Point Wells (kingcounty.gov)

Last week, the Snohomish County Council authorized substantial upzones in seven urban villages, which may initiate a sequence that adds another station to North Sounder:

The ordinance allows for buildings up to 90 feet high, though a developer could build 180-foot structures by showing a need for more density…

There are six other urban centers: Highway 99 at the Mukilteo Speedway; Highway 99 at 152nd Street SW; I-5 at 164th Street SW; I-5 at 128th Street SW; 44th Avenue W. near the Mountlake Terrace-Lynnwood city line; and the Bothell-Everett Highway at Maltby Road.

Two of these are along Swift; three others will probably be served either by ST2 or ST3.  The other is about a mile from the Canyon Park P&R.  More good stuff below the jump.

It’s the seventh location, however, that’s most intriguing:

Point Wells is the only zoned urban center that is not near a highway or freeway. It is only reachable from the south by two-lane Richmond Beach Drive in Shoreline, which is in King County… Representatives for Point Wells owners Paramount of Washington LLC, part of Texas-based Alon USA Energy, have said to help alleviate traffic they would pay to build a new stop for the Sounder Commuter Rail train that runs through the 60-acre property.

The question of whether Sound Transit would entertain this option is ultimately up to the board, but given that the Snohomish delegation is a creature of the same Council that approved this plan, I wouldn’t anticipate problems.  Sound Move also had a “provisional station” at nearby Richmond Beach if funding became available, so it’s even in scope.

Importantly, the Council retains ultimate authority when city and developer can’t agree, which should tamp down the NIMBYism:

If the sides cannot agree, the county is required to convene a design panel of experts to make recommendations. In those cases, applications would go to the county hearing examiner for final approval.

Very progressive-libertarian, especially since “green” Seattle can’t seem to get much above three stories around some light rail stations.

49 Replies to “Snohomish County Upzones”

  1. I’m upset that Seattle hasn’t been more aggressive with upzoning around light rail stations. Perhaps the zoning changes can be phased in over a period of time to allow the pace of change in the neighborhoods to be more palatable, but it really needs to happen. If Seattle is going to grow, wouldn’t most people want the density to increase primarily in areas served by transit so as to minimize impact to the city as a whole and their neighborhoods in particular? The folks fighting upzoning should be greatly outnumbered by those in favor of it, no?

    1. It is happening, but at a glacial pace. From what I’ve heard this is actually mainly due to all the EIS work the city has to do. The Roosevelt Neighborhood Association made upzone recommendations to the city a couple years ago but is still waiting. Even in SLU the EIS process has just started and will not be finished for at least a year.

      1. Well, I should probably become more involved in the process before I spout off and complain. I live 2 blocks from Beacon Hill station, am a property owner, and will certainly be impacted by zoning changes around the station. Unlike most, however, I feel the impacts will be mostly positive in the long run.

      2. Hi, Brett, we’re neighbors. :) Possibly very close neighbors, as I am also 2 blocks away from the station.

        I don’t suppose you’ve been following this stuff in the Beacon Hill Blog, have you? Anyway, if you have an opinion on the rezoning, show up at as many meetings and such as possible. North Beacon Hill Council meetings on the first Thursday of every month are a good place to start.

        When you say “Unlike most, however, I feel the impacts will be mostly positive in the long run,” I have to say that I don’t think it’s at all certain that “most” people think the impacts will be negative. Clearly some people do, and some people don’t, but I am not getting the feeling that it’s an overwhelming NIMBY attitude up here. It’s complex, though, and I’m not sure you can even divide Beaconians into a simple “for/against”.

      3. The Roosevelt Neighborhood Association wants upzones mostly just up to NC2/3-40, while the developer there wants higher. I don’t think they should go too much higher, but within a block or two of the Link station it should be 85 feet, stepping down to 65 and 40 feet.

      4. Restrictions like that frustrate me. They’re allowing 180′ structures in Snohomish County, but in our region’s big city – right next to our new multi-billion-dollar light rail – even transit advocates are only pushing for 85′, and the best we’ll likely get is 40′.

        Don’t forget this is happening across our region. People want to live in Seattle, but Seattlites won’t let them in.

      5. I guess transit fans will be moving to Snohomish County in the next couple decades.

      6. Just think everyone…it wasn’t overnight that all those buildings and TOD’s were built around the light rail stations in Portland and Vancouver. It took years. It looks as though they are light years ahead of us because they really are since they’ve had light rail for almost 25 years now.

        Interesting side note…both Portland and Vancouver didn’t bring their second lines on line until years after their first lines (Portland 12 years and Vancouver 15 years). Seattle will be bringing all 55 miles on line in 14 years (2009-2023). I just hope in the next 13 years, the TOD’s will be sped up and we can look to Portland and Vancouver as models.

