The owners of the 113 acres in the Samish Neighborhood known as Padden Trails have filed for a rezone of their property (click here ) from single family (20,000 sq. ft./unit ) residential to multi-family residential (10,000 sq.ft./unit). The land, located immediately east of I-5 and south of Connelly at the outermost edge of the city limits, is characterized by steep slopes and wetlands and has been zoned since 1969 for about 246 single family homes. Since the terrain will not readily allow such use, the developers have sought to rezone the property and paraded forth, in part, the Infill Tool Kit ordinance in an attempt to justify building 492 housing units. In essence, these developers bought a pig in a poke and are now asking the city to bail them out via a Type VI rezone (click here) and ignore the desires of the Samish Neighborhood as well as the inappropriateness of placing dense zoning on the outskirts of the city. When you think Padden Trails, think spot rezone.
[Note: The Infill Tool Kit was designed for urban villages, not neighborhoods zoned as single-family. Those of us who fought the Tool Kit thought the city understood this, in spite of its having been approved by the City Council. Unfortunately, one need go no further than the present Sunnyland Neighborhood opposition to the rezone of the former DOT site. This was an early prime example of the attempted misuse of the Tool Kit to provide financial well being for a developer at the expense of the desires of people who actually live there.]
Of primary concern with the respect to this rezone is Padden Creek. It flows along the northern boundary of the property and the runoff from this more intense development would flow through other neighborhoods on its way to the bay. These terrain features did not just pop up last year like a pimple on your date’s nose on prom night. The owners want to plant 292 single family homes (i.e., Infill Tool Kit types such as cottages and townhomes), plus 200 multi-family units, for example, condominiums. To date, the Coalition of South Neighborhoods has written in opposition to this rezone (click here). Given the downstream effects of such a development, they will be the recipients of this polluted runoff.
Not only is the property far from the inner core of the city and any urban village, but also there is only one street exit onto Connelly just east of the I-5 access ramps. This dumps all traffic from the planned 492 housing units onto an arterial that is ill-suited to absorb such volume. In one direction, the traffic immediately encounters the already poorly designed I-5 interchange, and in the other direction, the traffic will have to contend with the “stair step/faux arterial” route to Samish Way. Alternative routes include 34th and 36th streets northbound, neither of which is designed as an arterial. The Transportation Commission has already turned a skeptical eye toward this aspect of the development during its October 2011 meeting (click here) and the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC) was equally unconvinced at the October 2011 meeting on various counts they will convey to the mayor in a letter. Moreover, the area is not now served by public transportation, nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future given the wretched fiscal state of our transit system.
In his presentation before the MNAC, Samish Neighborhood Board President Joe Carpenter opined that we might also think about the likely appearance and use of this development down the road a few years. Given the relatively lower cost of these units, one might reasonably imagine reversion to rentals and the kind of degradation seen already in the Magnolia Hills development (south of the Clean Green site). In this area, investors swooped in after the initial cohort of owner-occupiers sold these small lot homes. Today, the area is a rental horror show, full of cars, trucks, boats, and similar such objects that seem to be prized in this city as lawn ornaments. Given the total lack of parking restrictions, the roads within Magnolia Hills can barely accommodate a single lane of traffic. Need we recreate that within Padden Hills?
The developers say this will not happen with Padden Hills because restrictive covenants will be placed on the properties to avoid degradation. Although, in theory, covenants are meant to prevent deterioration within a development, in practice, covenants pit neighbor against neighbor, ultimately forcing problems into the civil court system at cost to be borne by the homeowners. In contrast, existing city ordinances, many of which are unfortunately and selectively ignored in this city, are enforced by the municipality that represents the entire populace. Citizens should not have to resort to private, civil and legal engagement for enforcement processes that already exist in city code for the common weal.
One of the most exasperating aspects of this rezone request is that the Planning Department, in the staff report to the Planning Commission and City Council (click here), has already provided wording for a change to the Samish Neighborhood Plan Narrative as it relates to area 6 of the Samish Neighborhood and the rezone (see page 4 of the Staff Report). This calls into question the enthusiasm of city government for the opinions of the very neighborhoods whose engagement the city claims to welcome. It seems the rezone is a fait accompli for the Planning Department.
In the staff report, the Planning Department also attempts to comment on the long term benefits and best interests of the rezone to the community. However, this seems a question best answered by the community, not the city’s Planning Department. The community’s judgment of its best interests should, at a minimum, be given greater weight considering these people are speaking about THEIR collective interests.
Under each of the conditions for approval of the requested rezone, the staff report juxtaposes Padden Trails LLC’s responses with those of the Planning Department. (Click here) This approach omits the comments by the Samish Neighborhood and others who have sent written opinions. (You can read the Samish neighborhood’s letter to the Planning Commission here) Placing all of the objections and other points of view from the public in the annexes and attachments, forces the Planning Commission, and eventually the City Council, to flip back and forth through the report to view specific objections of the public as it considers each item in the staff report. This grossly minimizes and degrades comments from citizens who already operate from an institutionally created disadvantage. The staff report is a conversation in which those who are most affected, the PEOPLE, are left out.
These observations are but a few examples regarding not only the inadvisability of this particular Padden Trails rezone, but also the distorted planning process and inherent disadvantage for neighborhoods attempting to resist Type VI rezones. This ill-advised rezone goes before the Planning Commission on December 1st. (Click here, here and here for more information)
* The original request in Nov. 2010 for docketing was for 6,250 sq. ft./unit. The next application in Jan. 2011 to the Planning Commission called for 8,000 sq. ft./unit. Then the developer reverted in July 2011 to 10,000 sq. ft. /unit calling for 292 single family units and 200 multi-family units.
[Note: For the purposes of disclosure, I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Samish Neighborhood. My comments above are in no way meant to represent the position of the Board of Directors or the members of the Samish Neighborhood Association. ]