Snohomish County 2015 Comprehensive Plan Update

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Under the Growth Management Act, counties and cities are required to update their land use comprehensive plan policies and regulations to comply with the GMA. In the four county region of King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kittatas, comprehensive plans are also required to be consistent with Puget Sound Regional Council's (PSRC) Vision 2040 and the Multi-County Planning Policies. Snohomish County is on track to adopt their comprehensive plan update by summer of 2015, along with all 20 cities within the county.

Planning for growth in Snohomish County since the adoption of the GMA has been focused primarily on development in urban growth areas around the 20 cities of the county, however there is far too much growth still occurring in our rural areas impacting,  our water quality and wildlife habit.

The Snohomish County Council is scheduled to begin public hearings on the 2015 Comprehensive Plan Update at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. 

Three alternatives are up for consideration:  Alternative 1, 2 and 3.  Alternative 2 is the no-action alternative. 

Futurewise is supporting Alternative 1, which would direct the most growth into the only Metropolitan City of the County:  Everett; Alternative 1 also meets the goals of the Growth Management Act and Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2040 and the Multi-County Planning Policies. Alternative 3 would allow development for 15,000 people that would otherwise go into Everett under Alternative 1 to be planned for in the Southwest Urban Growth area, where roads, infrastructure and services are lacking and which will be difficult to finance. Adding more growth unnecessarily into our urban growth areas also puts pressure to expand our urban growth areas into more rural areas, which costs all of us in decreased environmental quality and taxes.

Futurewise has been advocating for the following 12 changes:

1.    Support Alternative 1.  Why?  It meets the goals of the GMA and Vision 2040.  It puts more growth into Everett--our only metropolitan city, which is has the road, transit and other urban infrastructure and services, such as hospitals, colleges, and new housing opportunities, including affordable housing, located next to I-5 and other State Highways. 

2.    RUTAs—Need to eliminate.  Gives false hope to current and future landowners that their land will be included in the UGAs even though the expansions are not needed and so it cannot be included.

3.    Do not reduce the allowed densities for the low density residential designation from 4-6 units per acre to just 4 units per acre.  A higher minimum density
creates more affordable housing and efficient use of land;   reduces costs to both taxpayers and developers; Futurerwise is recommending a minimum of 7 dwelling per acre makes transit pencil out.

4.    Urban Centers—Our recommendations below help to meet Vision 2040 for walkable, compact and Transit Oriented Development that maintains local character.
a.    Complete Streets
b.    Sidewalks/bicycle infrastructure commensurate with population and traffic patterns
c.    Affordable housing for low- to med- income households under Snohomish County’s Fair Share Housing methodology
d.    25,000 combined residential and employment density, with 15,000 being in residential units
e.    Balance of residential, commercial, retail and recreational uses
f.    Increase in tree canopy and Low Impact Development to minimize stormwater runoff
g.    Eliminate minimum parking requirement
h.    Good design guidelines to increase better flow of pedestrians and bicycles.

5.    Rural Roads to Urban Level of Standards.  This is a bad policy because it will just “kick the can down the road” to the taxpayer for needed infrastructure improvements and allow for more urban growth area expansions and urban sprawl. The county needs to show the methods and financing to bring rural roads up to the LOS of “C” in order to accommodate more growth in the rural areas, rather than downgrading the rural roads to urban LOS of D or E.

6.    Urban Arterials-- Futurewise recommends that all urban arterials be built as complete streets, which means all urban county arterials should be built or improved with walkways, bicycle lanes and transit stops.  Our urban arterials need to include other options for travel besides automobile use.  According to the TE, “Snohomish County has made significant progress on its bicycle and walkway facility network; however, improvements are still needed to fill out the development of the County network.”  Futurewise recommends policies that will require complete streets with current and future development along urban county arterials.

7.    Water Supply for Rural Development-- Water resources are in short supply in Snohomish County outside cities.   Futurewise recommends two new policies to address this very important issue:
a.    Set allowed densities based on the available water resources and reserve adequate resources to support Snohomish County’s economic base including agriculture and forestry.
b.    Only allow comprehensive plan amendments, rezones, bonus densities and other measures that increase rural densities where adequate supplies of potable water are available that will not adversely affect surface and ground water.

8.    Climate Change Policies in Natural Environment Chapter-- There is considerable evidence that land use and transportation planning can and must address global warming and adaptation.  Futurewise recommends that the county incorporate the following proposed policies to address these issues.
a.    Reduce greenhouse gas emission consistent with Washington State’s greenhouse gas reduction requirements.
b.    When planning for and permitting development, locate new development in areas that are not likely to be adversely impacted by the sea level rise, flooding or other changes in climate affected by global climate change.
c.    Begin adapting to the changes likely to be caused by global climate change.

9.    Ten-Acre minimum for Commercially Designated Agricultural Land—This zoning is contributing to the loss of farming in Snohomish County.  We recommend either increasing the minimum lot size and density to one dwelling unit per 40 acres or limited residential development in the county’s agricultural zone to farm related dwellings.  Skagit County is successfully using both approaches.  Futurewise recommends that the county adopt policies to better protect agricultural lands from incompatible uses.

10.    Type 3 LAMIRDS/Commercial Freeway Zones—Based on case law outlined in our comment letter, we recommend the policies be amended to require that “small-scale, freeway interchange commercial uses” be isolated and small-scale. The development regulations applicable to these areas should also be update to incorporate these requirements.

11.     Oppose UGA Expansions/land swaps by Arlington and Sultan.
In Arlington, the expansion/land swap does not meeting GMA or Cuntywide Planning Policies; de-annexation is not fair to current property owners and is un likely to be approved by the city’s voters; physical boundary of I-5 needs to be respected because of urban growth impacting neighboring commercial farmlands (Island Crossing as the example) and the lack of funding for needed urban infrastructure and services, as well as transportation west of I-5 in this area

In Sultan, Futurewise recommends UGA reduction, with no expansion because all residents in these areas are opposed; Sultan’s current population projection has not come close to being met; there is plenty of buildable land with reduction and no expansion; and Sultan is not financially capable of supporting more growth

12.    Habitat Corridor—The Planning Commission recommended polices to allow for habitat corridors connecting our rural and urban areas. Futurewise supports these policies.

To review the county's ordinances visit

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