Growth fight brewing in Snohomish County

By Emily Heffter
Seattle Times Snohomish County reporter

Snohomish County, WA - 8/29/02 - Republican members of the Snohomish County Council have driven a wedge between the county and its cities by passing their own version of a 10-year development report, some city leaders said.

The council's version of the report, adopted 3-2 Wednesday, would justify setting aside more land for urban development than the version done by Snohomish County Tomorrow, a planning group made up of city and county representatives. Members of the council's GOP majority said the Tomorrow group's version of the report did not adequately address the amount of land the county will need to accommodate growth in the county between now and 2012.

Snohomish County Tomorrow has been working on the report for the past three years. A draft version of the state-mandated report, called the buildable-lands report, was completed earlier this month.

The 222-page, number-filled report was expected to be a stale accounting task, said Kamuron Gurol, the county planning manager and a member of Snohomish County Tomorrow. Instead, it has triggered a political battle.

The council's version would justify making the county's urban-growth areas bigger, opening up more land for development. Washington's Growth Management Act (GMA) required the county to draw the boundaries in 1992. Snohomish County Tomorrow's version of the report would leave population predictions and available land about the same, meaning boundaries would be difficult to change in the next 10 years.

Developers could benefit from the revised version because it would allow them to use more land for dense development. But city leaders say they are concerned that dense, heavy growth just outside the city would cause traffic and infrastructure problems.

The County Council voted Wednesday to send a marked-up and partially rewritten version of the report back to Snohomish County Tomorrow. County Councilman Gary Nelson, R-Edmonds, said if the Tomorrow group doesn't make the changes the Republican majority of the council wants, the county will submit its own report.

A completed version of the report, required by the Growth Management Act, must be turned in to the state by Sept. 1.

Councilmen Jeff Sax, R-Snohomish, and John Koster, R-Arlington, wrote the new version of the report. Sax said at the meeting that the purpose of the new version was to open up more land for residential development. Sax said during his campaign last fall that he wanted to make development easier and increase people's control over their property. About two-thirds of his campaign contributions came from development interests, according to state records.

It's not clear which of the two reports would be official if a consensus is not reached. County Council procedures call for Snohomish County Tomorrow to complete the report, but Steve Holt, executive director of the County Executive's Office, said the county ordinance isn't clear about who has the last word.

Rick Robertson, a Snohomish County prosecuting attorney assigned to advise the County Council, said he couldn't comment.

Nelson said the state holds the county responsible for the report, and the county can send whatever version it wants. "Everyone brainwashed the public to think that Snohomish County Tomorrow is responsible for buildable lands," he said.

County Executive Bob Drewel said that if the county circumvents Snohomish County Tomorrow, its relationships with cities will suffer.

"It has very much hurt trust between the cities and the County Council," said Shane Hope, the Development Services Manager for Mountlake Terrace.

The mayor of Mountlake Terrace, Pat Cordova, wrote in a letter to the council that the vote "puts a cloud over the integrity of the County Council."

Snohomish County Tomorrow will meet Wednesday to consider the council's report. The County Council will meet again Thursday to decide on its response.

Seven development projects, including a car dealership outside of Arlington and some residential subdivisions, are in limbo. If the council's version of the report is used, they probably will be approved, Gurol said.

Seattle Times Snohomish County reporter Diane Brooks contributed to this report.

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