Residents form group to protect town character
SNOHOMISH - Neighborhood activist Beth Jarvis can be seen on a nearly daily basis, walking around the historic district and talking to neighbors who pop their heads over fences in an almost cliché neighbor-to-neighbor scenario.
“I see Snohomish as more of a village than a city,” she told the Tribune earlier this month.
Jarvis is very protective of Snohomish’s historic character, and by organizing her neighborhood chat routine, she and her like-minded peers have gotten together to safeguard the city’s charm against what they call “experimental” development.
“We can’t have these big city ideas with no infrastructure in place,” she said.
Jarvis is referring to development projects such as the ultra-high density “apodment” project that real estate developer Chris Koh tried and failed to build at 402 Ave. E in a single-family neighborhood near Snohomish High School.
In opposition to such projects, Jarvis’ group of downtown residents has become activists for the historic district.
The approximately 25-member group is now called Your Snohomish, which until recently was known as the “Snohomish Apodment Group.” The group’s goal is to protect the historic core against more than just apodments.
“We were a grass roots group that started with the apodments issue and we felt the need to rebrand ourselves to meet the present needs,” Jarvis said. “We began to see a pattern within the council in regards to development issues and that’s why we changed the name to encompass more than just the apodment issue.”
The planning commission reviewed three hot button issues related to development in historic and residential areas at its Aug. 7 meeting. The three controversial issues prompted the group to rebrand itself, Jarvis said.
One item was requested by Bob Hart, a local real estate developer, to increase the residential density limit in the historic business district from 18 dwelling units per acre to 40 dwelling units per acre. Hart has had his eye on a vacant lot at 502 First St. where he wants to build an apartment building with several one-bedroom units that features a common area for residents.
Hart says the project, which holds the name “Willow Commons” in its design plans, differs from the apodment project that was loudly opposed by members of the community.
At a planning commission meeting earlier this year to discuss whether the idea of apodments should live or die in Snohomish, more than 200 residents showed up to support letting them die. Almost 80 people spoke at that meeting and all but one opposed apodments.
The proposed apodments, also called ultra-high density dwelling units or “rooming houses,” are very small single-occupancy apartment units with each unit containing a bathroom and kitchenette. Residents would share a common full kitchen and dining area because each unit would be far too small to have their own. Apodments in Seattle are known to be as small as 110 to 160 square feet.
Snohomish residents cried out at city meetings in April that this type of atmosphere creates a poor quality of life, parking problems and higher density than the area could or wants to handle.
In a report Hart created for the planning commission in July, he explains that his apartment building would have “the appearance and flavor of a country inn.” And although the building would have a common area for the residents to share, each apartment would have a complete kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom.
Having a communal area “worked extremely well” at other condominiums Hart has built, he said, and said he viewed the common living space as a plus.
“At Pinewood Villa it provides an environment where people can get together to watch movies, have a potluck dinner” and form long-lasting friendships and bonds, he said.
“Multifamily use is within the zoning and use in the neighborhood,” he said.
One-bedroom units are in demand, commissioner Josh Scott said at the Aug. 7 planning commission meeting. He said he couldn’t find a one-bedroom apartment in Snohomish for his mother-in-law.
Scott worked with the apodment developer.
“We need more one-bedroom units,” Scott said.
Jarvis and her fellow grass roots members disagree.
“Nowhere in the county, not in Monroe, or Marysville, or Mill Creek, are there similar cities where the densities are 40 units per acre,” a letter from the group reads. “And notably, Snohomish already satisfies the growth management requirements for buildable capacity through the year 2035.”
Increasing the land use designation to allow for higher density is an example of a “spot-zoning request,” which is a bad practice, they say.
City Manager Larry Bauman shares their concern that allowing for higher density in this area could put historic structures at risk of demolition or redevelopment.
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