January 13, 2011

Redmond Ridge: An oldie but a goodie for showing power of “vesting” development

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By Robert McClure

InvstigateWest

Redmond Ridge is the granddaddy of the big vesting plays – older, bigger and earlier than most cases, and out in the boonies east of Redmond. It’s the kind of countryside that critics say the Growth Management Act was supposed to protect from intense development.

The story involves Quadrant Homes, a subsidiary of the Weyerhaueser timber company. In 1988 the King County Council downzoned a large area including the 1,046-acre Redmond Ridge property, then known as Northgate. Instead of building one home per acre, landowners would need five to 10 acres for each home. After the council voted – but before the effective date of the ordinance – Quadrant filed applications to build 1,876 lots, and filed them in such a way as to keep the building rights intact indefinitely.

Then the Growth Management Act passed in 1990 and other regulations tightened to prevent suburban sprawl. By then it was too late.

Quadrant approached King County officials and offered a deal: Let us build some nicer, more modern subdivisions with some open space and other features that would be a little less hard on the environment. For example, Quadrant says, it left about 600 acres undeveloped that could have been built on under the vested zoning. It also left 200-foot vegetated buffers around wetlands when the code at the time called for only 50- to 100-foot buffers. Stricter protections for stormwater, groundwater and sensitive environmental areas also were incorporated, Quadrant points out. Also, only 1,500 homes were built instead of the 1,876 allowed, and 500 of those units were built under the county’s affordable housing requirements and priced to be affordable to households with incomes from 80 to 120 percent of the median income.

Quadrant says the development is not that far out in the country, just three miles east of Redmond. It’s more environmentally sensitive, the company says, than two neighboring subdivisions that were built before it that put one home on every acre.

The county was stuck – because of the vesting of the project – and the King County Council agreed, approving the development in 1996. That didn’t end the fighting, which continued for more than a decade. But it cemented in place a dense development far past the line where the Growth Management Act envisioned suburban growth ending.

Quadrant said it was building a development that would attract a significant amount of jobs, meaning many residents would not commute. But many jobs never materialized, so those commuters are on the road every day. Asked about how it turned out by The Seattle Times, former King County Executive Ron Sims said:  “If we were at the point we are now, knowing what we know right now, I can assure you, you would not see the communities that we authorized.”

Quadrant says it lived up to its part of the bargain. It’s true that the “fully contained community” it promised didn’t bring the jobs it aimed for because the commercial area of the project has developed more slowly. But traffic counts on surrounding roads are 25 percent lower than projected, and Quadrant paid $26 million for road improvements for Redmond Ridge and a nearby development.

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