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Most work lately on Sea-Sno Mill has been in background

SNOHOMISH — Last November, representatives for the shuttered Sea-Sno Mill site asked city officials to give support for a request that the county loosen development regulations to help repurpose the land. The City Council approved drafting a letter unanimously.
The county’s planning department responded on Jan. 6, writing back that it would be a lengthy process to
change the development restrictions and it’s not something on their to-do list.
That’s where any formal movement stopped between the city and county.
In the background, consultants say they have concentrated on working with County Councilman Sam Low to help rally county-
level support. They went to Low first as he represents Snohomish.
Their end goal is to get the mill’s request up for a vote at the County Council to have council members kick it into gear at county planning by council directive.
There’s no time line if that will happen.
After meeting with them again last week, Low said he told the mill’s consultants to do more research with county
planners. He said that most if not all of the County
Council is aware of the request, but there doesn’t appear to be pressure right now to push it forward.
Changing the regulations would be “a long process” and not a simple one, Low said last week.
If there’s no County Council support, the alternate options would be for the mill owners to pay to get it on the county’s comprehensive plan docket or convince the city to bankroll such a docketing effort.
Officials all emphasized that the whole thing is early in the process.
In county Planning and Development Services’ Jan. 6 letter, department director Barb Mock wrote that to do anything “the cost and timing of a planning project of this size and scope would have to be taken carefully,” and added that a lengthy public process would eat up time and resources but not provide a guaranteed outcome.
The 33.7 acres of riverfront property is in a designated floodplain, limiting what can be built there. It’s county land across the river from downtown Snohomish that is part of the city’s southern urban growth area.
Because it’s in a FEMA-designated floodplain, changing the development regulations would invoke requiring state and federal government approvals, Mock wrote.
Adding this workload prompts a question about stretching the county planning staff thin or dropping other priorities, Low indicated.
“The county’s a big county and there’s only 11 planners. What do we pull off the agenda with something this massive (added on)?” Low said.
The land is zoned as Light Industrial, which without the floodplain restrictions would allow a large number of uses.
Some of those uses have raised concerns among government watchdogs, such as scrapyards and other uses, but a mill site representative noted that the family plans to be respectful of the community.
“There are a number of uses that they’ve reviewed
that they have expressed” they do not want on the site, Josh Estes of the mill owner’s consulting firm Pacific Northwest Regional Strategies said last month.
That no-go list was still being formalized, Estes said.
This is, after all, the Waltz mill. It ran for 70 years. The family remains local.
The site owners “frequently receive interest from a variety of parties, but are not under negotiations” with anyone, according to a February statement from the mill’s consulting firm.
The site was listed on the market last fall for $7.9 million and also open for leasing.
The mill’s ownership has no specific use identified for the property at this time, the statement notes.
City leaders have an interest in what goes there, but it’s not going to be initiating a joint city-county planning effort under what’s called an Interlocal Agreement, city planning director Glen
Pickus said last month. That idea was floated, but from how Mock described it an agreement like that would effectively complicate the process.
Mock was unavailable to discuss this aspect of the story by press time. A county planner working on the project requested the paper talk with Mock about the Jan. 6 letter she penned.
At least one conversation with a city official was held with former Councilman Hans Dunshee, whose office Low took over in January.
Low has surveyed the site firsthand, but said in February that he hasn’t concluded whether any changes should happen.
“To me, it’s up to the community what they want in the community,” Low said.
At the city, it’s happy to support the mill’s effort, and wants to be kept apprised of what the county does, but the ball is not in City Hall’s court.
“Right now the city’s not doing anything because it wasn’t our idea to begin with,” Pickus said.
He said that legwork lies with the mill site’s representatives. As of mid-February, the city hasn’t talked with the representatives since.
As it stands, the land could potentially be repurposed into a boat marina, agricultural use, parklands, a water-dependent utility, or for the processing of forest products using portable equipment, according to county planning. The last item is essentially another sawmill.
The family-owned mill closed in July 2015 due to economic concerns with the lumber market and has sat vacant, apart from demolition teams dismantling some buildings, since then.
The Waltz family’s story is interwoven into the mill’s history, as owner Megan McMurray’s grandfather Robert Waltz Sr. joined it to become a business partner. McMurray took over the reins from Robert Waltz Sr.’s son, Bob Waltz, in 2011.

Full press statement from Josh Estes, Pacific Northwest Regional Strategies, from Feb. 16, 2017:

"The property owners continue to entertain a variety of interests at the former Mill site. As was stated at the November City Council meeting, they have no specific use identified for the property at this time and continue to work with their County Council Representative on a resolution to the zoning challenges they have been faced with.
They do frequently receive interest from a variety of different parties, but are not currently in negotiations with any specific interest.
We continue to work to a resolution on this matter and we understand that this is a process that requires communication with the various city and county departments to come to a resolution."


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