Livable Snohomish County Coalition
Kristin Kelly, Smart Growth Director 425-923-8625
Mission Statement: Working with Snohomish County local governments, the Smart Growth Program strives to achieve more livable, sustainable urban communities and protection of resource and rural lands, air and water quality and wildlife habitat through education, outreach, activism and advocacy regarding land use comprehensive planning and development regulations.
Published: Thursday, October 9, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Guest Commentary / County land-use planning
Steer growth to cities' urban areas where services are
By Kristin Kelly
We all deserve the opportunity to live and work in a great neighborhood where we have a chance to succeed.
But for too long, thoughtless sprawl consumed our region's farms, forests and rural areas. Middle class families were pushed to rural subdivisions, creating longer commutes with increasingly congested roads, more expensive household costs, disconnected communities and loss of open space.
Now is a pivotal moment for Snohomish County's fight against sprawl.
By 2035, Snohomish County will have a population of about 955,000. That means we'll have 200,000 new neighbors looking for jobs, homes and services. Planning wisely now about how our land will be used in 20 years is critical to successfully protect what we love about this county.
County leaders are evaluating where and how our communities will provide the homes and jobs we need to accommodate our growing population. This decision will lock us into a growth pattern that if done wrong, will have significant costs to taxpayers and households, not to mention on our land, air and water.
It's our choice whether we go the route of high-cost sprawl or low-cost compact growth. It is a choice between focusing growth in Everett, Lynnwood and other cities, or putting more subdivisions in rural areas around outlying small cities such as Sultan, next to our prime agricultural land west of I-5, outside of Arlington, and where water availability to serve rural development is questionable.
Unfortunately, special interests are pressuring the county to choose the high-cost route. They are pushing to open up more land to development, supposedly to help meet the county's increased demand for affordable housing.
Let's be honest. Placing more of our future neighbors on the outer fringes of the county will not magically create affordable housing. More houses far away from services and with higher transportation costs aren't a solution; they're part of the problem. According to analysis from the Center For Neighborhood Technology, the most affordable places to live in our region are within city limits, when transportation costs are taken into account.
Expanding community services into the non-urbanized areas of the county are a burden on existing taxpayers. Developing neighborhoods from scratch means that we, and our tax dollars, subsidize the new roads, new utility lines, new school construction, along with other public facilities and services. And the costs to our health and to future generations also increase when we don't do more to ensure clean air and water.
To lessen the impact on our wallets and environment, most new jobs and housing — including affordable housing for all income groups — should be focused in our largest cities rather than overwhelm our smallest towns and rural areas.
The county's analysis — its Buildable Lands Report — shows we don't need to pave over more land. Instead, we need to better utilize our existing urban footprint by focusing more growth in key areas of Everett and Lynnwood, our two largest cities.
With Sound Transit and Community Transit's SWIFT rapid bus line serving both communities, these cities can help meet the demand from seniors and millennials who want to use transit to get to work and live closer to basic services. Evergreen Way/Highway 99 is ripe for redevelopment to create well-designed, walkable and affordable mixed-use centers.
We need to work together to find solutions that will create more equitable communities, more local jobs and more affordable housing — and stop subsidizing poorly planned development on the urban fringe.
Sprawl is not the answer, it's the problem. Let's get this right, Snohomish County.
Kristin Kelly is Snohomish/Skagit program director for the statewide organization Futurewise, and Smart Growth director for Pilchuck Audubon Society. To find out more about both organizations, visit their websites at www.futurewise.org and www.pilchuckaudubon.org.
© 2014 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA
Snohomish County is home to some of the most productive forest and farmland, and diverse fish and wildlife habitat of anywhere in the United States. Snohomish County’s shorelines are among the most valuable and fragile of Washington’s natural resources. Native fish, birds, wildlife and the lake, estuarine, and riparian ecosystems that support them, depend on strong critical area and shoreline protections.
Snohomish County is now home to over 700,000 residents and the prediction is that by the year 2025, this county will grow to 950,000 people. In fact, over the past decade, Snohomish County has grown by 30 percent, outstripping Washington’s overall population growth by almost 50 percent. Salmon habitat, farmland, and open space in our densely populated urban areas are being converted to housing developments and shopping malls at alarming rates. The effects of this growth is impacting our urban neighborhoods; the increase of large rural cluster developments are forever changing the rural landscape; and the pressure to build a new city of 15,000 people out in the pristine rural areas that lack adequate infrastructure is real. The increase in impervious surfaces from roads and rooftops has led to more run-off and pollution of our streams and rivers and lakes, and the loss of wildlife habitat still continues despite some good efforts.
Rapid growth is a threat to the sustainability of our natural resources and rural lands, and will continue to greatly impact our wildlife and their habitats if Snohomish County’s planning process and regulations do not address protections of these areas adequately. As pressures from the development community grows to expand urban growth areas, to allow for more development in our sensitive areas, to rezone open space, forest and farm land into homes, we must be there to educate citizens and help them be involved in the public process to ensure their quality of life.
Pilchuck Audubon Society is part of a larger coalition of organizations, groups and individuals who will be working toward positive change in Snohomish County in order to have more livable communities and protect our environment. The coalition is currently named the Livable Snohomish County Coalition. If you would like to be more involved, please join our coalition to work on a proactive agenda for our future. For more details, contact Kristin Kelly at 425.923.8625 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a list of current activities, please click here to be directed to my Futurewise webpage. This list is updated every week, so visit this site for the latest information.