Earlier concept for Mariner Station (Makers/Snohomish County)

Snohomish County is continuing its virtual public engagement for its “Light Rail Communities” project, which will be used to decide on placemaking and zoning around two (or potentially three) light rail stations between Lynnwood and Everett. Previous rounds had solicited feedback on station locations and multimodal access to those locations. This fifth round, open until September 25, is an online “housing workshop” dedicated solely to residential housing types around the station subareas.

While the cities of Lynnwood and Everett have adopted bold plans for upzoning around their planned light rail stations, going as far as to allow for high-rise construction, the unincorporated land between them is somewhat of a blank slate. It has long been home to low-slung apartment complexes built to take advantage of laxer county regulations, but they have since given way to larger, multi-story complexes along Interstate 5 and Ash Way in recent years. While these developments are denser, they remain very car-oriented, with large garages at street level and parking lots separating buildings with little in the way of gathering spaces.

The “Urban Core Subarea Plan” will cover three planning areas: Ash Way Station, possibly located on the east side of Interstate 5 at 164th Street SW per the recommendation from an earlier survey; Mariner Station on the south side of 128th Street SW; and SR 99 & Airport Way Station, which remains a provisional option in Sound Transit’s long-range plan. The workshop survey presents the following options for housing types (but notes that it is “not intended to be exhaustive of all types that might be considered”):

  • 20+ Stories (150+ dwelling units per acre)
  • 10–20 Stories (100+ DU/acre)
  • 3–6 Stories (25–50 DU/acre)
  • 3-Story Walkups (18–25 DU/acre)
  • Townhouses (12–18 DU/acre)
  • Duplexes (6–8 DU/acre)
  • Single Family Homes (4–6 DU/acre)
Example community input map (Snohomish County/ESRI)

The survey asks users to contribute to an interactive public map that allows for ideas to be submitted anonymously or with a public ESRI account. All entries are then collected and displayed on a separate map for comment and scrutiny, which has already been marked with dozens of pins as of writing. Those who are not inclined to use the interactive map can also print out a copy of the map to annotate and send back via email.

Among the ideas already on the map are vast swaths of 20+ story zones, a gondola to Mill Creek, and requests for “New England style” development around Martha Lake. While some of these ideas won’t get much traction, the housing workshop is an opportunity for more voices to easily contribute to the zoning discussion without having to dive too deep into the wider debate.

Community input from the mapping exercise and survey (at bit.ly/LRCHousingWorkshop) will be collected until September 25 and summarized in October for further consideration by the county government. The next phase of public engagement for the Light Rail Communities program is a virtual workshop in October followed by a workshop on development regulations tentatively scheduled for January 2021. The full plan is anticipated to be adopted in 2024, with plenty of time before light rail arrives in the “Urban Core”, still scheduled for 2036.

46 Replies to “Snohomish County asks for community ideas on housing types near light rail”

  1. Assuming remote working persists broadband at home will be far more important than proximity to a train station for many workers. The exception? Low skilled, minimum wage types. That’s the kind of housing appropriate near train stations — like it’s done in south Seattle.

    1. And since all major tech employers in Seattle continue to invest in real estate as if remote learning is a emergency measure to accommodate a once in a century pandemic, we can assume it will not persist long term and can therefore be mostly ignored when making long term decisions like housing types around Link stations.

    2. Except that there is not much housing of any kind near the train stations in South Seattle. Most of the land is zoned single-family (the exceptions are some tiny zones immediately adjacent to the stations). Those houses are not affordable to low-skilled, minimum wage types.

      1. Yep, south Seattle TOD resembles a Wakandan real estate venture. They put multi-story housing up on that corner. And that corner. They may eventually put up multi-story housing on the other two corners.

      2. It’s been slow but they’ve built a ton of housing around the South Seattle stations. I don’t think zoning is the issue.

      3. Definitely an issue around Rainier Beach station. Othello is OK immediately nearby but could do with more. No complaints about Mt Baker stations / “North Rainier urban village.”

    3. Commuting trips aren’t the only trips that people take. And people are still going to commute. Maybe not as much. But they will.

  2. Funny, but names like “Boeing” and “Kenworth” keep sticking in my mind. Is there really no chance in the world that somebody else around here might start….manufacturing things?

    And again, could be old-fashioned, but I can’t think of anything more appropriate for union-protected and therefore decently paid workers to have a transit station directly across the street from the homes their skills entitle them to.

