Arlington, WA: Book launches on city's land-use code

By Peyton Whitely
Seattle Times Snohomish County bureau


ARLINGTON, WA— After three years of work, it's hot off the press — a publication in a three-ring binder with color photos of the Stillaguamish River, the solar-paneled community museum and other city attractions.

Although it costs $50 a copy and is sold not in bookstores but only at City Hall, it's certain to be well-read by a select clientele. Reference copies will be available at the Arlington Library.

The publication is Arlington's new Land Use Code and Development Design Guidelines, and for anyone who's considering building in the city, it'll be a must-read.

"The reason we did it is because there was a lot of consternation on the Planning Commission and City Council about some of the things in the code," said Cliff Strong, Arlington's planning director. "There were so many loopholes, so many things that it addressed twice or addressed differently."

That former land-use code dated to 1995, and after Strong arrived in Arlington in 1999, revising the code became a priority.

"In essence, we reformatted it, plugged up the loopholes and corrected the inconsistencies," he said.

The intent is to allow the city to define development limits and guidelines and set out a clear permitting process, Strong said.

The new code makes dozens of changes, and many are expected to have substantial impacts on the city's appearance and the way it functions.

For example, the code moves the city to a system of using a full-time hearing examiner. Such land-use decisions had been made by the City Council, based on Planning Commission recommendations, but the new code calls for final decisions to be made by the hearing examiner, with an appeal allowed to the council.

In another change, apartment developments are banned in single-family zones. Another section lays out standards for trees, banning clear-cutting, specifying replacement rules and aiming toward a goal of having a forested city.

Other proposed changes didn't make it into the final code, Strong said, including a provision that would have required garages to be set back from streets.

The code's section on development design guidelines explains that the City Council "wishes that as we grow and mature as a city, that citizens have a pleasant environment to call 'home.' "

"These design guidelines, particularly in the Central Business District, are seen as an economic-development tool. Our goal is economic revitalization of the downtown, and one of the pillars for achieving this is protecting and enhancing the turn-of-the-century historic design in an effort to attract customers."

The code notes that the guidelines apply only to particular types of development, mainly commercial projects and not houses, and are intended only as guidelines, with the intent of allowing flexibility in design.

Still, the guidelines provide a view of how the city can control its appearance, making huge differences in its tone by adopting simple techniques.

Extending balconies to street edges promotes pedestrian use, the guidelines note. Putting self-closing doors on trash-bin enclosures avoids making garbage part of the city landscape.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or


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