Council asks board to study downtown density SNOHOMISH - The City Council asked the planning commission to study increasing the residential density within the historic business district boundary at last week’s council meeting.
Snohomish resident and developer Bob Hart asked for this land-use change at a May council meeting. Hart built Patrick Plaza and Riverstreet Plaza, both condo buildings located downtown. He has had his eye on a vacant lot at 502 First Street east of downtown at Willow Avenue where he said he would like to build an apartment building containing only one-bedroom unit apartments.
But because the empty parcel that some residents say is an eyesore is located in the middle of the historic business district, the city would have to increase the maximum dwellings per acre from 18 to 40 for the project to be viable.
The city’s highest unit-per-acre zoning — high density residential — has a limit of 24, a little over half of the proposed increase.
Around two dozen residents came to the June 4 City Council meeting where the issue was being discussed as part of the agenda. Councilwoman Lynn Schilaty acknowledged that the issue of increasing housing density, especially to create affordable housing, was a heated one.
A proposal to add to city code a new type of ultra-high density units called “rooming houses,” also known as apodments, was vehemently opposed by residents. Around 200 people showed up to a planning commission public hearing on the topic in April.
The city says this proposal has nothing to do with rooming houses. Rooming houses remain prohibited under city code.
“I appreciate that this is a difficult issue and it’s charged with a lot of emotion,” Schilaty said. “But I do think we have a planning commission for a reason. One of their charges is to help the council make informed decisions, and I think it’s really appropriate to let them look at this from a high-level policy standpoint.”
The council was split on whether to forward the issue to the planning commission.
Council members Schilaty, Greg Guedel, Derrick Burke and Mayor Karen Guzak voted to send the issue to the planning commission while Dean Randall, Tom Hamilton and Paul Kaftanski voted against the motion.
The city estimated an economic analysis could cost between $8,000 and $10,000. If a traffic study is needed, that could cost $30,000. The city and council identified three preliminary concerns with the proposed land-use change:
• Would the density change create an incentive to replace historic buildings with new buildings
• Would the density change support or detract from efforts to stimulate growth in the Pilchuck District
• Would the density change significantly impact traffic
The agenda topic attracted a large number of the public.
Every seat for audience members was filled with people overflowing into the hallway. Eight people spoke on the topic. Four were opposed to the project and four, including Hart, responded favorably.
Mitch Cornelison, who was a vocal opponent of the recently put-to-bed rooming house issue, made an impassioned speech to the council members against the density change.
“To think we would try to do this in our historic area is absurd,” Cornelison said. “It’s bizarre. I want to put a stop to what’s going on in town.”
Cornelison added: “We’re not going to give up our historic district.”
Applause from the audience followed his speech.