    Because from some professional experience I wish I could forget, if we’d treated the Tunnel-bus fleet as the critically-unusual project it was instead of an ordinary low-bid procurement, ST Express would still have dual-power Kenworths carrying their builders’ grand-kids to college.

    Good thing that if not in one’s DNA, hands-on machine design stays in the blood. As more of their generation start celebrating their eighteenth birthday in the Washington legislature, more education funding will go to toward getting skills and less to getting credentialed.

    Can’t think of anyplace more appropriate for a transit station than to be right across the street from the decent homes of the people that build the trains they themselves ride to work.

    Mark Dublin

  3. I’m glad that there is an effort to provide density. Still, housing is just one component of a great transit station area. There must also be retail, restaurants and other community life attractions like libraries, dog walking parks and even churches.

    Metro in DC has many nearby 10-20 story apartment towers surrounded by open parking lots with large land parcels, for example. Residents there drive to most attractions. Density alone is not good TOD.

    For now, I think the most important thing to set is the height more than the use, and the layout is pretty important too. Once a height is allowed and a layout is established, a developer can look to the market to define the best housing mix as well as whether any non-residential uses should be included.

    1. One thing I’ve liked in this area is that with generous height limits, developers can come in build a tower and provide some of the parking in an adjacent surface lot, creating good initial density while planning for further infill density in the future. This is easier to do with 10~20 story than 4~6. I think for the initial wave of development, “towers in a park” is OK as lot as it’s done with an intentional plan for future infill.

  4. Isn’t Snohomish County trying to get a new state 4-year university in the county? Because Evergreen Way & Airport Road would be the perfect location for this

    1. I suppose they can reserve the space. But I don’t see how the state could commit to something like that. There won’t be any money for it in the foreseeable future – we can expect massive cuts to the education budget very soon.

      1. It is actually worse. The state will have to spend a lot of one-time money on extra facilities so that public schools can open while practicing social distancing. Local districts will also need to hire a lot more teachers, or abandon the smallish classrooms in favor of larger classrooms for the time being. Maybe some classes will have to be the weekend shift or night shift, and now may be the time there is no choice but to go to year-round schooling. But the proverbial elephant won’t fit in the living room.

        Some of those extra facilities could include community centers, converted senior centers, libraries, and maybe even space leased from (formerly “community”) colleges, some of which may have to shut down their college classes for the time being to make room for the younger students. But the kids need to get back into in-person class settings, for a host of developmental reasons.

        It would be great to build that Snohomish County College campus, and start it out as a temporary high school, but the US&A does not know how to build anything quickly.

    2. I assumed that would go to Everett where the current WSU branch campus is, and grow into something like UW Bothell + Cascadia.

      I doubt the state has money to build a new campus from scratch, like UW Tacoma. Evergreen Way & Airport Road isn’t land that needs to be reclaimed; it’s all privately held and would be very expensive to convert to public use.

      1. Last I heard, Snoco was looking at Arlington or Stanwood as a university location, because, apparently, they think the EWU’s contribution to Spokane’s community is a good thing.

        Or they see the price of cheap land but not the value of centrally located land.

    3. The lack of an option for a second large comprehensive university in Seattle is a whole other complex topic. We are the most populous metro area in the US without at least two major large (over 10K) comprehensive universities. Our approach is akin to a metro area of 1-2M although our reality is that we have 4M residents now.

      Where it goes is subject to debate. Of course, I think most would agree that it should be Link accessible.

      At its core, it’s going to take dealing with the political stranglehold of UW on decentralizing higher education beyond the core Seattle campus. My general preference is to expand an existing campus (and reorganize the governance) near Link in 2030 — like Highline or UW Tacoma — south of Downtown Seattle . After all, Everett is just 60 miles from WWU as well as 25 miles from UW.

      1. Do most major metros have 2 large public universities? Quick mental checklist: DFW (N Texas), Houston (Houston), Phoenix (ASU), MSP (UM), Detroit (Wayne St.), Philly (Temple), etc. … seems like it is more of an issue of missing a large private school?

        Our future might be more like Phoenix, where ASU is massive but has multiple campuses, like UW with campuses in Tacoma, Bothell, etc.

        Given much of the state’s wealth is concentrated in metro Seattle, I think I’d rather have another university elsewhere to give another metro a path towards prosperity, with Spokane and Yakima the 2 obvious options.

