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Lynnwood delays DEI commissioner vote, approves millions in ARPA expenditures

LYNNWOOD, Wash., April 27, 2022 – In a long, contentious, meeting Monday, April 26, Lynnwood City Council postponed approving DEI commissioner candidate Arra Rael while approving Rick Michels to the Board of Ethics and Matt Cail to the Planning Commission. The Council also debated doubling the amount of proposed residential units at the future City Center, and voted to approve $2.5 million in ARPA funds to rehabilitate Lynnwood streets and $5,000 for Hero’s Cafe.

New Planning commissioner and new Board of Ethics board member, but DEI commissioner vote postponed

Before the unanimous consent agenda was approved, Councilwoman Sessions opted to remove the first three items which included confirmation of Planning Commissioner candidate Matt Cail, confirmation of Board of Ethics applicant Rick Michels, and confirmation of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion candidate Arra Rael.

The remaining item, authorizing the Mayor to enter and execute a contract with BHC consultants, LLC, not to exceed a total contract value of $719,930 for engineering design services related to replacement of aging water mains and repaving of adjacent roadways, was approved as scheduled. 

Council then revisited the removed agenda items, first bringing in Matt Cail to discuss his qualifications for Planning Commissioner Position 2. After hearing both Cail and Ashley Winchell, Community Planning Manager, making brief points why he would be fit for the position, Councilwoman Sessions moved to approve Cail for the role, seconded by Councilman Patrick Decker, and the motion passed unanimously.

“I think Matt is a great addition to our planning commission and we are excited to potentially have him as a member,” Ashley Winchell, AICP, Community Planning Manager, said.

Board of Ethics candidate Rick Michels was not in attendance but Councilwoman Sessions moved to approve him adding that his experience working as a reporter and being a father of six would speak to his ability to find “both sides” to an issue. Councilwoman Sessions’ motion was seconded by Councilwoman Julieta Altamirano-Crosby and passed unanimously.

As it pertained to Arra Rael for DEI commission, Councilwoman Sessions questioned if, while Rael’s qualifications did meet the requirements, her being a non-Lynnwood resident and non-registered Lynnwood voter could disqualified her for the position.

Despite Councilwoman Sessions’ concerns, Council President George Hurst, phoning in on zoom, moved to approve Rael for her position seconded by Councilman Josh Binda.

Council President Hurst spoke to his motion explaining council rules allow for up to two non-Lynnwood voters to sit on a board or commission and it is not a requirement, albeit a preference, that a board or commission member be a Lynnwood resident.

“She is a registered voter and yes she is a non-resident but all of the other members of the DEI commission are residents,” Council President Hurst said. “She is really qualified [for this position].

Currently, out of all five current members of the city’s DEI commission, all members reside in the city limits of Lynnwood. Mayor Christine Frizzell clarified that Rael lives a couple blocks outside of Lynnwood city limits.

Council Vice President Jim Smith had his own concerns surrounding appointing Rael saying that several candidates for the DEI commission were turned down in the past, due to their nonresident status, and he did not want to form a precedence that non-Lynnwood residents could serve on boards and commissions unless it makes sense for them to do so (such as the historical society or tourism board).

Council member Binda, a former member of the DEI commission, echoed Council President Hurst’s points adding if there is no rule in council code that prohibits Rael’s appointing, he doesn’t see why she couldn’t be approved.

After some debate Councilman Decker motioned to postpone the decision until the May 23, Business Meeting in order to have time to discuss with city staff and the City Attorney Noel Tapia concerning the rules surrounding board and commission requirements.

“I’ve asked for a postponement so we can make a decision based on fact and data and there’s no confusion,” Councilman Decker said.

The motion to postpone passed 5-2 with Councilman Binda and Council President Hurst voting no.

Although Rael was in attendance at yesterday’s meeting she was not given a chance to speak, similar to Cail. She was, however, interviewed by council at a previous date.

The decision to postpone happened just a month after Mukilteo rejected all three of Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine’s picks for DEI commissioners on March 7 after some council members questioned the Mayor’s decision-making process. The city has since approved three DEI commissioners, two of which were the same candidates that were initially rejected.

City Center Planned Action ordinance

Continuing to follow in Mukilteo’s footsteps, Lynnwood then discussed high-density development at the City Center in the form of an ordinance amending Lynnwood Municipal Code and updating its existing Planned Action Ordinance (PAO) to better absorb future growth.

