Lynnwood council debates housing, director appointment policy

At its work session April 1, the Lynnwood City Council had lengthy conversations about the city’s housing policy direction and councilmembers’ involvement in Lynnwood’s hiring processes. 

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO)’s Chris Collier presented a snapshot of county housing statistics. Collier, an affordable housing program manager, talked about the divide between incomes and housing prices. While he focused his comments on local data, he acknowledged that attempts to address housing issues would require collaboration between neighboring cities as well as national change.

Wages versus housing prices
Data regarding workforce/resident ratio
Homeownership in Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace compared to age

During and following the presentation, councilmembers discussed their beliefs regarding housing.

In response to data about a lack of high-paying jobs in Lynnwood, Councilmember Shirley Sutton asked Collier how Lynnwood could attract the companies that pay livable wages to their staff. Collier said  that question would be better posed to Lynnwood Development Director David Kleitch, although he added that Lynnwood had great potential with its transit options and location. 

Chris Collier presented on behalf of the Alliance for Housing Affordability, which Lynnwood belongs to through an interlocal agreement that includes 15 cities.

Councilmember Patrick Decker said that scarcity drives housing costs and that “Washington has created scarcity that doesn’t necessarily exist in other parts of the country.” He added that many high-paying companies offered work-from-home options for their employees, which could benefit Lynnwood if the city can attract those workers.

Councilmember Patrick Decker

“We can have the people that work at those high-paying jobs move to Lynnwood and live here and be part of our community, rather than being wherever those offices are,” Decker said. “A desirable place to live is not some place where you have so many apartments that people can’t drive to the store or can’t drive to work on those days that they need to. A desirable place in Lynnwood is not a place where the parks have so many people in them that people don’t have room to go out and enjoy themselves because they’re simply so packed. A desirable Lynnwood is not a hyperdensification where we can’t enjoy what Lynnwood is.” 

Council President George Hurst asked Community Planning Manager Karl Almgren to define “hyperdensification,” as he’d heard the word repeatedly during discussions of housing. Almgren replied that he thought it was an opinion statement and confirmed that it was not a technical term he’d heard during his planning career. 

“Isn’t the point of densification, of having a city center, to be a place where people don’t need to be in their cars to shop and to be at a park?” Hurst asked. Almgren confirmed this, commenting that achieving this required a critical mass of people and services, something the city has heavily invested in.  

Decker said he disagreed with Almgren.

“Hyperdensity and hyperdensification is a very well accepted and well-defined term,” Decker said “I’ll give you an example: Vishaan Chakrabarti is the director of Columbia University Center for Urban Real Estate. He has more than one article about hyperdensity and hyperdentification of urban environments,” Decker added that single-family homes were purchased as an investment and that apartments do not give the same value to people, so residents’ generational wealth would continue to decline. 

Council President George Hurst

Hurst said he did an online search for hyperdensification and found the same article. “If you look at the article written by the professor of Columbia, it’s actually pro-hyperdensification but it’s a specific term where, it’s urban areas with subways,” Hurst said. “I agree that housing, home ownership is a wealth-building tool. In fact that’s why, historically, we are fighting the historical battle where a lot of people of color were not allowed to own homes. Actually, that’s why we have [single-family] zones. It started with red lines and keeping people out.”

Community Planning Manager Karl Almgren

Councilmember David Parshall asked Almgren to confirm that goal 5 of the Lynnwood Comprehensive Plan’s housing element was aimed at increasing the number of people that both live in and work in Lynnwood. Parshall said in conversations with Lynnwood police officers and school teachers, many were concerned about trying to find a place to live in the city.

Goal 5 of the Comprehensive Plan is this: “Incentivize affordable, sustainable, and workforce housing near transportation and employment centers.”

Almgren said that increasing density was part of that goal. He added, however, that transportation was also an investment in Lynnwood’s residents since it efficiently increases services to residents in a denser area, rather than expanding outward in a more expensive manner that would not service as many people.

Draft goals for the Lynnwood Comprehensive Plan

Another item presented for council consideration during the April 1 meeting pertained to a request from an incoming housing development, ENSO, to use Lynnwood’s Multi-Unit Housing Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. ENSO will include 316 total units in a seven-story building to be located at 198th Street Southwest and 40th Avenue West. 


The council approved a similar request in March 2024, when it agreed to use the MFTE program in a 12-year agreement with Koz. The agreement allows the developer to be exempt from residential property taxes assessed to the value of new housing construction. It does not apply to Kōz’s commercial spaces or the value of the land itself. In exchange, Koz will set aside 20 units to rent by households at or below 80% of area median income, and another 20 units will be available to households at more than 80% but below 115% of area median income. 

Unlike Koz, ENSO is seeking to use an eight-year variation of the program that does not require it to include affordable housing units. The MFTE program in Lynnwood was instituted in 2007 to increase housing supply.

Councilmember Nick Coelho

Councilmember Nick Coelho expressed disappointment in the lack of affordable housing included in the development, and he asked if ENSO could reapply for a tax exemption under the 12-year program. Economic Development Manager Ben Wolters said that while ENSO’s developers were interested in the 12-year program, the development’s lenders were not. Further, he stated that developers were facing a tight schedule and financial market. 

Hurst asked if ENSO would be using opportunity zone funding. That is a federal program that also provides tax exemptions to developers constructing in areas that have an individual poverty rate of at least 20% or median family income up to 80% of the area median income. Wolters confirmed the developer was.

