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 Comprehensive 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 called 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 was expected to add 12,000 to 15, 000 new car 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, allowing the developer to proceed with completing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.