Planning commission tackles signs, tables other items
SNOHOMISH - The planning commission voted to recommend the City Council prohibit electronic signs in residential zones and tabled two other hot button development issues at its meeting last week.
The commission voted to send a draft ordinance to the City Council that prohibits electronic signs for private uses in residential neighborhoods. Only public uses, such as public schools, are allowed electronic signs in residential areas.
The draft ordinance increases the sign size allowance, places greater limitations on internally illuminated signs, gives greater allowance for non-electronic reader boards and free-standing signs and allows for higher free-standing signs from six feet to eight feet.
St. Michael Catholic Church wanted to have a similar reader board sign as nearby public schools for its private school.
After nearly three hours of discussion, the commission tabled the two other items that many in the community are keeping an eye on.
One item involves a request to increase the residential density in the historic business district. The other item addresses placing limitations on the number of people who can live in group living facilities such as nursing homes or rehabilitation centers.
All three discussion items prompted e-mails, letters and calls to city staff and elected officials from concerned residents.
The items are a concern for a new citizens group Your Snohomish, which formed to protect the character of the historic district. Several members of the group attended the Aug. 7 meeting.
About 10 residents spoke on each topic. There were about 20 people in the audience.
Real estate developer Bob Hart also spoke at the meeting. In May, Hart asked the City Council to increase the residential density in the historic business district to 40 dwelling units per acre, up from 18. He wants to build several small-unit apartments on a vacant lot at 502 First Street, east of downtown at Willow Avenue.
Hart says small-unit apartments are in high demand.
The discussion sparked a lively debate among planning commissioners. In the end, though, the commission couldn’t reach a general consensus on how to proceed.
The topic is touchy among residents and city officials because increasing the viability for development could arguably compromise the historic character and small-town atmosphere of the area, City Manager Larry Bauman said last month when the topic first came up.
It is also reminiscent of the “apodment fiasco,” as mentioned by several commissioners last week.
Earlier this year, the City Council rejected a developer’s request to build a rooming house, better known as apodments, which are tiny apartment units with shared kitchen and common space. The community was overwhelmingly against the project.
One of the options to accommodate Hart’s request broached by commissioners was to expand the boundaries of the nearby Pilchuck District, which has no density limit, to include Hart’s vacant lot.
This option was ultimately rejected by the commission.
The Pilchuck District was designed several years ago to accommodate developments like this one, commissioner Christine Wakefield Nichols said.
“We spent a lot of energy to develop the Pilchuck District for things like this to happen, for one-bedroom apartments,” Wakefield Nichols said. “I think we can all agree, Mr. Hart, that your buildings are very attractive, but I just don’t see (changing the zoning in the historic business district) being possible.”
Other solutions ranged from taking no further action to studying density on a broader, citywide level to address changing demographics and demand for different types of housing, senior planner Owen Dennison said.
Commissioners decided the topic needed further discussion at a future planning commission meeting.
The third hot button item concerning group living facilities in single-family neighborhoods was pushed out to a future meeting. Commissioners didn’t want to take up the topic after what was turning out to be a really long meeting.
At the next meeting, the planning commissioners are scheduled to consider options for placing limitations on the number of residents allowed to live in the following facilities: congregate care homes, senior assisted living homes, community residential facilities (like a rehabilitation facility) and nursing and personal care facilities.
All of these types of living environments are allowed in single-family neighborhoods with a conditional use permit, meaning the permit goes through extra scrutiny before being approved.
This agenda item was put forth by resident and historic neighborhood activist Mitch Cornelison, who asked on three separate occasions that council members put a moratorium on allowing these types of conditional uses.
Cornelison is a member of watchdog organization Your Snohomish, which seeks to promote community involvement in city government and aims to protect the quality of life and the historic charm of Snohomish.
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