State Senate bill to increase housing near transit gets a hearing

Work at Terrace Station Apartments in 2020. (MLTnews file photo)

The word from a supporter of a new housing bill making its way through the state Senate put it this way: “We are asking the Legislature to go big on housing.” An opponent argued that a number of the housing bills in Olympia are “extreme and draconian.”

For Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, this bill would “go big” – by approving high-rise, high-density apartments along most South County bus routes, around light rail and Sounder stations, and even the Edmonds ferry terminal. That is, if it passes.

Senate Bill 5466, sponsored by 21st District Democratic Sen. Marko Liias, has bi-partisan support — three Republicans signed on as co-sponsors — and it got its first hearing Tuesday before the Senate Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs Committee.

Senate Local Government, Land Use and Tribal Affairs Committee meeting Tuesday.

 For the Tuesday hearing, 614 people had signed up to offer live or written testimony – only three were listed as opponents.  Among the big corporate and industry lobbyists were – Amazon, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, the Association of Washington Business.

State Sen. Marko Liias

First up was Liias, who told the panel, “we are going to build one of the strongest and most vibrant transit systems in the world in the Puget Sound region… we need to make sure that we maximize the value of these huge taxpayer investments by siting housing next to them and siting  jobs next to them.”

Liias insisted that local control of zoning was not the issue in this bill — as it is in a more sweeping housing bill HB1110, which we recently reported on. “Rather than telling our cities how to do their jobs, It provides targets to make sure that near our transit areas… we are creating hundreds of thousands of potential new units in the Puget Sound to meet the growing demand and the shortage we have got.”

Senate Housing Bill 5466

The legislative synopsis says the bill “would create flexible standards for cities to allow mid-sized apartment buildings within three-quarters of a mile of transit stops with frequent service, and larger buildings within a quarter-mile of light rail stations.” That would include ferry terminals.

Communities could receive state grants to offset some construction costs. Each project would have to provide at least 100 housing units and the measure would require that at least a third of those apartments be affordable housing for those whose income less than 80% of the county’s median income. In Snohomish County, that is $95,000. The apartments would have to remain affordable for at least 99 years. The bill would also drop requirements for off-street parking.

Clockwise from upper left: artist’s rendering of Lynnwood City Center Apartments and Edmonds’ Apollo Apartments; Terrace Station in Mountlake Terrace

The cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace already cluster most large new multi-family development along Highway 99, in Lynnwood’s City Center and around Alderwood Mall, and in Mountlake Terrace near the planned light rail station. As many as 6,000 apartments are planned in Lynnwood; Edmonds has 1,000 units in construction or in planning and Mountlake Terrace has 700 units, with another 600 potentially. This bill could have significant impact in areas like Edmonds Way, along the border of Woodway, and residential areas along transit routes in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

The feedback

Not all who support the bill agree with all aspects of it. Ryan Donohue, chief advocacy officer for Habitat for Humanity, told lawmakers that “while this is good, it could be better… (that) “as written this bill would make it difficult for affordable home ownership projects, in particular for them to happen near transit.”

Tacoma’s Deputy Mayor, Kristina Walker, testified that to enable cities to plan, the high density should only be a “half-mile around transit stops, rather than three-fourths of a mile” to ease the impact.

Aside from Liias, no other local lawmakers were scheduled to testify.

Mayor Mike Nelson

In an email, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson said: “One major concern about SB5466 is the requirement to increase densities along Edmonds’ waterfront, which are at growing risk of sea-level rise and climate change impacts.

“The bill should provide exemptions that enable cities to adapt to climate change and to increase resilience,” Nelson continued.

The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE) has criticized half a dozen of the housing bills in the Legislature. Board member Larry Williamson, in a recent My Edmonds News letter to the editor, said that those proposals are  “extreme and draconian and would revamp land use and zoning statewide. They propose unworkable solutions to problems not anticipated in Edmonds until at least 2035 to meet GMA growth goals, and not resulting in affordable housing.” ACE President Michelle Dotsch says: “There are a lot of density/transit bills out there but ACE has no position on that particular one for right now.”

Senate Bill 5466 still faces likely amendments before it can get out of committee and go to the full Senate. A companion bill has been launched in the House. Last session, lawmakers scuttled all the housing proposals. This year, with the Democrats solidifying their control in both houses and with some Republican backing, supporters think they have their best chance to pass what they believe would be the most significant housing legislation in decades.

 — By Bob Throndsen

 

 

  1. High-rise buildings down near the Edmonds ferry terminal? Local DNA all over these bills like State Sen. Marko Liias. I guess maybe he thinks the locals are too busy, too lazy, or just plain too stupid, so they can do whatever they want? Are our representatives, right?

  2. Increase housing near transit centers? Unless you’ve been living in the woods and haven’t seen the transition going on not only near Alderwood, but Lynnwood ( 44th corridor) Northgate, Ravenna, The U District, etc…….this is not good.

  3. “income less than 80% of the county’s median income. In Snohomish County, that is $95,000.”

