BELLINGHAM - The owners of the Padden Trails property between Lake Padden and Interstate 5 say they are weighing legal options after City Council rejected a proposed rezone of the 113-acre site to allow more housing to be built there.
The council seemingly ended months of deliberation on the proposed rezone at their Monday, July 2, meeting, with a 4-3 vote to deny it. Terry Bornemann, Jack Weiss, Michael Lilliquist, and Stan Snapp voted for the motion to deny the rezone. Seth Fleetwood, Cathy Lehman and Gene Knutson voted against it.
The Padden Trails property is now zoned for 246 single-family homes, but the owners - Padden Trails LLC and managing partner George Huston - had applied for zoning and comprehensive plan changes to allow as many as 492 housing units, including multi-family buildings. Faced with widespread opposition from neighbors, developers later suggested that they could live with plans that would allow 348 new units, or 410 if some of those units were set aside for lower-cost dwellings.
At their June 18 meeting, council members discussed other compromise proposals, but none got the support of a majority.
Some neighbors contended the rezone to multi-family would harm the Samish neighborhood's character and hurt their property values. Others argued against allowing an increase in the number of households, fearing traffic and emergency access problems.
The emergency access issue seemed to be especially troubling to council members who voted against the rezone. Snapp, a retired firefighter, said the proposed new housing development would be reached by a single access road, meaning that emergency help would be cut off if something happened to block that road.
At the June 18 meeting, Weiss noted the access problems during the Squalicum Harbor marina fire that killed two people.
Developers had said they would install sprinklers in all buildings to allay those concerns, but council members were not persuaded.
Before the July 2 vote was taken, developers' consultant Bill Geyer and Bellevue attorney Charles Klinge wrote to council to challenge the looming denial. Geyer and Klinge argued that the council's failure to approve the rezone could be a violation of the city's own Comprehensive Plan as well as the state's Growth Management Act.
Geyer's letter pointed to city comprehensive plan language that reflected a willingness to consider higher densities in the Samish neighborhood to achieve the goal of increasing population density within the city limits while avoiding sprawl. He also estimated that the construction of the new houses and multi-family buildings on the site would generate $5.9 million in one-time sales tax revenue, $1.65 million in annual property tax revenue, and 100 to 200 temporary construction jobs.
Attorney Klinge noted that the city's Planning Commission had recommended approval of the rezone. He called the council's decision "fatally flawed" because it was "not based on full and fair consideration of the specific factual and expert information generated in the record of this proposal."
"The City Council's lack of focus on the real issues and real facts creates substantial risk that the City Council is making this decision based too much on undefined, possibly political considerations and other matters, and not on the facts and law applicable to this proposal," Klinge's letter says.
Asked if developers will appeal the council action to court or the Growth Management Hearings Board, Geyer said it was too soon to say.
"We're assessing all options," Geyer said.
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