Point Wells is a 61 acre property located on the shore of Puget Sound in the extreme southwestern corner of Snohomish County, immediately north of the City of Shoreline and immediately west of the Town of Woodway. The only access to the site is through Shoreline using Richmond Beach Drive, a narrow winding 2 lane local road that dead ends at Point Wells and typically has only a few hundred cars trips a day.
Starting in 1912 Point Wells was used as an asphalt refinery and light petroleum products and lube oil distribution terminal. The asphalt refinery closed in 2000 and the site now operates as a marine fuel transfer and asphalt distribution facility. The site has always generated some truck traffic, but residents were used to that since the trucks were using the road before the residences were built.
The Alon Group purchased Point Wells in 2006 intending to continue using it as a petroleum distribution terminal. But within a few years Alon realized that the site would be much more valuable as a mixed use residential and commercial area. In 2010 Alon transferred control of the site to its real estate arm, Blue Square Real Estate (BSRE), with the intent to develop it.
The Development Plan
BSRE had already been working closely with Snohomish County to change the County’s Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map to allow Point Wells to be rezoned as an Urban Center, a designation previously reserved for parcels near mass transit facilities. When that was approved by the County, BSRE asked the County to change their Urban Center development regulations to allow much taller buildings and to conform with BSRE’s design plans for their proposed development. The County was happy to approve these changes as well.
The City of Shoreline, the Town of Woodway, and a local activist group named Save Richmond Beach petitioned the state Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) to invalidate the changes because they were inconsistent with other sections of the County’s Comp Plan and because the environmental review for the changes did not consider other development options.
In early 2011, before the GMHB issued a ruling on the petition, BSRE filed a development application in Snohomish County to build an Urban Center on the site including over 3,000 residential units and over 130,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.
The plans call for multiple towers to be built, some as tall as 180 feet (the tallest buildings between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.). If approved by the County, the development is expected to add 12,000 to 15, 000 new cars trips each day to Richmond Beach Drive, more than 25 times the current number of trips.
The GMHB issued its ruling on April 25, 2011 upholding most of the issues raised by the petitioners. The ruling invalidated the Urban Center zoning changes and found the environmental review to be deficient. BSRE claimed, however, that because their application was submitted to the County prior to the ruling date, under state law it was vested to the now invalid rules.
The Town of Woodway and Save Richmond Beach filed suit in King County Superior Court claiming that BSRE’s vesting rights should be denied because the regulations were passed without a valid environmental review. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the Town and SRB, but the State Appeals Court and eventually the State Supreme Court ruled in BSRE’s favor.
BSRE has spent the last 7 years working to complete a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)for the proposed development. The draft (or portions of the draft) has been submitted several times, but each time it has been rejected by the County as incomplete, inaccurate, or inconsistent. The latest Review Completion Letter was sent to BSRE by the County on October 6, 2017. The letter listed many remaining instances where the submitted material was still inaccurate, incomplete, or inconsistent and set a date of January 8, 2018 for BSRE to submit the requested corrections and missing material.
Public Hearings and Decision
BSRE did not respond by the January 8th deadline so on January 9th the County notified BSRE that the County was going to proceed with a decision on the application and would likely recommend that the application be denied.
The first step was to hold a Design Review Board public hearing on March 15. The Board reviewed the project design only from an aesthetic viewpoint. Following the hearing the Board issued a set of recommendations that will be considered in any final decision on the application.
The second step was the County releasing its Staff Recommendation for the project application on April 18th. As expected, the recommendation was to deny the application because the amount of incorrect, inconsistent, or missing information made it impossible for the County to determine if the project met all the standards in County codes and regulations.
The third step was to hold a public hearing before the County Hearing Examiner from May 16th to May 24th. BSRE presented evidence to show they had resolved the main problems identified by the County while the County presented evidence to show that many of those problems were still not completely resolved. Members of the public also testified either in favor or against the project. You can view the material submitted at the hearing on the Hearing Examiner’s Point Wells Exhibits web page.
On June 29th the Hearing Examiner issued his ruling which upheld the County’s recommendation, refusing to grant BSRE any further extensions and denying the application.
The Appeal Process
As the initial step in the appeal process, BSRE submitted a motion to reconsider on July 9th asking the Hearing Examiner to reconsider his decision citing numerous instances where they claim the Examiner mis-applied the law, or got the facts wrong, or that they now have more information the Examiner should consider because it couldn’t be made available for the May hearing.
Once the Hearing Examiner issues his ruling on the motion to reconsider, that decision can still be appealed to Superior Court. The appeal process, if followed all the way to the State Supreme Court, could take another 2 to 3 years.
The Hearing Examiner issued his ruling on the motion to reconsider on August 3rd, upholding his original ruling with two exceptions: 1) he originally ruled the next level of appeal would be to Superior Court, but on reconsideration he agreed with BSRE that the next level of appeal is to the County Council, 2) he clarified that his ruling denied the application without prejudice.
Continuing the appeal process, BSRE submitted their appeal to the County Council on August 17th. By Snohomish County Code, this appeal can only focus on issues already raised in the previous motion to reconsider. BSRE is required to prove that the Hearing Examiner did not follow the facts entered into the record during the public hearing, or mis-applied the law, or that BSRE now has additional information that could not have been introduced at the public hearing. This is a fairly high bar, so a successful appeal is not easy.
Once the County Council issues its ruling on the appeal, that decision can still be appealed to Superior Court. The appeal process, if followed all the way to the State Supreme Court, could take another 2 to 3 years.