by MAX ERIKSON
At the April 22 Lynnwood City Council meeting, the ordinance to approve the application to rezone the Whispering Pines affordable housing apartment complex was defeated in a narrow vote by the Council 4-3.
After facing scrutiny by residents in the area, and compelling arguments by citizens, the council decided not to grant the rezoning application to the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO), who had plans to redevelop the building into a high-rise, high-density affordable housing complex.
Whispering Pines is located at 18255 52nd Ave W and is zoned as a multi-family medium density apartment building. The rezone of the property would have transformed it into a high density zone on 59 percent of the property. If the city council voted to approve the zoning change, that would have allowed HASCO to build a six-story high rise, adding up to 400 dwellings on the property.
The city’s first attempt to approve the application came at the March 25 council meeting, but certain information about the disclosure, and potential disqualifying external communications with the applicant for the rezoning, prompted citizens to request the council to postpone a vote. Residents expressed disappointment that the city was not fully transparent about the project and residents did not have a chance to address the council about it.
The council postponed the vote until April 22. At that meeting, over a dozen citizens gave testimony against the construction of the high-rise building and express concern that a large affordable housing complex does not belong in a residential neighborhood.
Arguments by citizens were focused on the uncertainties and concerns of an uptick in traffic, crime, such as car theft and home burglary, and the overall livability for the neighborhoods. The argument was also made that the city already has areas zoned for high density affordable housing complexes in other parts of the city.
The residents also presented a signed petition of over 100 signatures from neighbors who strongly opposed the rezone.
Terry Minaker is one of those concerned neighbors and presented a thorough argument to the council against the rezone, even citing city policy that protects established neighborhoods.
“I’m delighted over the decision the council made tonight. I do feel we need more affordable housing,” Minaker said. “But we already have designated areas for that and the city needs to work with future developers to include affordable housing in their projects.”
The areas of the city that are already zoned for high-density affordable housing include the city center, regional zone center, Alderwood and areas by the Alderwood Mall.
Resident Karen Walls also gave compelling public testimony against the ordinance arguing for the protection of property rights. She is thrilled the ordinance did not pass and is glad the council listened to the citizens, especially those who were going to be the most affected by the rezone.
“They heard us and understood, and did the right thing for us,” Walls said. “I have owned my house since 1975, I have worked hard for it and still work hard for it, and the council did the right thing for the people.”
When asked what HASCO could have done better, Walls replied, “Some kind of community event or survey to get the entire neighborhood on board. I know that seems simple, but if you want a good solution with support, invest to get it. Nobody wants to turn their back on our neighbors in need. But, none of the neighbors’ concerns were taken into consideration. Finding the best fit in an existing neighborhood is key.”
Walls hopes that the city council and the planning department will work towards finding solutions to affordable housing through better requirements in new apartment construction instead of depending on in-fill and redevelopment.
After an hour of testimony by residents, councilmember Shannon Sessions was ready to make a decision and moved the ordinance to a vote where she voted no on the rezone project. In her address to the public, Sessions stated she wasn’t fully convinced of all of the concerns the citizens had about the impact it would have on the neighborhood and does think that it would be an appropriate place for the project.
However, Sessions said there were some good things said in the public comment and input by the people, including the petition, which swayed her to vote no on the rezoning ordinance.
Council Member Ian Cotton also voted no saying, “As much as I want to see more affordable housing, I feel partnering with one side would break the bond and social contract of another.”
Council Member Shirley Sutton was also a no vote for the rezoning application and said that such a housing complex did not belong in the landscape of single-family areas.
“People need to understand that when they work hard to have something, and all the things they have worked hard for, they do have a right to choose what their neighborhood should be.” Sutton said.
Council members George Hurst, Ruth Ross and Christine Frizzell all voted yes for the rezoning ordinance, expressing that the need for affordable housing is so great that this was a good opportunity to address the problem.
Councilmember Hurst said in a statement, “This was a missed opportunity and hopefully another solution presents itself.”
Councilmember Ross said, “I believe in the philosophy of providing housing for everyone regardless of their ability to pay. Affordable housing is an issue we have to deal with. People need a place to live.”
Councilmember Frizzell expressed her concerns for the homeless students and children in the city and voted yes saying “I see it as the greater good.”
Every council member and the mayor expressed how much thought they had put into their decisions and all stated that it wasn’t an easy situation to decide.
Council President Benjamin Goodwin was the deciding no vote, also citing the petition as the reason he ultimately voted the way he did.
“Each decision we make affects someone’s life,” Goodwin said. “The petition showed me that it wasn’t just a handful of people sharing concerns, it was a number of people who were concerned about this. I think this decision is best for the city and best for the residents.”
When asked what could contribute to a different decision by the council, Goodwin said, “Possibly a development agreement detailing HASCO’s plan for the property and better communication by HASCO informing residents.”
According to research done by the Alliance for Housing Affordability (AHA) rent costs in Lynnwood have increased by 40 percent in the last 10 years. Home prices have increased by 56 percent, and the average price for a home in Lynnwood is $533,000 as of 2018.
Solutions to affordable housing will remain a difficult problem for the city to solve in the future. U.S. residents continue to migrate to Washington state from the midwest and regions of the rustbelt at a rate of 53 thousand a year, continuing to push the demand for housing even higher.