State to Decide Future of Woodinville Development

The State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 15 to decide if the city must allow a zoning change.

Who should decide the character of a neighborhood? Is it the people living in the neighborhood? Is it the city government with its zoning laws and comprehensive plans? Is it the developer that owns property in the neighborhood? For homeowners in Wellington, the look, feel, and some would say, safety of their neighborhood will be decided by the State Supreme Court. And the decision could have ramifications far beyond Woodinville.

What exactly will be decided? Whether a developer can buy property in an existing neighborhood and force the city to change the zoning on the land to allow more housing. In the Wellington case, the question is this: Will the developer be allowed to change the character of the area by building four houses per acre in a neighborhood known for its large country lots, with only one house per acre or so. The State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 15.

“If this gets through, it will change Wellington, it will change the state,” said Phil Relnick. “It means a developer can come in and force zone changes that are completely out of character with what already exists.”

Relnick is president of Concerned Neighbors of Wellington, a nonprofit homeowners group that organized to fight the development. Relnick has owned his home in Wellington for nearly 13 years. He said his rural, quiet, country life will be destroyed if Phoenix Development, the landowner in the case, is allowed to build two higher-density subdivisions, totaling at least 122 houses in the neighborhood.

“We are not no-growthers,” said Matt Schultz, Wellington homeowner and past president of CNW. “There are places in Woodinville where a development like this would make sense. What we are saying is homeowners have a right to self-determination.”

The court case arose from a 2007 decision by the city to deny the developer, Phoenix, rezoning of property from the low-density R-1 designation to R-4. The city contends that the two proposed developments, Wood Trails and Montevallo, are incompatible with the city’s comprehensive plan and King County’s Growth Management Act (GMA), pointing out that the area in question has been zoned R-1 since the city’s incorporation. Phoenix challenged the decision in court.

In 2008, Superior Court Judge Dean Lum ruled in favor of the city. Phoenix Development appealed to the Court of Appeals, which overturned the previous decision, ruling in Phoenix Development’s favor.  The State Supreme Court has now agreed to review the Court of Appeals decision.

The city’s position in the appeal is supported by the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys and the Association of Washington Cities, according to Alexandra Sheeks, assistant to the city manager.  CNW has also joined the city in the appeal. At issue is whether locally elected city councils have the right and authority to make these types of decisions for their communities.

Efforts to contact the developer were unsuccessful.

Hawkenberry February 27, 2011 at 11:58 PM
Without a doubt the County's Growth Management Act, the citizens of Woodinville& surrounding area should be the deciding factor. Why should Phoenix developers come in, tear up the land, create traffic problems, ignore the years of planning that has gone into the GMA Act. Is Phoenix going to be around to finance education needs, Fire & Emergency services. No I doubt it very much. It will be another case of making a BLOT on the land & laughing all the way to their private accounts in off Island accounts.
Al Taylor February 28, 2011 at 05:49 AM
I agree with Hawkenberry and I think he/she reflects the overwhelming opinion of most Woodinville residents who have brushed up on the details of this situation. I've attended City Planning Commission and Council meetings where county and state mandated population growth figures for the next 20-30 years have been more than accommodated for in their plans. It would be a travesty of justice if those well thought through, comprehensive plans can be trumped by heavy-handed, litigious developers. In the event that the developers prevail in the State Supreme Court, then our city might as well cease its planning functions, fire the city attorney, and let R1 landowners develop their properties piece meal to R4, R8 or more!
Sharon Peterson March 01, 2011 at 05:07 PM
CNW will hold an all-neighbor meeting to provide further details on the March 15 WA State Supreme Court hearing, the history of CNW, and why this decision will impact EVERY homeowner who lives in an area impacted by Growth Management Act requirements. The meeting is Thursday, March 3 at 7pm at the Woodinville Fire Station. The meeting is open to the public. The Fire Station is located at 17718 Woodinville Snohomish Road, Woodinville, WA 98072.
Randy Koetje March 01, 2011 at 06:26 PM
The City Council adopted a comp plan to appease the GMA Hearing Board, with the apparent intention of shooting down any rezone application once it came along. Well, it came along, has reached a peak at the Supreme Court, and the ambiguous plan is being flushed out at great taxpayer expense. An important question not asked in the article, and one that the Supreme Court will surely answer, is did the City follow its own comprehensive plan and zoning code when reviewing the Phoenix rezone application, and if not, does the Court of Appeals have the authority to then decide this for them. The article also should have asked can we fix the comp plan to meet GMA and county policies, while at the same time allowing housing densities that don’t upset neighborhood character. Hopefully the Council will keep as a top priority a revision to the transfer density credit portion of the code. That’s a start in attacking the “R8 everywhere” issue. In addition, Woodinville needs to accept a more regional housing perspective to not perpetuate R1 sprawl. The city is held back by a paralyzing fear of change and a resolve that any other lot size than one acre will upset neighborhood character. The perception must change for the City to succeed.
Al Taylor March 02, 2011 at 07:24 AM
Randy, why can't we continue to offer R1 zoning in the R1 area? As I see it there is at least 20-30% in-fill opportunities to build at that current rate in the R1 zoned neighborhoods. Putting R4 and higher housing in the middle of established R1 neighborhoods is irresponsible and creates undue infrastructure burdens on city services paid for by all residents and not the developers. Woodinville is a city little larger than 5 square miles and should be relatively easy to master plan for density transitions between downtown and environmentally constrained areas bordering county open spaces. Plotting dense developments in the midst of the sparse outer limits does not make good sense.
Randy Koetje March 02, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Al, I don’t see this as a not continuing to offer R1 housing issue, but as a housing choice issue to allow true R4 housing. True R4 meaning 9,600 sq ft lot sizes, not the less than 5,000 sq ft lots that the city has been calling R4. Woodinville’s own zoning code treats both R1 and R4 as Low Density (possibly to meet GMA criteria), as does almost every urban municipality throughout the state. I do not agree with any higher densities in a Low Density area, including any multifamily or mixed use. When we all voted to become a city back in the mid ‘90s, we were established as an urban growth area. This means to me we that need to accept a regional perspective on accommodating population increase, provide a diverse range of housing choices (not just R1, R8 and multifamily), and stop sprawl. Are you proposing that it would be better to continue with R1 development in rural areas as opposed to infill and infrastructure improvements in an urban growth area? I believe the latter to be the lesser evil. As for infrastructure costs, taxpayers are already paying for the most expensive part, called Brightwater. WWD has already developed a conveyance plan for full buildout of the city, developers/new homeowners would pay almost all the installation costs, not existing homeowners. A properly written zoning code to allow infill in the R1 makes the most sense to me. Our community needs to openly discuss how we can do this, without compromising neighborhood character.
Bernice March 03, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Another example of the greed of the developers. No consideration for the surrounding community. Agree with comments above. This is going to increase traffic in the area that has already gone thru some upgrades for existing issues, not to mention other issues that comes with a large influx of new families. People move to this area of King County for the privacy and land. I totally disagree how developers can come in and change zoning to meet their own greedy needs. Same thing happened in the Woodinville Tourist district where the developer tried to change the zoning in the valley to meet his own needs and to fix his bad business investment. I hope the courts realize this and do not allow this to happen.
Annie Archer (Editor) March 03, 2011 at 08:12 PM
Concerned Neighbors of Wellington is hosting a meeting Thursday night at the main fire station in Woodinville, 17718 Woodinville Snohomish Road.


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