Will County Council allow “Whiskey Ridge II” land grab?Unbeknownst to most Lake Stevens residents, the economic future of our once-sleepy lake side town will likely hinge on the outcome of a County Council ruling to be made shortly after a June 9 public hearing. At stake is whether the Council will allow the City of Snohomish and its developer partner to jump across U.S. 2 to grab a choice piece of revenue producing land while disregarding the surrounding area. Sources say that the five man council is deadlocked at 2-2, with Council President Dave Somers set to cast the deciding vote. With that said, it’s time to jump into another exciting round of Off the Record Q & A. Today, let’s figure out what exactly is going on with the mounting border war between Lake Stevens and Snohomish.
Question: I’ve heard that Lake Stevens is about to lose some land a la the Whiskey Ridge debacle from a few years ago. What’s the real story?
Answer: In its 1994 comprehensive plan, the City of Lake Stevens stated intent to expand southward to U.S. 2. Since that time, our City has grown exponentially and has annexed large portions of its existing Urban Growth Area (UGA) the growth area outlined by the County that the City is expected to occupy. Currently, the intersection of U.S. 2 and SR-9 lies in unincorporated Snohomish County, north of Snohomish’s UGA and south of Lake Stevens’.
Suddenly, in 2006 a developer noticed the profit potential of this major intersection and purchased large tracts of land on the northwest corner of the U.S. 2 S.R. 9 intersection, in the area that Lake Stevens had previously identified as a future growth area. Said developer wants to develop the land into a large commercial and industrial center, a sales tax boon for whatever City should govern it. Needing the services provided by a City to make his development go, the developer contacted the City of Snohomish and offered to pay all fees for the City if Snohomish would apply to leapfrog over U.S. 2, out of its existing UGA and annex this particular chunk of land. Snohomish and the developer hopped in bed together and filed a docket request to add the land to the Snohomish UGA. This forced the City of Lake Stevens to make a decision: either cede the land to Snohomish and the developer, or file a competing docket request. Hence, the City of Lake Stevens filed a competing request to add the land to its UGA. As of earlier this year, the plot of land in question had not yet been added to the City of Snohomish’s comprehensive plan.
Question: So we want the land, Snohomish wants the land, and the developer wants to get rich?
Answer: Not really. Actually, Lake Mayor Vern Little has stated that he wants both requests thrown off the County docket. Why? Because the intersection of U.S. 2 and S.R. 9 is too important of an asset to be cherry picked simply because a private party wants to get rich. Snohomish’s attempt to select the most profitable piece of land outside of its UGA and annex it without providing service to the non-revenue generating residential lands surrounding amounts to nothing more than a selfish land grab.
The responsible thing to do here is to get all of the parties together and jointly plan the ENTIRE area. This is not an unprecedented idea. In fact, this is exactly what the County has done in the past when cities began scrapping over adjacent land. Two prominent examples include the joint planning of Smokey Point by Arlington and Marysville and the joint planning of South County by the cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Bothell.
Question: So has Lake Stevens officially proposed the joint planning of this area?
Answer: Yes. Lake Stevens suggested to Snohomish the joint planning of the entire region early last year. Snohomish responded that they would rather cherry-pick the northwest corner of U.S. 2-S.R. 9 for themselves, but they wouldn’t mind working together on the surrounding lands. The County has said that while they support the idea of joint planning, they haven’t yet budgeted the funds for such an activity.
Question: Why is any of this important? Does Lake Stevens really need to be that far south?
Answer: Lake Stevens suffers a huge deficit in available commercial and industrial zoned lands. In order to provide the services to the citizens within the UGA, tax revenue must be collected. Residential areas are generally a revenue drain, whereas commercial and industrial areas are revenue positive. For example, since the Bickford Snohomish Station development opened, sales tax revenues for Snohomish are scheduled to double. In Lake Stevens, unless additional resources are found, the City will be operating at a budget deficit of about $1 million per year. As early as 1993, city planners identified the southern UGA area as a future source of income through commercial and industrial development. When the developer teamed up with Snohomish in 2006 and made a grab for the land, it sped up Lake’s timetable for moving towards this long-term goal.
Question: Okay, money stuff aside, who’s better suited to provide service to the area in question.
Answer: Almost certainly Lake Stevens. The area is currently served by Lake Fire.Should the land be given to Snohomish, both agencies would be negatively impacted. Further, there are serous doubts as to whether the Snohomish sewer system could handle the increased pressure. Currently, the outdated Snohomish sewer system has been dumping hazardous wastewater into the Snohomish River for years, costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. By comparison, Lake Sewer is much better suited to handle increased capacity and has won state and federal recognition for advanced technology and responsible management.
Question: I can see why both Cities would want this land. What I don’t understand is why the County doesn’t just do the responsible thing and make every get together and plan the area jointly?
Answer: This is a good thought to pass on to Council President Dave Somers, who coincidentally represents the council district which includes both Snohomish and Lake Stevens. Somers, who is up for re-election this fall, recently voted to delay the process to allow the Cities to attempt to talk amongst themselves. Unfortunately, Snohomish is tied to the developer, and both have refused advances to jointly plan the area. Now is the time for responsible leadership at the County level. This land does not belong to Snohomish, and it does not belong to Lake Stevens. There is no manifest destiny here. The only destiny involved is whether we will allow money hungry land developers to grab the richest areas without regard to the will and well-being of the surrounding communities. Responsible planning dictates that both Snohomish’s and Lake Stevens’ docket requests be disregarded and that all parties meet to work together on the planning of our region’s future. The time to make your voice heard is now otherwise we’ll be waking up to Whiskey Ridge II headlines in the daily papers.
Attend the June 9 public hearing and tell the County Council to jointly plan the area between Lake Stevens and Snohomish. Email Council President Dave Somers at email@example.com and tell him that the future of Lake Stevens and his entire Council district requires responsible planning by all affected parties.
For more information, visit the Off the Record blog at www.lakestevensjournal.com. Kevin Hulten is the former Managing Editor of the Lake Stevens Journal and maintains the Off the Record blog.