No Urban Center at Point Wells

Point Wells from Google Earth

BSRE’s attempt to develop Point Wells as a high-density Urban Center is officially dead, Shoreline Area News reports.

Since about 1900, Point Wells has been a tank farm. Point Wells is a low-lying property on Puget Sound in unincorporated Snohomish County, directly north of Shoreline. The only road to Point Wells is through Shoreline.

BSRE Point Wells, LP (BSRE) owns the land at Point Wells (about 61 acres). An unrelated oil company owns the pier, the fuel and oil tanks, pipes, and other structures.

Marine fuel and asphalt oil operation and loading dock. (Photo by Marc Weinberg)

Since June 2020, the marine fuel and asphalt oil operations have been quiet. No vessels have offloaded or loaded marine fuel as they had in the past, no trains have offloaded asphalt oil, and no tanker trucks have transported it.

In 2011, BSRE submitted land use applications to Snohomish County to develop Point Wells as a high-density Urban Center. BSRE proposed to build about 3,000 residential units, in buildings as tall as 180 feet, plus over 100,000 square feet of commercial space. Since 2011, BSRE has spent over $10 million attempting to get its applications approved.

Snohomish County twice denied BSRE’s applications due to substantial conflicts with the county’s development code. The county’s most recent denial of BSRE’s applications was upheld by the state Court of Appeals in December 2022.

In March 2023, BSRE filed a petition for review with the Washington Supreme Court, hoping that the Court would accept its petition and reverse the Court of Appeals decision. That did not happen.

On July 11, 2023, the Washington Supreme Court denied BSRE’s petition for review. As a result, BSRE’s attempt to develop Point Wells as a high-density Urban Center is officially dead. The county’s denial of BSRE’s applications, as upheld by the state Court of Appeals, is final.

Now we must wait to see what BSRE, and the unrelated oil company, will try to do next.

Will BSRE try to gain approval to develop Point Wells as a smaller-scale Urban Village, with perhaps 400 to 800 residential units, plus a second access road? As long as Point Wells remains unincorporated — that is, as long as it is not annexed by the Town of Woodway or the City of Shoreline — any application by BSRE to develop Point Wells as an Urban Village must be submitted to the county for processing.

Or will BSRE work with the oil company, and try to resume the site’s marine fuel and asphalt oil storage and distribution operations, a nonconforming use under the site’s current Urban Village zoning? Under the county’s code, if the oil company’s marine fuel and asphalt oil operations are determined to have been “discontinued” for more than 12 months, the oil company cannot resume its “nonconforming” operations.

While there are strong arguments that operations have been discontinued, the oil company could try to argue that, even though there has been no offloading, loading, or distribution of marine fuel and asphalt oil since June 2020, operations were never completely discontinued because it continues to employ a small crew, apparently to oversee management of the storm water system, and maintenance and repair of the equipment to keep it in running order.

Meanwhile, annexation lurks. Pursuant to a 2019 Settlement and Interlocal Agreement between the City of Shoreline and the Town of Woodway, the Town of Woodway has the first opportunity to annex Point Wells. As an initial annexation hurdle, the town must successfully negotiate an annexation interlocal agreement with the City of Shoreline, the county, and Olympic View Water and Sewer District.

If the town is successful, then the town’s elected Council would need to vote in favor of annexation. If the town fails to annex Point Wells, then the City of Shoreline will have an opportunity to annex it.

Stay tuned for further developments.

— By Tom McCormick

    1. There seems to be something lurking beneath the surface that’s being overlooked?
      A site that’s been used as an oil / asphalt handling and transshipment facility for 120 years is not going to be redeveloped onto anything easily. It may not quite be a Superfund site, (yet?) but it seems as thought it will almost certainly need a very expensive, time consuming site cleanup before any new building can occur.
      Dreams of apartment towers or residential villages seem a bit premature at this point, pun intended.

      1. I’m a Woodway resident who has followed this drama for years now, being concerned about how any such huge development project will impact the Town and, in fact, the region . At times it’s been very difficult to understand what each party involved was trying to do, so I want to thank Tom McCormick for writing the clearest explanation I have seen in years of this complex, ongoing situation.

  1. Agree, such a beautiful spot would be great for a park/recreation area. It may help to heal “stuff” lurking. So glad that a dense area was NOT approved. Let’s do something good for the land and our earth.

  2. How nice it would be to have a park, like Discovery in Seattle. There is too little public access to the shores of Puget Sound/Salish Sea, especially considering projections about population growth.

  3. Chris is bang on with his assessment of super fund clean up site. There is just no way that the land is not terribly contaminated.

    Let say the owners are given permission to move forward. The new roads to access the area will ruin the look and feel of the area forever.

    Oh, did I forget to mention the rising sea.

    Remove the tank farm, clean up the site, and build a beautiful park with sidewalks and low lighting.

    Please keep Edmonds Woodway peaceful and beautiful for next generations.

  4. The stuff that is “lurking” beneath the site is normal for these type of heavy industrial operations. A good example of a similar site close by is Point Edwards which adhered to federal and local laws regarding the remeidation of such sites. Any development on Point Wells would also required a strict adhereance to remeidation requirements in order to develop it. The best way for developers to offset this cost is to increase density, ensuring that they can build enough value into the property to cover the expenses to remediate.

    Depending on it’s status – developers may have the option to apply for federal grants to alleviate some of the costs to do the remidation work which is typically quite expensive. The benefits are huge though, as that site as it is right now is likely continually leaking polluted groundwater and run off into the Puget Sound. A development there would address that, as would a park or another less intensive (ie less density) use of the land.

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