    80% of AMI is an extremely high bar to qualify as “low income.” Rental limits are set to be no more than 1/3 of income, which means those on minimum wage (15.74/hr), considered “very low income,” would have to pay approximately 2/3 of their income to live in one of these buildings. Many of those on disability or social security are in the “extremely low income” range and would have to pay their entire income. This is NOT affordable housing. Except of course to our legislators, since they came up with the definitions.

    https://snohomishcountywa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/73940/Spring-2021-NOFA-Income-and-Rent-Limits—SnoCo?bidId=

    As with all of the housing bills currently proposed by WA state government, this bill serves the developers, not the citizens that our elected officials supposedly represent.

    1. Darrol,

      Your comment is simplistic to the point of ignorance regarding climate change and critical areas. Stewardship of the environment for the benefit of future generations requires a long range, not shortsighted, view of development.

      This comment, and others you’ve made, suggest you support housing at the waterfront. Please explain why.

      1. Ignorance is lack of knowledge. Thanks, Joan, for your comments. I have always respected you for your research on a number of issues. We all need to be more fact based in our discussions. The details in your post below have always been part of my knowledge so thanks for reminding us all. My ignorance did extend to a lack of factual information about sea level rise. The city accounted for a 2 ft increase when approving the plan for the WFC. Increase in building heights was allowed, the floor was designed to be raised 3ft, and not knowing for sure we likely approved a plan to drill down for support posts?

        The city plan for the “missing link” walkway also has a plan to go down 50!. We do know how to build in these critical areas.

        To more fully understand sea level raise, I researched and found the support of the 2’ raise. I could not find any data about King Tides potential sea level raise so thought it best to actually measure. I have measured when it has been calm winds and with and without the low-pressure present. Word count issues. More later. j

  4. “The bill should provide exemptions that enable cities to adapt to climate change and to increase resilience,” Nelson continued.

    In addition to “climate change” issues, our waterfront is rife with critical areas: Edmonds Marsh, the 100-year flood plain, and a large seismic hazard area. Harbor Square, Salish Crossing, and up to where Sunset Ave meets Caspers St are in a documented seismic hazard area.

    According to Edmonds’ code, 23.80.040 Allowed activities- Geologically hazardous areas:

    “B. Seismic Hazard Areas. The following activities are allowed within seismic hazard areas:
    1. Construction of new buildings with less than 2,500 square feet of floor area or roof area, whichever is greater, and which are not residential structures or used as places of employment or public assembly;”

    https://www.codepublishing.com/WA/Edmonds/#!/html/Edmonds23/Edmonds2380.html

    Residential structures are not allowed at the Edmonds waterfront per our own code. If state legislation requires Edmonds to build at the waterfront, the cost to build in a seismic hazard area is prohibitive because buildings have to be anchored to the bearing soil, approximately 35 ft down. Imagine the cost to insure such buildings.

    1. Joan is correct. The identification of specific appropraite areas for development needs to be a local officials and planners job with complete and open public involvement. Resdiential zoning maps are one dimensional and do not show the context or contours of a site or neighborhood. Only local officials and neighborhoods know this. State legislation to declare all residentially zoned lands open and available for all types of higher denisty housing is a one size fits all approach that is simplistic and wrong. While there is a housing need to be met, local officials need to identify the appropriate buildable lands that can meet that need. It is not a job for the Legislature to do but only to require local governments to do. They know their cities and neighborhoods and where such needed housing can be accommodated.

    2. King Tides and Sea Level Raise. All king tides are not the same. I measured it 3 times when the water was calm. Twice with low pressure. A 25’’ difference. Also watched when the wind was blowing, too dangerous to even be by the current seawall. The higher was during the recent Dayton St flooding.

      Facts learned and informed speculation. King Tide and a low pressure and no wind and 2’ sea level raise: Old senior center parking lot would be breached. New WFC lot would also be breached but it would be below the door. With the sea wall now removed it is highly likely floating logs would be in the parking lot. Brackett’s landing would be breached and with wind logs would make it to the parking lot.

      One of the city’s consultants pointed out that the current sea wall will need to be replaced. That should be part of the Comp Plan updates!

      We do know how to build in that dangerous area and account for the estimated sea level rise. My comment was based on Joan’s facts and my own research. Housing answer later.

  5. I find it ironic that we have two articles in MEN today about state legislation. In this article we have Senator Marko Liias as the sponsor and advocate of State Senate bill 5466. In the second article — Local Lawmakers share their 2023 legislative priorities https://myedmondsnews.com/2023/02/local-lawmakers-share-their-2023-state-legislative-priorities/ — Senator Liias has as his priorities six bills, none of which is SB 5466.

    So one has to wonder if SB 5466 is not one of Senator Liias’ priorities why is he the primary sponsor? Or is this a priority for him and he just didn’t disclose it when asked by MEN.

  6. The citizens of Edmonds have consistently expressed the importance of protecting our fragile waterfront environment and the importance of keeping it open and accessible to all. I understand the need for additional housing but all transit points are not the same. Treating them so increases the likelihood that the health and beauty of our precious waterfront will be damaged. I hope everyone who values the health of Puget Sound and protecting our waterfront parks and open spaces will communicate the need for this legislation to be revised.