      2. I just love this comment from AJ suggesting that Spokane needs a public university.

        Eastern Washington University is 10 miles from Spokane, but AJ is kinda right that Spokane doesn’t actually have a public university.

        This is exactly what an Arlington or Stanwood location would do to Everett and Lynnwood

      3. Whoops, I completely forgot about EWU. I even thought while reading the STB article on the Cheney Line, “this looks really good, Spokane doesn’t need its own university if Spokane city can tie in better with EWU,” but then completely forgot.

        So my vote in a new university campus should go to Yakima, if we need one anywhere. Otherwise, upgrade Evergreen State into a real university and/or expand the existing UW and WSU branch campuses.

        I don’t see a need for another campus in metro Seattle. UWT is in a great spot with plenty of room to expand, UWB is getting solid Stride connection, and WSU Everett seems like a good spot despite the lack of a direct Link connection. Several community colleges have large footprints and will have direct Link access (Highline, North Seattle, Seattle Central, and eventually Bellevue). As an east-sider, I’d much rather see Bellevue College expand its offerings & capabilities than try to build something from scratch.

      4. I think you are pretty naive about other metro areas, AJ.

        DFW also has UT Arlington and UT Dallas, both over 25K students and comprehensive programs.

        MSP also has St Cloud State and Minnesota State in Mankato — both less than 50 miles from Downtown Minneapolis.

        The University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan are 20-30 miles from Downtown Detroit.

        In Philly, both University of Delaware and Thomas Edison State College are within 40 miles of Downtown. Both Boston and Philadelphia have large private universities with endowments that let them offer financial aid for local residents.

        Really, only Phoenix is limited to one major university as UA and UNA main campuses are about 100 miles away.

      5. Thanks Al, good points (and learning for me) all around.

        But if you are counting St Cloud and Minn State, is that much different than WWU and CWU being within striking distance of Seattle? Yes, people commute between Ellensburg and Seattle, but not at scale. Sure, if you live in Yakima you can commute to class in CWU, but I’m not sure that is the kind of super commuting we want to encourage. Most of the economic benefit of CWU accrues to Kittitas county, not Yakima. I’d look for a new campus to bring economic vitality to a city, not just be within driving distance of a bunch of people.

        You are sketching out a region that includes WWU, CWU, and Evergreen State, which to me is different than a metropolitan area. Evergreen State as a campus to serve SW Washington makes total sense. But to then say Aberdeen has a college because it’s within an hour drive makes little sense to me if the goal is to leverage the agglomeration benefits of large public universities.

        If the goal is to make sure people are within a reasonable drive of a college, that’s what the existing community colleges are for, and is why they are scattered all over the place.

      6. WWU (@ 87 miles), CWU (@ 108 miles) and ESC (@ 67 miles) are all well over 50 miles from Downtown Seattle. That’s much further than is found in nearby universities in these other metro areas.

      7. Not correct – Mankato is 81 miles from Minneapolis, according to Google. So exactly in the same range as WWU.

      8. I’m admittedly off about the Mankato distance. St Cloud State is closer at 65 miles to Downtown Minneapolis according to Google. There are also Metropolitan State U in St Paul, and some UWisconsin campuses not that far away.

      9. Even ignoring the competition, the fact is that Seattle specifically and Washington state generally are laggards when it comes to graduating college students with skills that local employers need. It’s worked out so far since so far it seems students are content going out-of-state if they can’t get accepted to a local public school, and employers seem content to import employees (I suppose I can’t complain, being one of those imports), but it certainly is more than a little embarrassing.

      10. OK, so Detroit has Wayne State, while we have the UW. The UW is bigger and more prestigious. But wait, you say, Detroit also has the University of Michigan. It is every bit as big and prestigious as the UW. I agree, but the University of Michigan is not in Detroit. It is in Ann Arbor, 30 miles outside Detroit.

        Now consider that Detroit is the most hollowed out city in the nation. The overall metropolis is basically unchanged for the last 50 years, but everyone has moved to the suburbs. If the University of Michigan was in Detroit, would that have happened?

        ASU is not in Phoenix. It’s main campus is in Tempe (outside Phoenix) but as Wikipedia clearly states, it is located “on five campuses across the Phoenix metropolitan area”. In other words, it is spread out across the region, that just so happens to be one of the most sprawling cities in the U. S. (and thus the world).

