Residents complain about housing proposal
June 20, 2012
By Michele Mihalovich
A Kirkland organization is proposing an affordable, rental housing project in Snoqualmie Ridge and asking the city to waive property taxes for 12 years, but neighbors are not sold on the idea.
Imagine Housing wants to build 160 apartment units on a 12-acre property that snuggles up to mid-sized, Craftsman-style homes in the upscale neighborhood of Eagle Pointe.
Ann Levine, executive director of Imagine Housing, told the City Council June 11 that many of the people who work at Snoqualmie’s hospital, casino and retail stores can’t afford to live in Snoqualmie.
“Working families would have to make three times the minimum wage to afford housing here,” she said.
Frontier Avenue currently dead-ends at the 12-acre property, referred to as parcel S20, and includes stands of pine trees, wetlands and a sprinkling of foxglove flowers.
SMR Architects out of Seattle, which is handling the project design, showed slides to the City Council of a five-building apartment complex with one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The buildings, including a clubhouse, would be designed to fit in with the neighboring houses, SMR architect John Woodworth said.
Eric Evans, Imagine’s director of housing development, said rents, which would include utilities, range from $924 for a one-bedroom apartment, to $1,372 for a three-bedroom unit.
Levine said the apartments are for people on the higher range of the low-income scale.
“We wouldn’t want to set someone up for failure,” she said in a phone interview after the meeting. “We want to make sure they can afford the rent and must earn two- to three-times the rent. We won’t take someone who doesn’t have a job or no source of income.”
As an example, she said someone wanting to rent a one-bedroom unit must make more than $23,760 annually, but no more than $36,960.
Levine said their marketing research shows that apartments in those price ranges have been built in Snoqualmie, but that there just aren’t enough available. Fourteen Snoqualmie residents, who mostly live on Ash Avenue and Mahonia Street, which abut the S20 property, voiced their concerns about the project to the council.
They said that if the project went through, it would increase traffic on already busy neighborhood streets; stress the school district with an influx of students; strain police services; and might increase crime rates and decrease property values.
Several citizens said they moved to Snoqualmie to get away from urban projects such as the one being proposed, and many said they had no idea a low-income apartment complex was a possibility in their neighborhoods or they never would have moved there.
City attorney Pat Anderson said all of Snoqualmie is zoned mixed use, which allows high-density apartments, but said S20 has been restricted to affordable rental housing since 2009.
The residents who spoke out against the project also said they had concerns about the tax break the city was considering.
The ordinance, introduced at the council meeting, would allow an exemption on the property taxes for the new buildings, expected to range from $765,000 to $890,000 in the 12-year period.
Property taxes would still have to be paid for the land itself, and the city expects about $3,000 annually at the current levy rate of $2.73 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to documents provided by the city.
Evans said the property tax break is financially necessary to attract investors for the project.
The citizens then took the meeting outside of City Hall to voice their concerns with Levine.
She said the informal community meeting lasted until 10:15 p.m., well after all the City Hall lights had been turned off.
“We basically talked about the same things that were discussed at the council meeting,” she said. “They posed questions and we got to offer responses. My hope is that they saw that we are genuinely interested in hearing their concerns and responding to their concerns. I explained outside that this informal conversation would be the first of many we hope to have with the community – but hopefully it won’t be held outside and in the dark.”
The City Council had planned to hold a public hearing on the project and ordinance at its July 9 meeting, but the city clerk notified the Star June 18 that the public hearing has been cancelled and will be rescheduled later.