood City Councilmember Shannon Sessions (middle) explains her voting decision on the Whispering Pines rezone project to fellow councilmembers as, from left, Shirley Sutton, Ian Cotton, George Hurst and Ruth Ross listen.

After careful consideration and almost a year of discussions on the matter, the Lynnwood City Council at its April 22 meeting voted against amending the comprehensive plan and rezone for the Whispering Pines apartments. The council’s votes on the two proposed ordinances were cast following additional public testimony from residential neighbors of the apartment complex located at 18225 52nd Ave. W.

The decision to not allow the rezone of the property owned by the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) was made by a 4-3 margin. Council President Ben Goodwin cast the deciding vote against the ordinance that would have authorized the comprehensive plan amendment. Goodwin said he was torn on the decision, but after hearing from residents who live near the complex, he could not support the ordinance at this time.

“We understand that there are tough decisions that need to be made and each decision we make can’t make everyone happy,” he said.

The proposed rezone was met with criticism from Lynnwood residents like Karen Walls, who has been opposed to the rezone since it was proposed in May of last year. During the April 22 meeting, Walls presented a petition to the council containing 106 signatures opposing the rezone, which were collected while she and other residents canvassed the neighborhood.

“We know that most people either do not, cannot or will not attend these meetings, but that they still may have an opinion about the issues and should be given a voice,” she said.

Lynnwood resident Karen Walls has opposed the Whispering Pines rezone since it was proposed in 2018.

Also opposing the ordinance were Councilmembers Shirley Sutton, Shannon Sessions and Ian Cotton. Cotton said while it is important for the city to be a good partner with organizations like HASCO, he feels city staff should also be mindful of the social contract elected officials have with the public. He also said he was impressed by the initiative of the residents who have been involved in the process from the beginning by voicing their opinions and also by submitting the petition.

“In my mind that (the petition) tells me as a representative of the people that the people are not in favor,” he said.

Voting in favor of the rezone were Councilmembers George Hurst, Ruth Ross and Chris Frizzell. While the public hearing drew opposition from multiple residents, Frizzell said the topic is not as one-sided as it may appear.

“If we go back and include the conversations that have taken place prior, there were a number of people that were urging us to create affordable housing,” she said.

Whispering Pines has become known by some for attracting a criminal element, and residents expressed concerns during the public hearing that increasing the number available units in a new complex would increase the crime in the area. However, Frizzell pointed out the complex houses good people who need affordable housing, and more affordable housing could help with Lynnwood’s growing homelessness population.

“I’d like to give HASCO the opportunity to have wonderful people become wonderful renters and provide an opportunity for people to get out of homelessness,” she said.

A remodel of the 50-year-old building is required due to failing sewer and fire alarm systems in the current structure. HASCO requested amendments be made to zoning regulations to accommodate a taller building, capable of housing 350-400 affordable and market-value units. The current building contains 240 units, described as affordable housing.

At its March 25 business meeting, the council decided to reopen the public testimony portion of the public hearing on the rezone. The decision was made in response to communications between city staff and HASCO Executive Director Duane Leonard, who sent an email and letter to the council and mayor. The correspondence contained general information about the housing project, previously unanswered questions about parking and a reminder that a rezone is required — from HASCO’s perspective — to accommodate the desired number of units. Some residents believed the correspondence showed a lack of transparency by the council and HASCO.

Due to new parking regulations and the council’s refusal to approve rezoning the the property from medium-density multi-family (RMM) to high-density multi-family (RMH) — which would have included an additional 7.11 acres to the west of the 12-plus-acre property — the new structure will only be able to accommodate 219 units. Had the rezone been approved, HASCO proposed a six-story structure that neighboring residents said would have reduced natural lighting to their homes, decreased the availability of parking and affected access to public transit.

The next step for HASCO and city staff is to move forward with the project knowing the current RMM zoning will remain. City Planning Manager Todd Hall, who was at the April 22 meeting answering questions from city staff and residents, said the project currently has no designs for new construction, nor is there any timetable on submitting land use applications.

“This will be a discussion that I’m sure city staff and HASCO will have in the coming weeks,” he said.

In other business, the city council unanimously passed an ordinance that would make it a crime to expose children to domestic violence. The ordinance will be a tool helping city police and legal staff address the significant damage done to children who observe domestic violence, said Commander Chuck Steichen at the council’s April 15 work session.

Under the new ordinance, committing an act of domestic violence in the presence of a child under 18 years old will be a gross misdemeanor.

The city council also celebrated the following proclamations:

  • Proclaiming May 2 National Day of Prayer
  • Recognizing the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau’s Visitor Information Center at Heritage Park.
  • Proclaiming May Older Americans Month in the City of Lynnwood
  • Proclaiming May Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in the City of Lynnwood
  • Proclaiming April 22 Earth Day

–Story and photos by Cody Sexton

  1. Not in MY back yard! LOL. And here I thought people “grew up” when they got older.

    I live right smack dab in the middle of an affordable housing street up here in Everett, they could not be more wrong about negative impacts to their community. These morons who lament “Whispering Crimes!” are letting irrational fear drive decisions in their lives. They might as well vote for Trumpty Dumpty’s border wall, same mindset.

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