Development company ACG Acquisitions LLC also owns Kinect @ Lynnwood, which has current rent prices ranging from $1,670 for a 486-square-foot studio to $2,410 for a two-bedroom, two bathroom apartment. According to information provided by Collier’s presentation earlier in the evening, this price is slightly lower-than-average rent in Lynnwood – though still unaffordable to most people.

Hurst said that opportunity zones were created with poverty levels in mind and that developers should be trying to provide housing for that population. Despite this, there is no requirement for affordable housing initiatives in either the eight-year MFTE program or opportunity zone program. Further, if the council were to reject ENSO’s participation in the program, the council would have to provide a legally valid stated reason because the development otherwise meets the participation criteria.

Councilmember Decker said that he appreciated ENSO’s attempt to include affordable housing and that he was in favor of the project, adding that it was a “perfect fit for our downtown area.”

“See, this is another example of how we are going to be in conflict between this intent to increase the density of our urban centers while we provide affordable housing when in so many cases, two of those are in conflict just by nature of the market that we’re in and the type of land and the scarcity of land that we have in Lynnwood,” Decker said. “And this is why housing prices go up – because land is scarce and it’s going to continue to be more scarce and the one thing we can’t do is create new land.”

Councilmember David Parshall

The council’s conversation then moved to possible adjustments of the MFTE. Parshall suggested reviewing the MFTE in the future to respond to the need for affordable housing. Decker responded that adding a forced affordable housing element to the program could deincentivize investors in developing, using ENSO itself as an example. 

Hurst said the council had discussions regarding revisions to the MFTE in the past, and he wished they’d taken action then because of the present situation. He said that in 2007, city leadership was likely concerned with housing supply and presenting Lynnwood as an attractive investment area. Now, however, the city is rapidly growing and connected via the incoming light rail and thus has more appeal to developers.

Councilmember Nick Coelho

Coelho suggested a height minimum for participation in the MFTE. Wolters said building heights were more often restrained by economic and financial factors and that adding such requirements could reduce developers’ ability to afford construction and other associated costs. 

“It’s just really frustrating to see hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into the infrastructure of this city,” Coelho said. “So much is predicated on getting that critical mass that Karl [Almgren] mentioned earlier to build a thriving downtown and it’s really frustrating to see it squandered. There’s got to be some sort of mechanism we can use to help pencil-out some of these developments.”. 

In other business, the council discussed possible changes to the city council confirmation process. Hurst said that some wordsmithing was necessary to accommodate Lynnwood’s transition from a part-time appointed judge to a full-time elected judge and other structural changes within city governments. He added that the assistant city administrator position received pay similar to that of a department head and should be moved to an appointed position for consistency. Councilmembers agreed that some wording changes were needed.

During council comments, Council Vice President Julieta Altamirano-Crosby read an email she’d received from Lynn Sordel, who retired as parks, recreation and cultural arts director after 17 years working for the city. In his email, Sordel said he was disappointed in Mayor Christine Frizzell’s decision not to appoint well-qualified current deputy director Sarah Olson to the position or share his succession plan with the council. In his email, Sordel also said that the mayor had been lying about the succession plan document and its handling. 

Council Vice President Julieta Altamirano-Crosby

Altamirano-Crosby said that transparency was an issue that she’d be focusing on in the future, because other councilmembers and members of the public had expressed concerns to her. 

Hurst took issue with the fact that, per Lynnwood policy, city councilmembers were excluded from the process of appointing officials until the administration had interviewed and chosen candidates for open positions. Hurst compared Lynnwood’s process to two similarly structured cities: Edmonds, which allows the council to participate in the interview process, and Mukilteo, which shares the same policies as Lynnwood. He asked if councilmembers were interested in revising the policy. Current Lynnwood policy also does not limit the duration of interim positions or how those positions should be appointed. 

After some discussion on whether the item should be added to the agenda or simply included as new business, councilmembers gave their opinions on the subject. Mayor Christine Frizzell warned councilmembers to be careful with their comments as openly discussing personnel issues could open the city to legal ramifications. For this reason, councilmembers could not discuss some particular grievances that had come to light during executive sessions. Altamirano-Crosby and Hurst were concerned with the lack of council input in the appointment process as well as availability of information and documents such as resumes. 

Asked via email for a city statement regarding the recruitment process for the parks, recreation and cultural services directors and the use of interim director positions, city spokesperson Nathan MacDonald offered the following:

“The PRCA Director position was officially vacant, effective March 16th. Per the City of Lynnwood’s practice, the Mayor elected Joel Faber as the Interim Director to shepherd the department through the upcoming busy season. We have implemented interims before and even had an interim last year during the Human Resources Director position recruitment process. 

This process is in alignment with RCW 35A.12.090, “The Mayor shall have the power of appointment and removal of all appointive officers and employees subject to any applicable law, rule, or regulation relating to civil service. The head of a department or office of the city government may be authorized by the Mayor to appoint and remove subordinates in such department or office, subject to any applicable civil service provisions….Appointive offices shall be without definite term unless a term is established for such office by law, charter, or ordinance.” 

We will announce the recruitment process for the permanent director position at a later date.”

Mayor Christine Frizzell

Frizzell invited councilmembers to more thoroughly discuss the issue in executive sessions. 

Coelho said that council involvement in the interview process would likely invite disagreements between the judgment of the administration and council but not actually result in changes. He said the council would be “spinning their wheels” unless the process itself was substantially changed. Parshall agreed with Coelho and focused his comments on maintaining the balance of power between the administration and legislation. 

— By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis

  1. Once again, huge thanks and appreciation to Lynnwood Today and Jasmine Contreras-Lewis for objective and informative coverage of local government discussions and decisions. Your work matters.

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