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Snohomish County Executive initiates effort to reduce housing costs

Map showing areas of proposed new housing. Image courtesy of Snohomish County.
Map showing areas of proposed new housing. Image courtesy of Snohomish County.

From a Snohomish County news release.

On Friday, June 1, 2018, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers signed an ordinance (Amended Ordinance No. 18-026) to amend Snohomish County’s development regulations for multiple family development along State Route 99 (SR 99).  This change is part of the Executive’s overall vision to encourage growth in areas where the public has already invested in infrastructure, while conserving the rural and resource lands that make Snohomish County unique.  The ordinance will allow increased density where there is a public water supply and access to public transit.

“With an estimated additional 250,000 people moving to Snohomish County in the next 30 years, we must find creative ways of concentrating density and preserving our natural resources, including farmlands and green spaces,” said Dave Somers, Snohomish County Executive.

He went on to say, “We need to plan for the future we choose, not just let it happen to us. Snohomish County will continue to use the planning tools we have available to protect our precious resources as we grow. We will also do what we can to encourage the creation of more affordable housing.”

The adopted changes include:

  • Allowing buildings up to 75 feet (5-6 stories).
  • Increasing the maximum allowed density for residential development from 22 dwelling units per acre to 58 dwelling units per acre.
  • Requiring the use of the County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program to take advantage of the increased density.
  • Encouraging mixed-use development by allowing non-residential development on the first floor of multiple family structures.
  • Requiring upper story stepbacks for compatibility with adjoining development.

The adopted regulation changes only apply to unincorporated properties zoned Multiple Residential (MR), Neighborhood Business (NB), Planned Community Business (PCB), Community Business (CB) or General Commercial (GC) along SR 99.  More specifically where any portion of the property is within 2,000 feet of the western edge of the right-of-way of SR 99 or within 800 feet of the eastern edge of the right-of-way of SR 99; and the site is east of SR 525 will be subject to the new regulations.  (See attached map.)

A key component of the adopted changes is a requirement that developers wishing to achieve the additional residential density can do so by purchasing development rights from owners of agriculture or forest land through the county’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program.  The TDR program uses market forces to fund the conservation of some of these important lands.  The program allows resource landowners within designated sending areas to sell the development value of their land and keep the right to use their land in ways that won’t impair its natural resource use.  Landowners and developers who purchase development rights can use them to gain additional height or density than would otherwise be permitted in areas where intense land uses are more appropriate.  Creating incentives, such as allowing for more residential density, is important to the success of the TDR program.

The multiple family regulation changes also support investments Community Transit (CT) has made in their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.  CT currently operates the highly successful SWIFT Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Blue Line within the SR 99 corridor.  Starting in the spring of 2019 a second BRT line, the Green Line, will begin service between Canyon Park and Paine Field and will cross the Blue Line at Airport Road and SR 99 in the vicinity of the adopted changes further lending support to CT’s investments.  The increase density both supports and is supported by SWIFT BRT.

These changes to Snohomish County’s multiple family development regulations are part of a broader effort to respond to future growth trends for a wider range of residential dwelling types and provide additional affordable housing in order for us to accommodate the 12,500 people arriving in the County every year.  Included in this broader effort are changes over the past two years to the county’s regulations for cottage housing, duplex and townhouse development.  Future work under this effort includes proactively planning for the arrival of Sound Transit’s light rail in the mid-2030s.

The effective date for Amended Ordinance No. 18-026 is June 10, 2018.

Map showing areas of proposed new housing. Image courtesy of Snohomish County.

Map showing areas of proposed new housing. Image courtesy of Snohomish County.

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