State Senate bill to increase housing near transit gets a hearing

Work at Terrace Station Apartments in 2020. (MLTnews file photo)

The word from a supporter of a new housing bill making its way through the state Senate put it this way: “We are asking the Legislature to go big on housing.” An opponent argued that a number of the housing bills in Olympia are “extreme and draconian.”

For Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, this bill would “go big” – by approving high-rise, high-density apartments along most South County bus routes, around light rail and Sounder stations, and even the Edmonds ferry terminal. That is, if it passes.

Senate Bill 5466, sponsored by 21st District Democratic Sen. Marko Liias, has bi-partisan support — three Republicans signed on as co-sponsors — and it got its first hearing Tuesday before the Senate Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs Committee.

Senate Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs Committee meeting Tuesday.

 For the Tuesday hearing, 614 people had signed up to offer live or written testimony – only three were listed as opponents.  Among the big corporate and industry lobbyists were – Amazon, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, the Association of Washington Business.

State Sen. Marko Liias

First up was Liias, who told the panel, “we are going to build one of the strongest and most vibrant transit systems in the world in the Puget Sound region… we need to make sure that we maximize the value of these huge taxpayer investments by siting housing next to them and siting  jobs next to them.”

Liias insisted that local control of zoning was not the issue in this bill — as it is in a more sweeping housing bill HB1110, which we recently reported on. “Rather than telling our cities how to do their jobs, It provides targets to make sure that near our transit areas… we are creating hundreds of thousands of potential new units in the Puget Sound to meet the growing demand and the shortage we have got.”

Senate Housing Bill 5466

The legislative synopsis says the bill “would create flexible standards for cities to allow mid-sized apartment buildings within three-quarters of a mile of transit stops with frequent service, and larger buildings within a quarter-mile of light rail stations.” That would include ferry terminals.

Communities could receive state grants to offset some construction costs. Each project would have to provide at least 100 housing units and the measure would require that at least a third of those apartments be affordable housing for those whose income less than 80% of the county’s median income. In Snohomish County, that is $95,000. The apartments would have to remain affordable for at least 99 years. The bill would also drop requirements for off-street parking.

Clockwise from upper left: artist’s rendering of Lynnwood City Center Apartments and Edmonds’ Apollo Apartments; Terrace Station in Mountlake Terrace

The cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace already cluster most large new multi-family development along Highway 99, in Lynnwood’s City Center and around Alderwood Mall, and in Mountlake Terrace near the planned light rail station. As many as 6,000 apartments are planned in Lynnwood; Edmonds has 1,000 units in construction or in planning and Mountlake Terrace has 700 units, with another 600 potentially. This bill could have significant impact in areas like Edmonds Way, along the border of Woodway, and residential areas along transit routes in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

The feedback

Not all who support the bill agree with all aspects of it. Ryan Donohue, chief advocacy officer for Habitat for Humanity, told lawmakers that “while this is good, it could be better… (that) “as written this bill would make it difficult for affordable home ownership projects, in particular for them to happen near transit.”

Tacoma’s Deputy Mayor, Kristina Walker, testified that to enable cities to plan, the high density should only be a “half-mile around transit stops, rather than three-fourths of a mile” to ease the impact.

Aside from Liias, no other local lawmakers were scheduled to testify.

Mayor Mike Nelson

In an email, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson said: “One major concern about SB5466 is the requirement to increase densities along Edmonds’ waterfront, which are at growing risk of sea-level rise and climate change impacts.

“The bill should provide exemptions that enable cities to adapt to climate change and to increase resilience,” Nelson continued.

The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE) has criticized half a dozen of the housing bills in the Legislature. Board member Larry Williamson, in a recent My Edmonds News letter to the editor, said that those proposals are  “extreme and draconian and would revamp land use and zoning statewide. They propose unworkable solutions to problems not anticipated in Edmonds until at least 2035 to meet GMA growth goals, and not resulting in affordable housing.” ACE President Michelle Dotsch says: “There are a lot of density/transit bills out there but ACE has no position on that particular one for right now.”

Senate Bill 5466 still faces likely amendments before it can get out of committee and go to the full Senate. A companion bill has been launched in the House. Last session, lawmakers scuttled all the housing proposals. This year, with the Democrats solidifying their control in both houses and with some Republican backing, supporters think they have their best chance to pass what they believe would be the most significant housing legislation in decades.

 — By Bob Throndsen



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