Open Letter to Citizens of North Bend

[Letter written by City of North Bend Administrator Londi Lindell]

On social media sites, I have been reading that if Mayor Hearing and Council Members cared for this community and/or its citizens, that they would simply stop all growth or better control the current explosive growth occurring within our town. Although I am unable to review all social media posts, I do try to review a number of sites in order to better understand our citizens and their concerns so we can be responsive to their issues.

I became concerned when various posts not only communicated a frustration with growth, but began to make personal attacks against elected officials by implying that “money” was being paid, “pocket padding” had occurred,  or somehow our elected officers are enriched through the current residential development occurring. Such allegations are blatantly false and I was offended. In my response post, I clarified the misconception that elected officials had anything to do with the administrative decision as to whether or not to grant a building permit as that work is performed by City staff.

Secondly, I agreed with Eric Miller’s comment that it was your “neighbors and friends” who were selling their properties to the developers and not the City Council or the City.  North Bend has nothing to do with a property owners’ decision to sell their property to a third-party for development. Third, although new construction does increase the City’s tax base in the short-term, the cost to the City to serve new single family residences (e.g. police, fire, parks, etc.) far exceeds such tax revenue in the long-term.  Thus, these types of single family residential developments are not the “pocket padding” agenda alleged in a post.

In fact, the Council has directed staff to focus on ways to encourage commercial vs. residential development. Unlike the majority of similar sized cities such as Snoqualmie, the majority of North Bend’s budget is generated by the business community and not from citizen’s property taxes. This is a real benefit to the citizens of North Bend.

North Bend’s property tax rate is $1.35 per $1,000 as opposed to the City of Snoqualmie which is $2.63 per $1,000. Citizens living just outside city limits in unincorporated King County have a property tax rate of $3.20 per $1,000 for road and fire services. The way we are able to keep our property tax rate low is because of the funds generated by our businesses. Your Council pushed backed against pressure from the development community to rezone these commercial zones to allow residential building.   

The North Bend City Council has also taken various actions to address the issue of growth over the last few years in response to both their concerns and your concerns about maintaining our rural character, including the following:

(1) Prohibited residential growth in commercial zones.

(2)  Reduced density.  When Mayor Hearing was elected, your zoning code allowed 8 to 10 homes on each acre in a zone called LDR or Low Density Residential. This has been reduced to only allowing less than 4 homes per acre with an average of around 3.5 homes per acre. What this means is fewer homes will be built as a result of these zoning changes. Fewer homes means fewer people and less traffic.

(3) A new zone called Constrained Low Density Residential (CLDR) was created by your Council allowing only 2 homes per acre and requiring a minimum lot size of 18,000 square feet even if the lot had critical areas. The CLDR zone covers the majority of large undeveloped residential areas within the city’s urban growth area which are not within the Downtown core and which do not have a “vested” application. It usually takes a few years for a large development application to work its way through a city process in order to become “vested.” Once an application is vested, changes in a city code cannot affect this application. Some of the developments occurring in our community today are the result of applications made a number of years ago.

(4) Council has directed staff to implement a new bike/pedestrian SEPA mitigation fee. These new funds will provide additional dollars toward acquiring new park and transportation features for bike/pedestrian trails.  We currently have the second highest traffic impact fee (TIF) in the state ($11,630 for single family homes (SFR) ; a park impact fee of $5,060 per SFR).  When I arrived 6 years ago, the TIF was around $600. I understand we have a transportation system which is in need of significant repair. However some of these issues are preexisting defects/problems. The law is quite clear in prohibiting the City from passing on repair costs for those preexisting conditions to the developer.

(5) Council partnered with the Si View Metropolitan Park District and King County to save 32 acres from being developed into a single family homes. Instead the Tennant Trailhead Park will provide walking trails and bike trails and eventually will connect to Rattlesnake Lake. Council also entered into a public private partnership to preserve the 5 acres adjacent to EJ Roberts from being developed and expanded EJ Roberts by 2.5 acres.