      7. Personally, I’d much rather see large 65′ zones than small 160′ zones around stations. 160′ buildings are expensive to build, so you need to build them in places people are willing to shell out serious cash to live. I’m not sure Beacon Hill, for example, is ready for million dollar condos in a concrete and steel high-rise. But it might be ready for some 300-400K condos in a shorter wood-frame building. Or for some existing houses to get subdivided into affordable rentals.

        Sort of related: it’s frustrating how slowly Seattle’s lowrise code changes are coming. Not that they’re going to increase density all that much, but they should help with walkability in lowrise neighborhoods, and help remove the strongest anti-density fodder for NIMBYs.

      8. I agree, and don’t really care what shape the upzone comes in as long as there’s a lot of it. But [alex] above advocated for a “block or two” of 65′ zoning – and that represents a wide number of opinions around here.

      9. [Michael] No, Vancouver and Portland didn’t change overnight. But upzoning only a little bit means you have new 40′ structures. It’s terribly inefficient to then upzone again a dozen years later and tear these buildings down and start over.

      10. This is why the bill proposed two years ago by TCC and Futurewise is so important. When we are making this large infrastructure investments we need to ensure that public money from all over the region isn’t put to waste because a few vocal NIMBYs stop a city from moving forward. Land use and transit need to be linked. If a neighborhood is getting the benefit of billions of dollars of money they also have an obligation to ensure that the investment will not be wasted.

        The community absolutely should guide how that happens but the quantity of growth allowed should not be negotiable. Discussion about maximum heigh is certainly one problem. We shouldn’t be talking about how tall the tallest building might be in 20 years we should be talking about the density of the area within a quarter or half mile around the station. Yes the community might choose to funnel all the growth into a very dense node by they also might choose to spread it out around the neighborhood.

        Either way this discussion is completely dependent on getting past the question of how much growth should be planned for and so again that is why the bill from a few years is so instrumental in getting past that question.

      11. Unfortunately, MTE, like most folks in this region, you seem to think that height = density. It does not.

        Built Density is defined by a term called Floor Area Ratio (FAR), which is the ratio of the total area off all floors in a building divided by the area of the lot. A one-story building built out lot line to lot line would have an FAR of 1. A 4-story building that covers only 1/4 of it’s lot would also have an FAR of 1.

        Seattle has embraced a European style of zoning: short, fat buildings with underground parking and high lot coverage ratios. Shohomish is following Vancouver’s model: tall thin buildings surrounded either by surface parking lots, green space or a lowrise podium.

        Vancouver and Shohomish may allow taller buildings, but they don’t allow denser buildings. Here’s the numbers:

        Shohomish County’s new ordinance allows for buildings up to 180 feet, but the FAR limit is 5.0, only in the very densest mixed-use zones, and then only with incentive zoning priced at $21 per square foot.

        The base FAR is 2.5 at 90 ft.

        Let’s compare this with Seattle:

        NC3-40 (the 4-story zone you decry) has a base FAR of 3.0, which is 20% denser than the Base FAR of Snohomish’s densest zone. However, when building in a station overlay area, NC3-40 allows an FAR of 4.0. It is not usually practical to completely fill the building envelope though, so let’s assume 3.5.
        NC3-65 (six story) has a base FAR of 4.75 in general and 5.25 within station overlays. This is the density that is allowed outright, without having to pay $21 per square foot to bonus up.
        SM-85 (which is what most of South Lake Union is currently zoned) has a base FAR of 5.0.

        All of the above are mixed use zones. If one digs deeper, the densest residential zone under Shohomish county’s new code has a base FAR of 1.0, bonusing up to 2.5.

        Now for Seattle’s residential zones:

        Lowrise 3 (LR3) – 35-ft height limit, FAR of 1.5 to 2.0 (pending approval the upcoming rewrite)
        Midrise (MR) – 75-ft height limit, FAR 3.2 to 4.25
        Highrise (HR, First Hill only) – 300-ft height limit, FAR 8 to 14, yes 14.

        While we’re comparing,

        Vancouver’s West End neighborhood, the densest neighborhood in Cascadia at 60 units per acre, twice the density of Capitol Hill, 50% denser than Belltown:

        Height limit: 190 ft, FAR 2.75, yes, 2.75.

        Seattle’s midrise zone is denser than Vancouver’s highrise West End zoning.

        Height and density are not the same thing.

      12. True, height and density between zoning codes are not the same thing. But in Seattle, NC3-65 has a lower density than NC3-85, which, in mixed-use buildings, has an FAR of 6.00. So in the context of the Roosevelt redevelopment, I think that the zoning should be NC3-85 close in to the station, stepping down to NC3-65 then NC3-40 as it goes out from the center. In a big city neighborhood context, Seattle’s short but dense buildings are better, but in a suburban, edge-city context like Snohomish County, tall, more spread out buildings could be the answer. I just hope they do require some street presence and retail from the buildings. I would hate to see there be towering but dead pockets of density throughout Snohomish County like around some Skytrain Stations outside Vancouver, especially in Surrey.

