County pushes housing with walking in mind - Snohomish County is encouraging developers build "pedestrian villages" along I-5 at 128th and 164th streets.
"There's a chain-link fence with barbed wire right there," said Clagett, centers project director for the Snohomish County Economic Development Council. "That's absurd. People could walk to the supermarket, but instead they have to drive around."
Much of the 128th Street interchange area is like this: apartment complexes that practically force tenants to drive to stores that are tantalizingly close but blocked off by fences. Walking is unpleasant at best, dangerous at worst.
This car-oriented, pedestrian-unfriendly approach has characterized much of the development in Snohomish County. The county code even bans buildings with stores at ground level and housing above.
.But as demand for housing in the county rises and traffic gridlock worsens, the county is proposing two "pedestrian villages" along I-5: one at 128th Street south of Everett and the other at 164th Street northeast of Lynnwood.
High-density housing would be mixed with stores, offices, parks and bus stops, to encourage people to walk or take the bus rather than drive.
"We want a place where people can live, work and shop," said Karen Watkins, senior planner for the county planning and development services division.
Others might catch a bus to jobs in Everett or Seattle. Those who drive to work would find much of what they need -- a dry cleaner, a corner store, a child-care center -- down the street from where they live, which would reduce traffic elsewhere, Watkins said.
There are several other pedestrian-friendly projects in Snohomish County, but this marks the first time that the county itself is actively pushing the idea. Buildings would be as high as six stories, said Mary Lynne Evans, acting planning division manager for Snohomish County.
"The big change for us in Snohomish County is going up instead of out," she said. "Before, we had these big one-level buildings with a sea of parking."
The county itself would not develop the land. Instead, it is mapping out what it hopes will happen to the land and letting developers step in with proposals.
One developer, Sundquist Homes, has already applied for permits to build 120 apartments, along with offices, stores and a child-care center, on 15 acres off of 164th Street. The county granted Sundquist an exception to its zoning rules that bar such mixed-use developments.
The county planning commission may vote next month whether to scrap the countywide ban on mixed-use construction. If it does, that would pave the way for a vote on the 128th Street and 164th Street pedestrian villages.
AmeriTek, a biotechnology company based in Seattle, would be able to build its proposed new headquarters and plant on 128th Street without the changes. If the county approves building permits, the company could begin construction next month, said Warren Lloyd, architect of the AmeriTek building. AmeriTek would occupy less than half the proposed 52,000-square-foot building and lease out the rest. That would be the first piece of the 73-acre pedestrian village.
Last week, the Snohomish County Council approved giving $68,000 of a state affordable-housing grant to the non-profit Intercommunity Mercy Housing to study putting up to 100 units of low-cost housing on the 128th Street site. A public hearing on that proposal is scheduled for Wednesday.
The apartments would be targeted at the "working poor," including people who work at nearby restaurants and stores, said Walter Zissette, vice president of Intercommunity Mercy Housing.
The county expects other developers to make proposals over the next several years, Evans said. The pedestrian village won't be fully developed for at least seven years, she said.
A proposed redevelopment of the entire neighborhood surrounding the 128th Street interchange will probably take at least two decades. That plan would maintain most existing housing. But the county could reconfigure streets to make them more pedestrian-friendly and connect streets and sidewalks to the stores on 128th Street SW. Eventually, developers might tear down some stores along 128th Street and construct mixed retail-residential buildings, Evans said.
"This will develop as time goes on," she said. "The market will tell it what to do. It will go to higher density there as land appreciates in value."
Bellevue-based Sterling Reality Organization, which owns 25 acres south of 128th Street -- including a drive-in movie theater and swap-meet site -- wants to eventually build office buildings, high-density housing and stores on its land, Sterling President David Schooler said. But the company will wait until the economy improves and office vacancy rates fall, he said.
Dato Herrera, 30, lives on 134th Street SW, just south of Sterling's land. He supports the pedestrian village.
"If I could walk with my daughter to the stores, I would," he said. "It's too far to walk right now."
Steve Slusher, 57, who lives just east of the site, also backs the proposal.
"That land is such a waste just sitting there," he said. "It would look a lot cleaner and a lot nicer if they do something with it."
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