  7. Great job Marko. Edmonds has fought for years to keep massive buildings and too much residential development away from our waterfront and you manage with one ideology based and building industry biased (sponsored) bill to try to torpedo that long time effort. And the real sad thing, is that we have no real choice for common sense at the ballot box. Just two extremist led political parties charging over ideological cliffs on the Right and on the Left. I want people like “IKE” and Dan Evans back. I want people like Obama and Gary Lock back. Just a small bit of sanity coming from somewhere please.

  8. Joan Bloom asked me to explain what she thought was my support of housing near the waterfront. The housing issue is more than WF housing. Our citizens are struggling with the whole housing issue. Local control et al.

    We will exceed the population element of the GMA, but we will not add much to the “truly affordable stock”. Joan has studied and pointed out that the MFTE does not produce affordable housing, just housing a slightly lower market rate pricing. Edmonds did not implement MFTE in a way that could have produced a few affordable housing units.

    Edmonds is blessed with 20,000 really smart households, each with their own interests. After all we are the first Creative District in the state! But just saying no is not a solution. We simply must find some new approaches to create truly affordable (for lower income folks) housing. It is really disappointing to see and hear our citizens argue about all this when we should really try to find ways to discuss and solve the housing problem. I do support more affordable housing anywhere we can create it in our 7 zones. Let’s work on ideas and not just say no.

  9. There is a reason people shouldn’t build living quarters and business’s on the banks of meandering rivers, near unstable cliffs and beaches close to variable tide lines and water tables. Yet we insist on doing so, then wonder why we get flooded out or buried alive every so often. This boggles the mind of anyone with just basic reasoning skills. We want what we what and by golly we will have it no matter what – until mother nature has her way with us.

  10. Unfortunately, most of the affordable housing schemes come down to using somebody else’s money, paying for through subsidies or other socialized economics. Paying for it until they run out of other people’s money. It may be the Edmonds cannot have the socialized egalitarian utopia that’s being sold by the current crop of partisan political leaders. Acknowledging this might be the positive step forward. Saying yes to abdication of local sovereignty and zoning is a questionable creative solution both short and long term.

  11. Let’s remember that there are many factors ro consider regarding building on the waterfront and not just sea level rise. There is foundational support and liquifaction, tszunami zones, shoreland management issues, wetlands and flood zones amoung others. Puget Sound is special resource. Let’s not tun it into Coney Island.
    Just because something is “buildable” doesn’t mean that we should.

    1. High density development along the waterfront or anywhere in the Bowl for that matter puts those residents farther away from the major regional travel corridors, particularly SR99, I-5, and Link light rail. It’s just poor planning from a transportation perspective, leading to more traffic congestion on Edmonds’ east-west streets.

  12. solution is don’t build two story or above housing in SF neighborhoods. Take lot and build one story smaller homes that go deep into the property allowing 4 grass in back This way can fit 3-5 homes. views, sun, light and air not taken away. We can combine high and low income into lots. would be a courtesy a better living environment for existing homeowners and for new home owners. slow allows for better building lots turned into parklets for all to meet, play. Industrial Type building to HWY 99. no view issue there. units proposed that are tall and have no deck would be claustrophobic. concrete, no grass, no small spaces. people will tire of these after time. I don’t think that is what Edmonds wants. welcome neighbors, share cuttings of perennials welcome with a basket, phone number. WE all should regardless of political views. That is being nice and thankful we all have our town to live in, in harmony. Get the planners of housing around this idea and I really think people will accept that. Don’t close our Bowl Streets as that doesn’t help 75% citizens.

  13. One more thing. Many SF zoning laws allow now for duplexes maybe just tweak that and make these places I am suggesting have shared walls. this allows for more spaces and everyone has a back and a front door. In the ones in the center do sky lights for light and big front and back picture windows or floor to ceiling. And remember all of these can be built and be electric instead of natural gas. I just couldn’t get it all in 200 words hahaha. I couldn’t get in 800 words. I had to go BACK 7 times and reduce the above haha. This is one reason no capital letters and even worse grammar than usual. XOXO Deb.

  14. Brian, I appreciate your comment about using other people’s money to subsidize the low income housing needs. It creates a situation where we are “kicking the problem down the road” because as you say there comes a point where we run out of other people’s money, especially when demands grow so rapidly. This is only one of many problems HB 1110/ SB 5190 would create.
    Our downtown area has a serious lack of parking space which becomes worse with more dwellings.
    Yes, we need to create more housing, although this won’t likely be truly “affordable” housing for someone making less than $70,000/year, and are we then obligated to subsidize that person’s rent in perpetuity? I don’t live in downtown Edmonds because its more expensive than where I live, simple? We can meet more needs by building “Affordable Housing” on moderately priced real estate.
    Unless we are willing to give the state the power to dictate their agenda for our city’s growth and financial health we need to be actively opposing these bills. Please email Marko Liias, Ms. Ortiz-Self, and Strom Peterson to register your opposition to these bills.

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