      13. Tony – you’re right on. Though this speaks to another point: given that, as built, Vancouver’s West End is denser than Capitol Hill/Belltown, is there some reason that the higher height limits with lower FARs are more desirable to developers or to buyers? Should we be taking that into account?

        (For what it’s worth, I don’t think we should — I prefer bulky mid-rise to narrow high-rise, and I think Vancouver’s density is not something Seattle could just emulate with zoning changes — but others have other opinions)

        Side note: I thought Capitol Hill (at least the west slope) was still denser than Belltown. Has that changed with the latest census numbers?

      14. 160′ buildings are expensive to build, so you need to build them in places people are willing to shell out serious cash to live.

        Unless you can find investors from China who need to spend a lot of money to become U.S. residents. Then you can drop a 45-story condo tower in the middle of a low-rise car ghetto like Federal Way.


        You can find homes for sale under $150,000 within walking distance of the tower project. (On the bright side, walkscores are over 80 in the area.)

      15. Tony, those are interesting numbers–are they gleaned from bits of code or do you have a fairly comprehensive source somewhere?

        Also, I can’t really tell whether you mean built density that exists on the ground today (i.e., West End) or potential zoned density. They’re not the same.

        Also, density in Seattle is highly variable as I’m sure you know from Capitol Hill: did you mean “Capitol Hill” the neighborhood, “Capitol Hill” the urban center, or the densest census tract within “Capitol Hill”?

      16. [Tony], that’s too bad about the 5.0 FAR in Snohomish County. That hurts density and I’m afraid they’ll use that extra space for parking.

        And I suppose it’s good that our city will have slightly denser zoning than Snohomish County. But that’s certainly not a big victory for density vs. sprawl.

        But we need a major overhaul in our zoning here if we want to slow down development in the exurbs.

      17. Oh my, yes, Surrey is a disturbing vision of future SnoCo.

        Anyhow, Vancouver’s West End maintained/growing density started with zoning changes in the 1950s. Even before SkyTrain and the needle towers, it was already dense.

        Portland is not that far ahead of us. That suggestion is so laughable if anyone actually regularly rides MAX where you step down out of multi-story density as if by magic once you leave the Fareless Area.

      18. Yeah Portland outside of the greater Downtown area seems to have very low density. They seem to have a lot less of the high-density pockets around the city, like we have. Sometimes I forget how dense our city is, but if you look around there’s apartment buildings everywhere, and in the center of every little neighborhood there’s usually at least a few 4+ story mixed use buildings, even if it’s not designated an urban village.

      19. Yes, the density proposed by RNA is not as high as it could be, but it easily meets 50 units/acre in the station area; they recommend up to NC3-65 close to Roosevelt Way and NE 65th, check out the maps in Roosevelt Zoning Recommendations (The “Warren Report”) here:
        It was done in 2006! I can’t believe it’s been 4 years already, and as far as I’ve heard no progress. The EIS will take a year or more and in my opinion the rezone needs to be in place long before the station construction begins.

        The Sisley property redevelopment is completely unrelated–in that case it’s a contract rezone proposal, the EIS is being paid for by the developers.

      20. The Sisley redevelopment is actually no longer a contract rezone, it’s now part of a general rezone for the area to the east of Roosevelt station. I don’t think the buildings should be too tall, especially when bordering on single-family homes. We don’t want to drive all the single-family homes out of the neighborhood. But allowing a six story building on the fruit stand block (NW corner of 65th & 15th) and an eight-story building on the block to its west would have no detrimental, and probably a net beneficial, effect on the neighborhood.

    1. It’s also worth pointing out that the Shoreline comments are a lot like what you hear from inner suburbs when a developer wants to build even farther out–“the road are too small”. Point Wells would be difficult to do properly as an urban center due to location but the Sounder station could help. I’m mainly worried that there wouldn’t be walkable retail which could cause a lot of traffic.

      1. Even if there were walkable retail, there would be such a limited range – only things that are very profitable really survive in new construction – that you’d still see most needs met by leaving the area.

      2. True, but the retail has to start somewhere. People complain about Whole Foods in SLU being too upscale since the community is mostly renters (and a lot of low-income) but no other grocery store was interested. I *do* spend too much money there but at least I get high quality produce. Can’t wait for the Cascade Farmer’s Market in June, though.

        Portland’s South Waterfront also has the problem of too much new construction. Mostly empty now, but it’s pretty good design and it will fill up over time.