        Likewise, Silicon Valley sprawls in part because the best research universities (Cal and Stanford) are not in San Fransisco. Even the urbanization and success of East Bay can be traced to Cal being located there, instead of in, say, Fremont (which would look a lot different if it was).

        Over the last forty years or so, Spokane has lagged similar cities, like Salt Lake City and Boise. Boise State University is right in Boise, a stone’s throw away from downtown and the capital. University of Utah is also right in Salt Lake, about 3 miles from downtown, the capital and Salt Lake Temple (where the tabernacle choir sings). That reminds me of a joke — what is the difference between church and state in Utah? Two city blocks. Sorry, I digress.

        The point is, EWU has done very little for Spokane, because it isn’t in Spokane. If you’ve ever been to Cheney, this is obvious. Campuses located outside the city core don’t do much for the core (just as the University of Michigan doesn’t do much for Detroit). In contrast, the UW is one of the main reasons we have grown so fast. If the main UW campus was in Tacoma, both cities would look a lot different.

        Adding a new university to the greater Seattle area because of some arbitrary (and debatable) factoid is silly. UW Bothell really hasn’t helped Seattle. Most of the people drive to campus, while campus officials are focused on building bigger parking lots. It would have been better if the UW was just bigger. In contrast, UW Tacoma has helped Tacoma rebuild its downtown. As with transit, the specific location matters.

        Adding a new university in Marysville or Arlington would be terrible. It wouldn’t help Everett, and would only lead to more traffic and more sprawl. On the hand, a new campus in Everett (or an expansion to Everett Community College) would be great for Everett. It would be just what it needs as Boeing continues its downsizing.

      11. the fact is that Seattle specifically and Washington state generally are laggards when it comes to graduating college students with skills that local employers need.

        Says who? When I think of the UW, I think of medicine, but especially nursing. Are you saying that hospitals and clinics don’t need nurses from one of the best nursing programs in the world?

      12. Uhhh… many Bay Area/Silicon Valley jobs are often taken by graduates of San Jose State, San Francisco State and Cal State-East Bay (based in Hayward just north of Fremont). The first two campuses are on light rail lines. The last one runs free shuttles to two BART stations located less than two miles from the main campus. Of course Stanford is private — but the Bay Area has four major comprehensive public universities (and several other smaller public ones) and not one. That’s not even counting UC Davis or UC Santa Cruz both under 80 miles away, which are also quite prestigious. And San Francisco has its own UC campus known as UCSF (Albeit focused on medical education and research only), as well as hosts UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school.

        I’d agree that location matters . I am less concerned about what city it resides in and more about being accessible by high capacity and high frequency transit. For example, I think South Seattle College would be a worse site for expansion into a major university than Highline College would be.

        I also think UW Bothell is a bit of an albatross. It’s isolated from any village. It’s built on steep land. It’s not even well served by Stride’s 405 line. If Snohomish wants a major public university, I’d suggest siting it on Link and using a sale of the UW Bothell campus to pay for it. Lynnwood City Center would have been an awesome alternative location!

        As other posters have mentioned, Washington State is woefully deficient in college student slots and the Puget Sound Area shortage is more acute than in other regions. I’ve been told off the record by UW oversight people that the engineering slots are particularly lacking. This is because the state’s population has grown so much and not because leaders in the 1970’s shortchanged us. If anything, the higher education planning done 40-60 years ago was well-done — but the state leaders just haven’t followed through and addressed the needs recognized even then.

        Rather than a geographic solution, I wonder if the solution would be better met with a new university that is primarily engineering-focused — like Georgia Tech in midtown Atlanta. That could be put almost anywhere — and the discussion could shift from what part of our region gets it and more about how can it be Link accessible.

      13. The Marysville/Arlington proposal for UW was mainly to serve as a catchment for the entire NW corner of the state, covering Skagit and Island counties as well as most of Snohomish County. It’s reasonable from that perspective, but obviously not ideal for those living south of the great Snohomish River firewall (where traffic is doomed to exist 24/7).

      14. Skagit, Camano, and the north half of Whidbey are pretty well served by WWU, and they don’t need a new university. The south half of Whidbey would be way better served by an Everett/Lynnwood location than by Arlington/Stanwood.

