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Woodinville Neighborhood Asks Council to Keep Rural Feel

Residents of Wellington, which fought developers along with the city all the way to the State Supreme Court and won, want the city to make sure R-1 means only one house per acre.

 

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.

Braunzie April 08, 2012 at 09:44 PM
The average lot size in the R-1 zone is currently a 1/2 acre. There are many 15,000 sf lots. Sewer will be required by 3 entities currently when the development is within 300 feet of existing sewer. They are the City, the Water District, and the Septic approval agency (by far the most important) King County Public Health. Good luck changing the minds of all three.
Annie Archer April 09, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Hi Braunzie, where did you get the information that the average lot size in R-1 is currently 1/2 acre?
Randy Koetje April 10, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Thinking that setting minimum lot sizes to 35,000 sq ft is the only way to “keep the rural feel” or “save our neighborhood character” is erroneous. There are many existing lots in the R1 with less area than that, I don’t think they detract from the rural feel or character at all. There are many buildable lots in the R1 that are almost void of trees; wouldn’t it be better to cluster homes there, in exchange for leaving lots with trees alone? The City should be on a long term mission to enrich housing choice throughout the city, including exploring options for growth in the R1. If the Council equally represented all residents in the city, they would be giving equal attention to folks in the R4 zoned areas of the city. The proposed minimum lot size for the R4 is 9,000 sq ft. Since 2002, 68 homes have been built in the R4, only one has been greater than 9,000 sq ft! Next closest has been 8,467 sq ft. For the Quail Ridge R4 development consisting of 30 houses, the median lot size was 3,545 sq ft; smallest lot in this development was barely over 3,000 sq ft! Fixing the transfer density process is long overdue, it’s most unfortunate it didn’t get any attention until it affected the R1.
Braunzie April 11, 2012 at 05:20 AM
King County parcel data on line.
Ron Olson April 21, 2012 at 03:33 PM
If you have a lot that is unbuildable due to step slopes, wetlands, or other issues, it is unbuildable. Why should you be able to resurrect a property that is essentially dead, and bring it back to life in another area by using density credits?

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