The Snohomish County Council has begun their work on adopting a new Comprehensive Plan. This plan is updated every ten years and it sets the direction for population and job growth in the county over a twenty year time frame. The decisions made by the county then trickle down to the cities and inform their planning decisions as well.
The biggest decision to be made in the plan has to do with population growth targets. In 2008, after almost four years of planning and extensive public input, the Puget Sound Regional Council created what is known as Vision 2040. That document includes a plan known as the Regional Growth Strategy which directs counties and cities in the Puget Sound to plan for population growth in dense cities, urban growth areas, around transit corridors and near job centers. This plan is consistent with the goals of the state’s Growth Management Act.
The Snohomish County Comprehensive Plan provides two main growth target alternatives for the council to consider, Alternative 1 and Alternative 3. The main difference is that Alternative 1 directs approximately 20,000 additional residents into Everett and Lynnwood while Alternative 3 directs that population growth into the unincorporated areas, mainly the Southwest Urban Growth Area (SWUGA). Alternative 3 also includes additional zoning changes to provide for infill in the SWUGA.
Recent guest commentaries in the Herald have illustrated the disagreements between the two competing interests in the county with regard to land use. The environmental community prefers Alternative 1 and the development community prefers Alternative 3. Shannon Affholter and Kristin Kelly both make valid points in their commentary.
Whichever alternative the Council chooses, I hope there is a robust regional effort to provide the infrastructure needed to fuel past and future growth. The Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Plan identifies a $101 – 137 million shortfall in funding for county roads. That plan only maintains the same level of service on our roads that we have had for the past 20 years, during which time the population has grown considerably. The funding options listed to close this gap seem unrealistic. This funding gap is on top of the need for state investments for state roads such as SR 9, SR 527 and SR 522.
As was pointed out, the North Creek area is the number one new home sales market in the state for a variety of reasons and shows no signs of slowing down. Residents outside of Bothell and Mill Creek and east to Maltby are already feeling the effects of the past 10 years of county growth. The Transportation Element identifies rural roads that already have an urban level of traffic on them, several which support growth in this area. These neighborhoods on the eastern edge of the SWUGA and west of RT9 are also the most likely to be included in any future Urban Growth Area (UGA) expansions. If that happens, it will put additional pressure on our infrastructure. It is very clear that we need an investment in South County.
If the legislature does pass a transportation revenue package, it is critical that Snohomish County receives an investment that reflects our value to the state economy. If Snohomish misses the boat in 2015, it might be a very long time before we get another chance to provide citizens with the transportation system necessary to support growth.
P.S. You can provide input to the Council on the Comprehensive Plan right now using the following link: http://2015update-snoco.org/public-involvement/