New game from 402 Avenue E developer
SNOHOMISH — The developer wanting to build a senior housing site at 402 Ave. E threw a curveball last week by trying to redefine his project on paper in an attempt to get the city’s hearing examiner to loosen up site restrictions.
Seattle developer Christopher Koh is now asking for a 25-bed “independent serviced senior housing” facility and indicated the residents would not need on-site medical care. The site would be restricted to residents age 62 and older.
The new project definition came from Koh’s camp in a letter released three hours before the Wednesday, April 30 meeting to ask the hearing examiner to lift certain limitations imposed earlier this year.
The redefinition is being introduced in conjunction to market research Koh did showing that a 25-bed facility with nursing staff would cost too much in labor to be profitable, let alone building anything smaller. These budget dynamics would make Koh’s project unmarketable, and Koh’s role here is to build it and sell it.
Hearing examiner Ted Hunter determined in March that 25 beds would house too many people for the 13 parking spaces available at the proposed site, so he knocked the project down to 9 beds.
Hunter’s decision requires the site have one parking space per bed, plus some parking for guests and staff.
Koh’s team called this decision a foul ball: They quoted a traffic expert who says the zoning codes in Seattle, Bellevue and Honolulu allow similar senior facilities with just one parking space for up to every two beds. If the 402 Ave. E project was allowed 25 beds, it would come in at about the same ratio.
They also say Hunter got hung up on whether the senior facility would have a state license for senior housing. Koh’s group said the site probably would be unlicensed, but left that door open in its latest document proposing restriction changes.
At the hearing, though, Koh’s attorney Patrick Mullaney stated that “(Koh) never intended to have a state Department of Social and Human Services-licensed facility.”
Local challengers from the grassroots group YourSnohomish weren’t going to let Koh slide to home plate by pitching softball parking ratios from Seattle.
“For the past 15 months, YourSnohomish has been fighting the perception we are Seattle,” Mitch Cornelison said. “We are not, we are a small community.”
The project site is in a single-family neighborhood a block south of Snohomish High School where illegal parking already troubles neighbors.
Most residents who spoke said if Koh is saying the seniors living in the proposed house can live independently, then almost all of them are going to have cars.
“As an independent living facility, it’s easy to assume every person living there would have access to a vehicle,” resident Carroll Brown said. “Beyond nine beds, you’re just increasing the problem for parking. The problem we really have here is the applicant is applying for a use of facility that is totally nonworkable at its location.”
Resident Rich Softye, among others, said Koh is just changing his game to get what Koh wants. Another resident called Koh an “impetuous child” by asking for changes now.
Hearing examiner Hunter played hardball with Koh’s team of experts.
There is no such thing as an “independent serviced senior housing” facility in Snohomish’s land use code.
Until last week, the project was being called an “assisted senior living facility.” Koh’s team argued that “assisted living facility” was used because it is the only relevant term within the city’s code to fit the project.
The terminology is not particularly critical to project review, but the project description of what it wants to be is, city planning director Owen Dennison said post-meeting.
Post-hearing, Koh couldn’t give a clear answer on the term change.
“I don’t know if I embraced the term (independent senior housing) one way or the other,” Koh said.
Mullaney, Koh’s attorney, interjected, “the city code is unclear” but they “can have these facilities that are unlicensed.”
Koh made clear at the hearing that a 25-bed assisted living facility that offered nursing staff is too small.
“A consultant flat-out said we wouldn’t be able to market this,” Koh said.
The smallest similar senior facilities in Snohomish County have approximately 40 residents, his team said. Both examples they gave appear to offer both assisted living and independent living services to seniors.
Most assisted living sites have 60 or more residents to cover the cost of on-site nursing staff, one of Koh’s experts, architect James Brown, said. Brown deals exclusively in building senior housing sites.
Koh’s role is to develop the senior house and then sell it to a yet-to-be-determined home care provider.
The site at 402 Ave. E is a former Montessori school through 2007, and before that was the site of Merry Haven’s nursing home until 1990. Merry Haven operated as a 24-hour assisted living site.
Hunter reopened the record for people involved in the 402 Ave. E case to make comments through Tuesday, May 6 and also gave Koh’s team time to respond.
Hunter gave no date for his decision, but said it’s expected by next week.
The city is concurrently going through a process to redefine group housing in single family areas, to more clearly define the difference between adult family homes and senior assisted living facilities.
The City Council will talk more the zoning definitions this week.
Under the code changes, adult family homes would be limited to six occupants, while assisted living facilities would allow seven or more seniors 55 and older to live together but does not permit medical care for the chronically ill or infirm.
Koh’s application for 402 Ave. E was filed before the city’s zoning code conversation started, so it would be grandfathered in.