I understand the desire to maintain the status quo of our beautiful community. In fact, many of the posts encourage the Council to simply “stop,”  adopt a moratorium and ban all future development.  City staff have posted information in a Newsletter, press release and conducted a Town Hall Meeting in order to have an open discussion about the limitations on the City Council’s legal authority regarding these desires. Before I became a City Administrator, I was a City Attorney for over 20 years, so I have extensive experience in land use law. A moratorium is a land use planning tool which allows a Council to stop the clock for 6 months (with 6-month extensions subject to certain limitations) in order to evaluate changes to its zoning code. If a Council were to articulate that the purpose of a moratorium was to stop all future development for an unlimited time – such an ordinance would be illegal on its face.

The North Bend City Council used this moratorium tool when the first cottage developments were built as they were not consistent with the Council’s land use vision and they extended their moratorium for almost two years to ensure the code language properly reflected the Council and community’s vision.   However, there is no legal way for the Council to adopt an outright ban on future development through a moratorium as suggested in some of these social media sites.

The City of North Bend also has to plan under the Growth Management Act or GMA. The GMA is a series of state laws adopted in the 1990s which have various goals, including to concentrate dense urban growth in cities like North Bend and to reduce sprawl in unincorporated counties like King County.  I think many of our citizens would prefer the density we see in King County, which is generally zoned to only allow one house every five acres. However, this is considered an appropriate residential density for a county. If North Bend attempted such a residential zoning density and a property owner were to challenge such a zone to their property under GMA, the City would likely not prevail unless we could establish significant critical area limitations for such zoning. The GMA also created “urban growth areas” or UGAs inside of which cities were to grow at “urban densities.”  North Bend was identified as being an UGA and our corporate boundary is our UGA boundary.

In 1997, developers and builders didn’t believe cities were zoning properly to allow development fast enough, so they lobbied for an amendment to the GMA called the Buildable Lands amendment. The amendment basically requires the counties and cities to get together every eight years and calculate our land use capacity and project housing and job targets. During the last buildable land exercise, North Bend was allocated 665 new housing units. We will meet and exceed this number this year. New numbers are being generated and will be allocated to North Bend and other King County cities in 2019.

Some citizens on social media believe that once 665 homes are built, we can tell a citizen who wishes to build a house or sell their property that we are no longer accepting applications. That is not the case.  Not allowing a person some reasonable use of their property may constitute a “takings” under both state and federal constitutional law and would result in the City of North Bend being subject to potential litigation and damages. The Buildable Lands amendment and the housing target of 665 houses were simply a snapshot in time and a prediction by a group of planners during the last buildable lands exercise. It does not allow North Bend to tell someone who wishes to develop their property that they can’t because we reached our target of 665 houses.

I have many times shared my personal belief that the City Council cares deeply about maintaining North Bend’s rural character and small town feel as I have personally watched them struggle with the difficult balancing act of a state law mandate to plan zoning at an “urban density” while simultaneously meeting the community’s vision. I was then criticized for also being in the pockets of developers or being pro development.  Please know I, too, feel grateful to work in such an amazing and beautiful community and am committed to preserving North Bend’s natural beauty to the extent legally possible. The City will continue to promote our mutual vision within the confines of the various state and federal laws and regulations we operate within when reviewing applications for development.

Thank you,

Londi Lindell
City Administrator
City of North Bend

Photo: Mary Miller

Comments

  1. Susannah St. Clair says:

    Well and clearly stated. Thank you and I have head much of this before. Running most anyting is not simple. I think they do a good job considering how much they have to integrate into the city’s expansion.

  2. Cindy costa says:

    Please remember that there is a Equine community here and be vigilant in keeping the trail systems in the valley multi use. Horses were here before bikes.

    • Show up for the work parties then to guarantee that. Horses do major damage and I have yet to see one equine member out for repairs or trail building.

    • Will Rogers says:

      Free the horses! Bike and cars were invented to free horses from human oppression!

