What is Point Wells?
Point Wells is a 64-acre property located on the shore of Puget Sound in the extreme southwestern corner of Snohomish County, immediately north of the City of Shoreline. Point Wells has been used as an asphalt refinery and light petroleum products and lube oil distribution terminal for over a century.
Jump to "What's happening now?" - updated 11/05/2018
Jump to "What's next?" - updated 11/05/2018
Why should I care?
In early 2011 the owner of the Point Wells property filed a development application in Snohomish County to end commercial use of the site and instead build an Urban Center including over 3,000 residential units and over 130,000 square feet of office and retail space. The plans call for over 40 new buildings, some as tall as 180 feet (the tallest buildings between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.).
The only access to the site is through our Richmond Beach neighborhood on Richmond Beach Drive, a narrow winding two-lane local road that dead ends at Point Wells and typically has only a few hundred cars trips a day. The development is expected to add between 12,000 to 15,000 new cars trips each day to Richmond Beach Drive, more than 25 times the current number of trips. While some favor the development, many are understandably concerned that the increased traffic volume will ruin the quiet, safe and walkable neighborhoods we live in.
What’s been happening since 2011?
Draft Environmental Impact Statement
The developer worked with Snohomish County for more than 7 years to get a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) written and the development application approved. This was an extraordinarily long time with most of the delay caused by the developer not submitting requested corrections and additions in a timely manner. The developer was so slow in responding to the County’s requests, that on January 9, 2018, the County notified the developer that the County could not wait any longer and that the Planning and Development Services Department would hold a hearing to determine if the application should be denied.
Public Hearing Before the Hearing Examiner
The Snohomish County Hearing Examiner held an open record public hearing on May 16 through May 24, 2018 and published his decision on June 29, 2018. The decision denied the developer’s request for another extension and granted the County’s request to deny the application without completing the DEIS. The four main problems cited by the Hearing Examiner were that the developer was not diligent in replying to the County’s many requests for updated and corrected information, the plans included buildings in a landslide hazard area without showing there was no other place to locate these buildings, the plans included buildings within 150 feet of the Ordinary High Water Mark (state law prohibits development in this area), and the plans included buildings over 90 feet in height without the required guarantee that high capacity transit would serve the development.
Motion to Reconsider
On July 9, 2018 the developer submitted a request for the Hearing Examiner to reconsider the decision. The request included multiple arguments explaining why the original decision was wrong. On August 3, 2018 the Hearing Examiner issued his decision on the developer’s motion to reconsider. The decision rejected most of the developer’s arguments. The only issues that the Hearing Examiner changed were agreeing that the developer could appeal to the County Council before appealing to Superior Court and agreeing that the denial was “without prejudice”.
Appeal to the County Council
The developer next appealed to the Snohomish County Council, asking the Council to overturn the Hearing Examiner’s ruling. The County identified 16 issues raised by the developer in the appeal and after a public hearing on October 3, 2018, the Council voted unanimously to uphold the Hearing Examiner’s decision on each of the 16 issues. As far as the County was concerned, that ended the application.
What’s happening now?
The developer has taken the next step by filing an appeal in King Court Superior Court, asking the Court to overturn the Hearing Examiner’s and Council’s decisions. There will be no additional testimony taken as the Court will rule based on the evidence introduced in the hearing before the Hearing Examiner. The case in currently scheduled to be heard on April 1, 2019.
It’s unlikely that the Court will overturn the County’s denial of the application, but the one issue where the Court could decide overrule is the question about what “denial without prejudice” means for this project. At the time the application was first submitted in 2011, the County Code allowed the developer to reactivate any application that was denied without prejudice, and to preserve vesting to the 2011 development rules. The provision allowing reactivation and preservation of vesting was removed from the County Code in 2013, and the Hearing Examiner has ruled that since the reactivation provision is no longer in the code, it cannot be used by the developer. The developer argues in their appeal that the Hearing Examiner erred in that ruling and the reactivation provision should still be in effect.
This is a critical question because if the Court upholds the County’s position, any new application submitted by the developer will have to follow current development rules which give Shoreline and Woodway more power to control the size of the development, but if the Court overrules the County then the developer would be allowed to submit a new application using the old 2011 rules which allow a larger development and give Shoreline and Woodway virtually no authority to control the size of the project.
No matter what the outcome of the case in Superior Court, it is almost certain that one side or the other will appeal the decision.