January 13, 2011

Snohomish builder proceeds with developments that no longer would be allowed

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By Robert McClure

InvestigateWest

Starting in 2006, as the county worked on a Critical Areas Ordinance that would restrict building in rural areas, the Edmonds-based McNaugthon Group development company filed applications to build 10 separate but adjacent “rural cluster” subdivisions to bring about 600 new homes to the forested Lake Goodwin area northwest of Marysville.

A hearing examiner ruled that all the subdivisions, totaling about 2,000 acres, should have been considered as a single development, because building them involved running a very expensive water line 16 miles from Lake Stevens, which only makes economic sense if the cost can be spread out across multiple developments.

Considering them separate “borders on the absurd,” Hearing Examiner Barbara Dykes ruled. Her ruling also said the projects as planned would have “significant adverse environmental impacts.”

However, the developer appealed, and the neighbors who make up the 7 Lakes non-profit that fought the developments couldn’t afford the approximately $25,000 in legal fees it would have cost to keep fighting, said Ellen Hiatt Watson, the group’s president.

King County Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas overturned the administrative judge’s ruling. Eventually, Snohomish county not only agreed to allow the developments, but also agreed to pay the developer $90,000 in court costs.

Near the woodsy home her parents built 30 years ago down a dead-end road on a lake where she learned to swim, Watson recently pointed to a subdivision of the type McNaughton seeks to build. There, all the trees have been cleared, giving the area a very different feel from the wooded areas where longtime residents live.

“They’re not building rural subdivisions. They’re building suburban subdivisions,” Watson said. “And it changes the type of people who move here. Do you think they’re going to want to live next to my chickens? . . . All the rural folk who thought they were living in a rural area suddenly have a lot of neighbors.”

A McNaughton spokeswoman said the only available avenue to lock in building rights was the “rural cluster subdivisions,” but in fact the developer wants to find a more environmentally sensitive way to develop.

McNaughton wants to do a better job of leaving intact the rural character, even as many more residents move there as the population around Puget Sound expands, perhaps leaving “unmanicured open space” with horse trails, or perhaps even reinvigorating farmland in the area, she said.

She said CEO Mark McNaugton, who grew up in Edmonds, wants the development to fit in.

“It’s more about keeping the character as it is,” the spokeswoman said, and the company is “trying to meld the culture of this area with growth pressures that are real.”

The project is a joint venture between McNaughton and the Granite Land Company, a real estate investment firm based in California.

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