        The Snohomish County university problem isn’t distance, but population, and the population runs from Everett to Lynnwood

    4. The UW branch slated for the North Sound was effectively cancelled during the last recession when a large education budget hole appeared. At the time, Everett Station was in running against a site on the Everett Riverside, a site in Marysville, and a site in western Lake Stevens.

  5. It’s been awhile since I was up there, but I seem to remember that when Everett Station was new, it contained a college. Also that it went away. I can’t think of anything more appropriate for a regional transit station to have either built into it, or nearby. Especially a trade-school.

    But my main point, Christopher and AJ, is that it’s a really self-defeating mistake to consider either the present economy or the political situation that’s both its cause and its effect, as an eternal Given.

    What do this next Election’s two Presidential candidates have in common? Scripture says they’re both seven years over some serious Term Limits.

    What so many of my generation have given up on ever trying to change, people who from now on will keep having eighteenth birthdays will increasingly refuse to tolerate. To the point they might start out by re-setting the both the voting age and the lower limit for the State Legislature to sixteen.

    Shift to CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machining will come very naturally to oncoming generations who can compute before they can talk. In addition to demanding Link rides when they hear a bell downstairs. But here’s my main point this morning:

    Since nobody knows to the month, let alone the decade, what’s going to happen at an uncountable multiple of levels, might time not be better spent deciding what we want to happen, and make our compromises both grudgingly and only when necessary?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Everett Station was formerly home to University Center, where one could earn credits towards a standard degree. It is still home to WorkSource/WorkForce, where GED training is offered alongside their job placement programs.

  6. This is good and sets up well timing-wise for the county’s next major update to their comprehensive plan. Having some insight into the housing density mixes within these designated areas should be helpful to county planners in that context.

    I have a couple of questions for the OP:

    1. Can you clarify what you mean by “gathering spaces”, as in your statement, “While these developments are denser, they remain very car-oriented, with large garages at street level and parking lots separating buildings with little in the way of gathering spaces.” Do you mean other private establishments akin to a mixed use type of development strategy, e.g., restaurants, cafes, gyms, etc.? Or do you mean gathering spaces within the confines of the residences themselves? For example, the type of communal areas incorporated into an apartment development like Avalon at 164th and Alderwood Mall Parkway would fit the latter.

    2. Are the dwelling units per acre numbers cited above for the various housing types based on the entire lot size or the buildable acreage? For example, I think the current zoning in unincorporated areas allows for a higher density for townhouses than the numbers cited here on parcels that are zoned MR, such as my own. The limiting factor is typically the unbuildable space allocation due to access, drainage systems, set-back requirements, etc..


    1. on gathering spaces: the above drawing anticipates a network of pedestrian bridges, may be parks/plazas, restaurants, convenience stores should be built at that level and partially on top of roads to minimize car traffic disturbance.

    1. Ron, denial of a home on account of relationships that are nobody’s damned business but theirs should be against some seriously-enforced law.

      But the prospect of being forced to live the rest of my life solely among neighbors on the grey-haired side of forty makes my own remaining years a lot less agreeable to contemplate.

      Having watched more than one compatriot die so soon after retirement as to be unmistakably cause-and-effect, I’m willing to finish my life fighting for the right to end my days in close and well-paid working proximity to people of every conceivable age and interest.

      Suggestion to my fellow liberal democrats. Whenever you’re tempted to make your literature say “Give”…”Pay” is one letter shorter. With a meaning a lot closer to the word “Free” than is any handout.

      Mark Dublin

    1. It’s only a public suggestion and probably won’t happen unless there is outside funding. The Swift Orange Line will serve much of the same purpose, as a fast and frequent connector between Ash Way Station and Mill Creek Town Center.

      1. You know, Bruce, it’s been so long since our people have insisted that our elected representatives access this source that it SEEMS “Outside”.

        But there’s really nothing extraneous or exotic about trillionaires paying taxes.

        Mark Dublin

  7. Skate and water parks/gardens, bmx park, wide sidewalks, bike trails, bicycle escalators, rain/sun shelters, amphitheatres (look for ways to combine uses), fruit trees, edible forest, green walls, rooftop gardens, courtyards, tower designs that don’t block out the sun or funnel prevailing winds, exhibition halls, recreation rooms, grey water systems, medical facilities, abundant 3-bedroom residences, multi-generational homes, maximum capture of solar and wind power….

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