      3. I think that, with 3500 residents at very high densities, the Point Wells development will have the critical mass to be able to support lots of retail. The developer will probably be forced to lower rents in order to fill all the retail spaces, but most of the businesses are likely to be high-class. This’ll be alright, though, as the people who are going to be living in this development are probably going to be wealthy yuppies who can afford to shop at Whole Foods all the time.

      4. But Whole Foods isn’t going to be happy to restock their shelves with trucks coming up a congested two-lane Richmond Beach Drive. Retailers are going to want more vehicle access.

      5. The solution could be as simple as scheduling deliveries/restocking outside of busy traffic hours.

      6. Remember, this development might be tied to transit, but look at the other six – they’re just going to dump more cars on I-5 and 99. These buildings are going to go somewhere, so it’s a great idea to put them on the transit lines we already have. I’m skeptical that the developer would really pay the full price of a new Sounder station, but I’m all for anything to fill the much-too empty trains we’ve already paid for.

  2. I really like this. It’ll be awesome to have edge cities all around the area. Point Wells would be a great location for an urban center with its own Sounder station.

  3. The Point Wells urban center is complicate. I’d like to support it, but I’m not sure it’s realistic to think Point Wells could support high-rises without widening Richmond Beach Drive — Sounder North is never going to be more than a commute-time train, so people who live there are going to need to get themselves and their goods in and out somehow the rest of the time. That said, if you assume Richmond Beach Drive will be widened, I’m not as sure this is a good place for development — you’ll likely end up with something pretty car-oriented and pretty remote from urban centers.

    1. Yeah, as good as density everywhere seems like it would be, when you have dead zones in the middle of your city, this is not a good idea.

      1. Because it’s BNSF’s mainline, they don’t want more passenger trains getting in the way of their freight, and there’s no room to build parallel tracks.

      2. Sounder has an endpoint problem. For intermediate station-pairs (e.g. Auburn-Seattle, Kent-Seattle, Edmonds-Seattle), Sounder is the fastest and most convenient choice for traditional radial commuters. For endpoint runs (Everett-Seattle, Tacoma-Seattle), the 510 and 590’s are faster AND cheaper.

        Of course Sounder is infinitely more comfortable and scenic. But the math for North Sounder is brutal…$4.50 for a 1-hour ride on Sounder vs. $2.50 for a 45-80 minute ride on the 510? If your workplace comps your transit pass, of course you’ll take the train. Paying for it yourself? You’ll be on the bus.

        To add stations in Richmond Beach, Ballard, and Broad Street AND implement mid-day (or all-day) service would probably require a 50% increase in average running speed just to mitigate the schedule delays caused by new stations and remain time-competitive with the express buses that run the same route. We’re just not going to get those kind of improvements on that line. Our political culture would never tolerate the dredging and eminent domain required to triple-track a coastal rail line.

        “…certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of yet another Environmental Impact Statement”

    2. If you concentrate enough retail there, you can have the majority of errands be by walking. Then if you put in a Sounder station and reroute a bus or two there (possibly with the developer’s money) you could get most commutes out of there being by transit.

  4. Being a resident of Southwest Snohomish County, I am very excited to see the possibility of higher density development near me. Usually these types of things lead to better transit and bicycle infrastructure, so I will be watching in hopefulness.

  5. Speaking of additional north line Sounder stations…any word on stations in the future in Belltown, Ballard and Shoreline? Weren’t these being studied as possible stations in ST2? Also any word about the Boeing Access Sounder station?

    1. I never heard anything about a Shoreline station, but I believe they are studying Broad St and Ballard Sounder Stations. They’ve put off Boeing Access Road either forever or for a lonnnggg time because there’s no room for a station in the BNSF ROW. Anyways, the only people who it would be useful for would be those who want to commute from Kent to Rainier Valley or something like that.

      1. Well, despite Boeing’s cuts there are a good number of people who work along East Marginal Way who could benefit from a Sounder station and/or an Link station at Boeing Access Road. Also the Museum of Flight is along there. I’ve seen it debated on this blog in the past, and it was clear that it would take complementary/integrated bus service to make it work.

        That being said, it might still not be worth the investment at this point. Evidently Sound Transit reached this conclusion.

      2. Yeah, I mean, it’s over a mile through car hell to get to the Museum of Flight, farther to get to Boeing’s employment areas, and it’s hard to make a bus service work that would run often enough to attract those workers.

  6. I’m happy to see an effort to concentrate future developent in Snohomish County. But I am puzzled by the apparent disconnect between these upzones and the proposed Link alignment. At least half of these areas are quite a ways from any previously proposed Link station.

    I realize that we do have Sounder and Swift, and that transit access is not the only important factor in siting new development, and that even with great transit access, many trips are likely to occur by car, but this seems odd to me. Is there something I’m missing here?

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