‘No further action’ recommendation on rooming houses
SNOHOMISH - After listening to impassioned testimony from nearly 70 residents about two rooming house ordinances at an overflowing public hearing last week, the planning commission agreed to send a “no action” recommendation to the City Council.
Nearly 200 people attended the April 3 public hearing. Residents have been organizing for months in opposition to two draft ordinances that would allow very tiny apartment units with their own private bedroom and bathroom but shared kitchen within one building in single-family residential and multifamily residential zones.
One resident against rooming houses presented the planning commission with a petition of 768 signatures opposing the idea.
“Our preference as a commission is that no further action be taken on either ordinance,” planning commission chair Rolf Rautenberg said.
This “no action” recommendation essentially tells the City Council that the issue shouldn’t be explored any further. This could kill the initiative, but the City Council is free to do whatever it pleases.
The public hearing lasted almost three hours, and speeches from the audience took up a solid two hours of that time. Other than the developer interested in building a rooming house in a historic neighborhood on Avenue E near Snohomish High School, only one other of the nearly 70 speakers supported the idea.
Nicholas Bender lives on Avenue E and said he moved to Snohomish specifically for the small-town feel and plethora of historic homes. He said he was very concerned that allowing rooming houses would change those characteristics for the worse.
“The uniqueness of the town will slowly deteriorate,” Bender said. “The experimental nature of this baffles me. Impacts on property values haven’t even been taken into consideration. The concept wouldn’t be terrible in the correct location, but this sounds like a social experiment at the cost of homeowners and taxpayers.”
Mitch Cornielson lives on Avenue F and said he didn’t like the experimental nature of the ordinances.
“Our beautiful and livable city is not an experiment,” Cornielson said. “This will attract developers who have no interest in our community and are only interested in a cash flow, leaving the city and its residents to pick up the pieces.”
After every resident had a chance to speak, Rautenberg told the audience that the commissioners would reconvene at their next scheduled meeting to deliberate and reflect on the public’s comments.
Commissioner Steve Dana interjected with a motion to reject the ordinances outright, and to the sound of audience applause, commissioner Christine Wakefield Nichols seconded the motion. After a brief discussion, Rautenberg presented a motion to send a recommendation of “no action” to the City Council and it passed 4 to 2.
Commissioners Rautenberg, Dana, Wakefield Nichols and Paulette Norman voted in favor of the motion. Commissioners Jane Thorndike and Gordon Cole voted against it. Commissioner Joshua Scott was not present and has recused himself from the discussion entirely as he was the architectural consult to Coho Real Estate, the developer looking to build a rooming house near the high school.
Chris Koh of Seattle-based Coho Real Estate Group was present at the meeting and spoke during the public hearing. He left the meeting before the vote was taken.
Koh has previously said his firm is interested in building a rooming house in order to offer affordable housing to Snohomish residents. His family owns the dilapidated house at 402 Ave. E., which used to be a nursing home and more recently a day care center.
The house is a moldy, run-down, tarp-covered eyesore, residents said. Koh said he would replace the structure with an environmentally friendly rooming house. He said his firm would screen tenants.
“We’d like to provide a home for 15 to 20 residents who could be your sons or daughters,” Koh said at the hearing.
The units would be 250 square feet or larger. Rent would start around $400 a month including some utilities, he said previously.
Many residents said the tiny living spaces would only attract undesirable people. One speaker compared the small spaces to “human storage units.”
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