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Attorneys rebut that planners followed code in Snohomish Walsh Hills land-use lawsuit

SNOHOMISH — The city didn’t misapply its code when it approved a contested subdivision in northeast Snohomish, attorneys for the city and developer DR Horton say in filings made late last month in response to a land-use challenge.
Instead, they point a finger back, saying the challenger is misinterpreting planning code in asserting there was a mistake.
The question is whether the city can allow 94 homes on part of the 20 acres that is the former Delta Rehabilitation Center campus. It’s a key piece to DR Horton building a 111-home subdivision off of Terrace Avenue called Walsh Hills.
The land-use petition in Snohomish County Superior Court was filed in February under an LLC owned by Marty Robinett. His family has a house just north of the development.
A hearing on the merits of the case will be before a judge July 8.
Long ago, part of the property was zoned for medium residential density where the center’s patient housing center is. The challenge argues that the underlying zoning doesn’t allow single family detached housing.
DR Horton set up the subdivision under what’s known as a “unit-lot subdivision,” which Planning Director Glen Pickus determined would allow the homes. A city hearing examiner agreed.
Unit-lot subdivisions allow fee-simple lots “in situations where zoning/density requirements would not permit a standard subdivision,” city attorneys wrote. Fee-simple is, well, simple to define: If you own your property
and have no landlord, you’re on a fee-simple lot. Fee-simple means you own the house and the land under it — whether it is a house, mobile home or other set up.
In this case, they wrote, the unit-lot subdivision framework is “about the division of the land, not the
development thereof” and is used for allowing denser, fee-simple development when other formats don’t fit the zoning.
Using a unit-lot subdivision for a housing subdivision, though, is unheard of, Robinett’s attorney David Bricklin told the Tribune previously.
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.
Some Washington state cities wrote their codes on unit-lot subdivisions to specify this format is exclusively for townhomes or clusters of cottages on individual lots, from a Tribune review. Snohomish’s code does not call this out specifically.
Bricklin said previously that if the judge decides in favor of DR Horton, it creates a precedent for unit-lot subdivisions inside all of Snohomish.
Attorneys for the city and DR Horton both ask the judge to defer to the hearing examiner’s decision approving the application.
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 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.



Prior coverage:

Walsh Hills development taken to court

SNOHOMISH — A lawsuit against the proposed housing development in northeast Snohomish attempts to stop it on the argument the city failed to follow its own development code when it gave its approval.

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Original contents copyrighted by Mach Publishing (Snohomish County Tribune), all rights reserved

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