Editor's Note: The city council will again be discussing Ordinance 532 at it's April 10 meeting, previous versions of this story stated June 5.
Concerned Neighbors of Wellington (CNW), the group of residents in the city’s rural Wellington area, are asking the city to make sure a new ordinance protects the rural neighborhoods in Woodinville.
“We are not against development,” CNW President Brad Rich told the city council at the April 3 meeting. “We are against development that does not fit the character of the neighborhoods."
CNW is concerned that the new ordinance does not go far enough in protecting R-1, which is usually thought of to be one house per one acre, that characterizes most of Wellington. The group came out in force at the Tuesday meeting to contest language in Ordinance 532 (see PDF) that CNW says has loopholes that allow houses to be built on lots as small as 16,700 square feet (an acre is 43,560 feet) because of density transfer credits.
The idea of density transfer credits is to allow a developer to build more houses per lot than are usually allowed under a zoning code if it preserves critical natural areas. For example, if there is a 20 acre lot on a hillside that cannot be built on, and there are 10 acres that can be built on next to it, both sites can be purchased, combined into one parcel and since the proposed code allows lots as small as 16,700 square feet, 27 houses could be built on the 10 acres. That result is three houses per acre versus the base zoning of one house per acre.
“This is an extreme example, but it happens,” Rich added. “Who does it benefit? Developers and land speculators that want to maximize the value they can get out of the land based upon loopholes in the code. The resulting development does not fit within the character of the R-1 area, so it does not benefit the citizens and home owners around the development; it merely allows developers to maximize their profits without considering the character of the neighborhood or the intent of the zoning code.”
The city sees the new ordinance as a tightening up of current building codes, which currently do not define lot size in residential neighborhoods. The council currently until a new ordinance can pass. But the moratorium was not put into place soon enough to prevent Wood Trails Homes LLC (formerly Phoenix Development LLC) from filing an application to build 24 single family houses in Wellington, with lots ranging from 12,000-22,344 square feet (see map) three days before the moratorium was to go into effect.
The history of residential density in existing rural neighborhoods in Woodinville is a contentious one.
The , favoring the City of Woodinville and Concerned Neighbors of Wellington in a land rezone case. In a 9-0 vote, the court agreed that the city was within its rights to deny Phoenix Development a zone change that would have increased the number of houses allowed in the Wellington neighborhood.
The case started when , which owns two undeveloped properties in the northeast area of Woodinville known as Wellington, requested a zone change from R-1 (meaning one house per acre) to R-4 (four house per acre) in 2004. According to court documents, the developer wanted to build 66 houses on 38.7 acres (1.7 houses per acre) as one subdivision and 66 houses on 16.48 acres (4.005 houses per acre) as a second development.
After CNW raised objections to the developer’s plan, the city looked more closely at the proposed zone change. After two years of reviewing the proposed development for environmental impacts and its compliance with the city’s growth plan and codes, the city denied the rezone. Phoenix sued the city and 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 case was then appealed to the state’s highest court by the city and CNW.
Rich told the council that CNW wants to see a minimum lot size of only 35,000 square feet which do not contain critical areas. Further, the group wants lots created to be large enough to support septic systems and have the code eliminate any requirements forcing citizens in the R-1 area to hookup to or pay sewer fees if they have a functioning septic system.
“Homeowners in the R-1 area have repeatedly made their wishes known and do not understand why we want to create loopholes in the code that allow development that is contrary to the wishes of neighborhoods,” he said.
The council will take more public comments on Ordinance 532 at its April meeting.