The update to the PAO recommended for council’s adoption includes increasing the square footage of the City Center from 9.1 million to 12.3 million, office spaces from 4 million square feet to 4.25 million square feet, and residential units from 3,000 to 6,000.

“How many units do we need in the city of Lynnwood before someone says stop?” Former Lynnwood council member Ted Hikel said during public comment. “You’re responsible for the promises you made to citizens that you won’t destroy the city by turning it into another Seattle.”

Through assessing the market and the findings from the Massing study Karl Almgren, City Center Program Manager, and his team are proposing these increases to reach adopted capacity consistent with the community vision, attract employers by leveraging existing development demand, and adhere to the Growth Management Act.

“I don’t often say this but I agree with community member Hikel,” Councilwoman Sessions said. “That is just too much housing in an area that should be vibrant and mixed use.”

Following Hikel’s comments, council had the opportunity to share their concerns which were largely disapproving of the proposed added development.

“This will increase traffic, this will increase crime…The real winners here are the developers,” Council Vice President Smith said. “They’re gonna make their millions and leave. This does not help with affordable housing.”

Councilman Josh Binda and Council President Hurst appeared to be the only voices in favor of the development increases both stating that growth is inevitable and Lynnwood needs to prepare accordingly. Councilman Decker argued that, while growing up in the Los Angeles suburbs, his hometown ran out of room to grow and, when that happened, the city stopped building, then people stopped coming.

“I am in favor of planned growth, I am not in favor of forced growth,” Councilman Patrick Decker said. “I am not in favor of adding another 3,000 units.”

Council will consider the adoption of the ordinance at their meeting on May 9.

Harris Ford Lincoln Development Agreement

Ben Wolters, Economic Development Manager, returned to council with a presentation concerning a proposed agreement to allow Harris Ford to expand its dealership at Highway 99 and 200th St SW to allow for Lincoln automobiles.

Harris Ford proposes to renovate and expand the front portion of their dealership facing Highway 99. The proposed project includes demolishing the existing satellite showroom; constructing a new single-story satellite showroom of 4,300 square feet for Lincoln automobiles; and expanding and improving the sales lot around the new showroom with on-site parking, landscaping, pedestrian connections, and new lighting.

A Public Hearing on this development agreement was previously discussed by council at their Business Meeting March 15 and will allow Harris Ford to credit the value of the property they would dedicate toward the cost of the proposed street vacation as provided by city code. The agreement also outlines the steps the City and Harris Ford will take to allow the project to begin construction this spring. Development agreements are decided by Council through a quasi-judicial process.

Councilwoman Sessions moved to approve the agreement, seconded by Councilman Decker, and the motion passed unanimously

Councilman Binda then moved to approve resolution 2022-07 setting May 23 for a Public Hearing on the proposed 64th Ave W Street Vacation that is part of the Harris Ford expansion, seconded by Councilwoman Altamirano-Crosby. The motion passes unanimously.

Council Vice President then made a scheduling motion to discuss commissions and residencies, regarding this project, on May 16, seconded by Councilwoman Altamirano-Crosby. The motion passed unanimously.

City approves ARPA Funds for city streets and Hero’s cafe

Concluding Monday’s meeting, Councilwoman Altamirano-Crosby moved to approve $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for repaving Lynnwood residential streets through the Public Works Department, seconded by Council Vice President Jim Smith. The motion passed unanimously.

Councilwoman Sessions then motioned to approve $10,000 of ARPA funds, in the amount of a grant, to go toward Hero’s Cafe, double the amount of what the cafe requested.

Hero’s Cafe is a monthly non-profit for a safe place for local veterans to meet,  have coffee, and lunch.

Council Vice President moved to amend Councilwoman Sessions’ motion back to $5,000, seconded by Councilman Patrick Decker, to take the spending “in steps.”

The amendment to the motion passed 4-3 with council members Binda, Hurst, and Sessions voting no. The vote returned to the original motion, as amended back to $5,000, and passed unanimously.

Councilman Binda then suggested to bring a discussion concerning allocating $25,000 to go toward the Lynnwood REC Center for scholarships at council’s next Work Session.

Council Vice President Smith motioned to postpone the vote until May 9 to have more opportunity to discuss. Smith’s motion passed 6-1 with Councilwoman Sessions voting no.

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