Planning commission reviews Polygon’s plans
Project back before board on Jan. 21
EVERETT - Homebuilder Polygon Northwest was pegged as the rescuer of the long-stalled Riverfront Development project, but the company’s plans for suburbia come with the price of wiping out an established city vision of a thriving urban extension of downtown.
The city’s planning commission appeared to be gritting its teeth last week over Polygon’s proposal to build a low-density neighborhood on the property along the Snohomish River east of Interstate 5 in the Lowell Neighborhood.
Some commissioners called the proposal to plop a suburban neighborhood on the property a loss of a great opportunity.
Polygon officials counter that its proposal meets what the current market will accept, and that the company can fast-track construction within the strict time lines set by the city.
Last week’s three-hour discussion ended with the commission requesting to meet again on Jan. 21 to get answers on whether Polygon will modify some elements of its plan. The commission also wants legal clarification on how much authority it has to change the plan since the City Council accepted Polygon’s proposed plans, which didn’t detail how many homes would be built, last spring.
Polygon is asking for changes the company recently proposed to the council that essentially wipe out the city’s vision for a variety of townhomes and single-family houses on the piece of the property known as the Simpson site.
Polygon’s change requests include allowing street-facing garages instead of urban-style alleyway access points, removing a central “community green” park and moving part of that green space closer to the Snohomish River and minor lot size revisions.
City planners recommended in writing that the planning commission approve all of Polygon’s requests without question.
“Polygon has the right to propose a different mix of housing types than the originally proposed mix of housing contemplated by the conceptual site plan for the Simpson site,” planning staff wrote in the resolution before the commission.
The planning commission and City Council have a say because the city and Polygon entered into a development agreement.
Last April, Polygon told the council it could build up to 1,400 homes on the site, but Polygon didn’t release exact details until September.
Polygon is now proposing 223 homes on what is known as the Simpson site and 175 townhomes on what is known as the Eclipse site.
Polygon also announced last week the company is “contemplating” building 350 to 400 condominiums or townhouses on the commercial section of the Riverfront Development.
If Polygon built what it said it might, the property would have around 800 residential units. The city’s goal for the site was 900 units. The development agreement allows for up to 1,400 units, with up to 650 on the Simpson site.
Commissioner Loren Sand and others said requiring a minimum number of housing units should be added to the development agreement. The current agreement has no minimums.
“If the intent of the city is an urban development and urban development defined by density, a minimum number is crucial,” Sand said.
The commission is powerless to add such a requirement, but it can be requested by the City Council. The commission’s role is to evaluate whether Polygon’s changes are compatible with surrounding uses and maintains a unique character.
Polygon may not be willing to budge much. It also is now couching its plan as a first phase for the Riverfront Development.
Polygon land use manager Nick Abdelnour dressed down Sand during the meeting, saying that changing the number of units isn’t on the table.
“Property owners should have the right to dictate the number of units,” Abdelnour said during the meeting.
Polygon president Gary Young said the company is receptive to comments, but he gave no indication last week the plan will change.
“We’re going to listen to your comments, but I will ask for your support (to approve the changes),” Young asked the planning commission.
Commissioner Michelle Sosin said she was disappointed that the plan hasn’t changed since it went before the commission on Dec. 17 when it was highly criticized by the public and officials.
“Testimony showed this isn’t the vision the community held of a denser, vital, urban community,” Sosin said.
Polygon knew the city’s vision when it bought the property, she said.
“I’m not hearing any compelling arguments why the commission should change it,” Sosin said.
Also, a vocal number of people are not receptive to Polygon’s proposals for the secluded enclave east of the railroad tracks in north Lowell.
Bob Overstreet, a former council member, told commissioners last week to not let Polygon build this low-density neighborhood for economic reasons. Overstreet believes Polygon’s proposal won’t house enough people in the area to sustain the planned commercial activity on the site. He said the commercial core of Eastmont, an older development north of Silver Lake that is similarly secluded, floundered because of not enough people nearby.
“I can’t help but think and remember that an important part of that City Council discussion was the economic environment,” Overstreet said, adding that “reducing the density in that area will not help meet the economic demand. That’s why we may just need to wait.”
Local developer C.J. Ebert, though, cried foul on statements claiming previous developer OliverMcMillan intended to build a dense neighborhood. Ebert has been following the project since the beginning.
OliverMcMillan, a commercial developer, always planned to sell off the residential parcels and use those profits to develop the commercial side, Ebert said. Polygon was in fact one of the possible companies to take over the residential parcels.
Abdelnour characterized OliverMcMillan’s plans as unproven concept drawings. “When OliverMcMillan bought this, they didn’t commit to 500 or 1,000 units,” Abdelnour said.
Polygon’s lower-density proposal is raising concern the city won’t recoup the $80 million it invested into the Riverfront Development. A breakdown suggests, though, the city only has to recover $13 million to its general fund to break even. A large share of the infrastructure spending was funded with federal and state grants.
City Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher and others are calling for a new economic analysis on Polygon’s proposal.
Stonecipher has openly questioned if Polygon’s plan will generate enough tax revenue for the city or if Everett faces subsidizing Polygon. The general fund is largely limited to property taxes and business and occupation taxes for revenue.
“I worry that the changes being proposed do not meet the desires expressed by city residents back when they were asked, and reduce the value of this development to the taxpayers, perhaps to such a degree that it could conceivably cost more to provide city services than the city will receive in tax revenue,” Stonecipher wrote in an e-mail to constituents last month, “Which means, of course, that taxpayers will be subsidizing this development.”
The city focused on using the commercial development as a tax generator.
Planning director Allan Giffen said last week the residential areas were “never looked at as cash cows. The commercial was looked at ways to recoup.”
It appears no economic analysis on Polygon’s plan has been written yet. The analysis may not come anytime soon as the company says it’s not ready to produce details on the commercial section of the Riverfront Development while it works to secure tenants.
Young said the amount of taxable square footage is the same amount as previous development plans.
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