Council holds public hearing on development moratorium
SNOHOMISH - Home buyers aren’t the only ones waiting for the housing market to bounce back.
The city has been waiting long enough that the City Council decided to put an official moratorium on development in a 400-acre area northeast of the city, as Snohomish can’t afford to connect future sewer lines to the area.
Half of the northern acreage lies outside city limits, and the other half lies in an Urban Growth Area (UGA), an area established by Snohomish County where Snohomish is expected to grow into through annexations.
Mayor Karen Guzak said there were three main reasons to put a cease-and-desist on building there. First, the city doesn’t have the money to pay for a new sewer line to the area. This is mainly due in part to 2008’s economic downturn that led to drops in city revenue from new development.
A new sewer line to the outlying 400 acres would cost about $6 million, Guzak said.
Second, “we’ve reached capacity for that area,” Guzak said. All existing development there is hooked up to a sewer system that has been in place for several years. “That’s an old sewer line and any new developments there would be extremely detrimental.”
The third reason, she said, is to ensure there is enough financial support to finish paying for new development that the city can support — namely, Ludwig Road and Snohomish Station.
The moratorium, if approved, would last six months. If the economy still hasn’t picked up by then, the city could extend it.
“It depends solely on what happens with the economy,” Guzak said.
There will be a public hearing on Tuesday, July 17 to discuss the issue. The City Council will vote to adopt the moratorium after the hearing.
Guzak said the city has tried bringing in new development by promoting initiatives and tax credits, but “there’s not much development happening anywhere.”
There are some exceptions to the moratorium, City Manager Larry Bauman said, but not many.
People who already have permits to build on the land may continue to do so and either hook up to the old sewer line or use septic.
The 400 acres currently has some housing on it, Bauman said. The area is almost entirely residential. All existing developments are hooked up to the old sewer line, which is currently at capacity, or use a septic tank system.
Bauman said the need for a development moratorium was not a surprise to city staff, as they’ve been discussing the idea for “several years.”
In the near past, Snohomish has only been quasi-successful in creating new sewer lines. Four segments were planned, but only the two along Bickford Avenue were completed.
The two other segment projects were supposed to serve the area above Blackman’s Lake but were never started. The city has no plans at this time to re-initiate the construction, and there are no deadlines to finish it.
Since the city was not able to spend the allocated money to construct these segments, Bauman said, the loans had to be returned to the state project trust fund.
“Before we could construct those two segments, the recession occurred and the housing market disappeared for a while,” Bauman said. This lack of construction dollars made completing the project unrealistic and financially risky.
When asked if Bauman thought the city would ever finish the project, he could only speculate.
“We have to wait for the housing market to bounce back,” Bauman said. “It’s totally dependent on development activity.”