development taken to court
SNOHOMISH — A land-use petition seeking a judge’s review could wedge a stop to the city-approved Walsh Hills housing development in an enclave of northeast Snohomish.
Developer DR Horton aims to build 111 houses along Terrace Avenue on almost 20 acres of land, which would redevelop the site of the now-closed Delta Rehabilitation Center. The city’s hearing examiner determined everything met code in a Jan. 29 decision.
Neighbors can hardly stomach the perceived impact to the neighborhood. They continue to lobby city officials that the area’s narrow roads can’t handle 111 more neighbors.
One neighbor, though, is challenging it from a different approach, alleging the city and hearing examiner didn’t correctly interpret the city’s own development code.
The land-use petition in Snohomish County Superior Court is filed under an LLC owned by Marty Robinett. His family has a house just north of the development.
A key piece to being able to reach 111 houses is because a 16-acre piece of the site was upzoned long ago. DR Horton plans to build 94 homes on this 16-acre section.
One way to get there is to work from city code on “unit lot subdivisions” to develop single-family homes on smaller lots at the density of almost six houses per acre.
Except, Robinett’s attorneys argue, the developer can’t do this. If the city followed its own codes on unit lot subdivisions, they say, the developer could either build a few cottages or build condominiums, but not a big batch of tract homes.
They also argue there is code dictating minimum lot size and lot widths which these homes wouldn’t meet.
A design review would have surfaced these issues swiftly, Robinett’s attorney, David Bricklin, said Monday.
Informally, a City of Snohomish FAQ on unit lot subdivisions says that “a Unit Lot Subdivision (ULS) is a type of multi-family development where the residents own their dwelling unit as well as the land beneath it,” and calls it an “alternative to condominium ownership.”
Bricklin said that in 42 years of land-use law, he has “never, ever” seen anything similar to how DR Horton is claiming a housing subdivision can meet unit lot subdivision rules.
Bricklin said if Walsh Hills stands, this creates a precedent for developments tied to ULS zoning within city limits.
Robinett submitted the same contentions before the city’s hearing on Walsh Hills.
During the Jan. 12 hearing, planning director Glen Pickus told Andrew Reeves, the hearing examiner, that planning staff checked into the issues Robinett raised, and while they found that some of the codes “don’t mesh well” regarding detached condominiums and cottages, Pickus
determined the application met code and was appropriate to be able to proceed.
The case asks a judge to make an order that deletes the examiner’s decision and send it back for re-review, and to force the city to use a “fair and consistent application of Snohomish Municipal Code.”
At the hearing, a few neighbors complained about the houses being tightly fit. One described it as “shoehorning- in houses side-by-side.”
A few area residents told the hearing examiner that the area that was upzoned to medium density residential decades ago should be re-addressed as this higher zoning allows development that doesn’t fit with the surrounding neighborhood.
Around the subject property, most homes on Terrace Avenue, Holly Vista Drive and nearby date to the 1950s and 1960s on decent-sized lots, county tax records show.
The land use petition was filed Feb. 18. The city’s deadline to respond is May 24.
The city is represented by attorneys Emily Guildner and Nikki Thompson of Weed, Graafstra and Associates of Snohomish. DR Horton is represented by Duana Kolouskova of a Bellevue firm in which she is a partner.
Guildner and Kolouskova both declined comment for this story. Guildner cited policy to not comment on active litigation.
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