402 Avenue E hearing raises questions
SNOHOMISH - Residents, city staff and permit applicant Christopher Koh gave testimony at the Feb. 26 public hearing for the conditional use permit application to develop the properties at 402 and 410 Avenue E into a senior assisted living facility.
What could have been a routine hearing exploded into a dialogue on the definition of what a “senior” is in city code among other items.
Hearing examiner Ted Hunter’s decision is expected Friday, March 21.
Koh, of Seattle, has asked for a conditional use permit to change the now-vacant site into a 25-bed assisted living facility.
The facility is the same site that Koh asked to convert into small apartments last year.
The application describes the conversion of the 12,000 square foot building to a mixture of single and double occupancy rooms, with a common dining area and other shared facilities. Six of 13 proposed off-street parking spaces will be located on an adjacent lot. The primary use of the adjacent lot will continue to be single-family.
Early into the hearing, the issue of a solid definition of what constitutes as a “senior” was raised by Hunter. He supported his reasoning on the question with the fact that a clear definition has not been given by the city in its code, and this places a possible risk of a discriminatory age-related requirement challenge.
The project’s lead architect, Josh Scott, confirmed for the record that the facility is meant to be a senior assisted living facility. However, a specific age standard will not be applied.
Scott also stated that they believe they are in compliance with the majority of the recommended criteria for the conditional use permit.
Later on in the public hearing, the senior age definition was touched on again and almost compromised the entire procedure.
“We’ve raised the risk earlier the applicant might be challenged that it’s a discriminatory age-related requirement, so, we’re sort of stuck here about which way to go,” Hunter said. “I don’t have the answer (and) we don’t have city legal counsel present. It’s hard to know how to answer that.”
City planning manager Owen Dennison said that the city could add a definition to the recommended conditions of the permit. Dennison suggested making 62 years or older the defined age for “senior.”
Hunter suggested the city consult its attorneys to ask if an assisted living facility as defined by state law can be restricted to people 62 and older.
The public’s testimony was lively and detailed, with nine individuals who spoke. The majority of their concerns focused on compliance with the city’s comprehensive plan.
Longtime Snohomish resident Karen Deyoung spoke against the development of the project. Her college-aged son attended preschool at the property in the 1990s.
“When the applicant’s intentions became known to the neighbors just over a year ago, residents came together to stop the city from experimenting with high-density developments within single-family zoning and to prevent a developer with no ties to the community from placing his project here,” Deyoung said. “I believe they should never had let that happen, however, it was a hard-won battle that pitted the community against its own elected representatives and repercussions are still being felt.”
Resident Diana Carver said this project doesn’t comply with the city’s comprehensive plan. Carver asked for it to be denied.
“This proposed plan is incompatible with the spirit, and the specifics of the comprehensive plan for areas designated for single-family land use. The applicant has demonstrated disdain for the immediate neighborhood by continuing to pursue projects that would increase population density in a designated single-family, low-population density area,” Carver said. “The neighbors would welcome seniors needing assisted living, if the number of residents was limited by the existing definition of single-family dwelling or adult-family home.”
Hunter said he will make his decision based only on the testimonies, and the 38 exhibit items submitted before the hearing to the city. Twenty-six of these items were e-mails and comments submitted by the public. After the hearing was concluded, the exhibit items numbered 48 due to new submissions.
Hunter marveled how knowledgeable the community was.
Koh spoke briefly during the meeting and acknowledged all the public feedback.
“I do appreciate everyone participating in the process, and hopefully we can come to an agreement. We do ask for some flexibility,” Koh said.
Following the hearing, Hunter approved the public comment period to remain open until March 7 due to both the influx on information and to give sufficient time to both the city and applicant to respond to citizen comments and questions raised. His decision for approval or denial of the conditional use permit will come on March 21.
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