  3. Expanded the park on paper only! That 2.5 acres is all blackberries and trees. Clear the blackberries and add more disc golf baskets.

  4. Since the letter mentions responding to comments to social media posts, has this been posted to such sites like in any Facebook Group? If it has, I haven’t seen it!

  5. Thanks for posting this.

  6. What Cindy Costa said above…and…how arbitrary is the zoning in North Bend, Snoqualmie and rural King County that allow for one residence per 1, 5 or 10 acres? Those rules seem cast in stone to homeowners, but they keep bending when developers are interested. How on God’s little green acres does that happen? I’m serious. Where IS the back room where all these deals get made, where’s the playbook they use, and how do citizens have a say in what goes on before we’re told sorry…it’s a done deal?

    • Paula Lodahl says:

      What development was this done for?

      • I’m thinking of the one slated for the mule pasture and others I could only drive around and point to that are in the process of being built but neighbors are saying the zoning is such that it shouldn’t be happening. Don’t know their names. I was involved in Cascade Gateway Foundation for years several years ago to keep Cadman up at Exit 38 instead of 34 for its mining operation. It was a painful process that was never “fair and balanced.”

    • Amy Bennett says:

      I usally get notice of public meetings on potentail delopement not only on a white board on my orad but they also send me a noice via snail mail. YOU choose not to go to those meetings then you have no say that what goes on around you.

      • Bless your heart. If I knew what an orad was, or how to get a white board on one, I would want one. I have chosen to respond to way more than you know. After being on the Cascade Gateway Foundation board, and seeing how things work with EIS’s and more money than the little people can ever raise, I admit, I got a tad disgruntled. But I vote for the people who talk about managing growth to promote livability in this area, and who want to do that for a living or a side gig, as I do something else for a living and side gig. If I had to have my actual posterior in all the chairs in all the committee meetings where stuff I care about is being discussed in this world…see where I’m going with this? At some point, we have to rely on the people we vote for to not only grok what the people who live here want environmentally and livability-wise, but remember what they promised us and help all developers get wayWayWAY more creative in promoting more environmentally-amazing stuff. I’m talking New York Times newsworthy amazing. Imagine if our goal was to have our town became the environmental/livability standard to which all towns should rise? Our representatives just don’t see that opportunity and instead are saying yes to sub-standard stuff. Why, is all I’m asking.

  7. Karen Granger says:

    I just posted on my personal FB page. I suggest others do the same.

  8. Lucinda Hauser says:

    I appreciate reading Londi’s analysis and community member’s responses. However, I’m curious about three aspects of this that were not addressed in the article. Why was WATER availability not included since that has been a major concern in the rapid growth concerns noted recently? Also, many citizens want to see more focus on COLLABORATION WITH KC AND STATE AVAILABLE FUNDS FOR OPEN SPACE for properties such as the mule pasture and others. Past councils and leadership have seemed to have the vision to see property that is potentially valuable for the those community and visitors to enjoy and have worked proactively to secure them (Meadowbrook as one example). While I appreciate the securing of the land adjacent to EJ Roberts and the work to secure the bike path, what about land such as the mule pasture and others which may still be open? Finally, AFFORDBLE HOUSING is minimal at best as a focus with these developments. It is a shame that we have not required developers of each development to provide a well defined percentage of such as other communities have. We raised our two “children” in this valley with an emphasis of passion for the outdoors. Now, as young adults, neither will be able to afford living here.

  9. Ms. Lindell,
    Thank you, sincerely, for this explanation and education.
    Bravo to North Bend for holding Town Hall forums for Citizens and taxpayers. This kind of transparency and education is not offered to Taxpayers in Snoqualmie, even when a newly-elected Council Member with Snoqualmie said he would make that happen if he was elected.

    That being said, and because Snoqualmie and North Bend share police services, the same school district, and our cities both have sincere water issues, etc, some of the comments you may be reading might be directed toward Snoqualmie’s state of affairs, and not necessarily North Bend. Citizen involvement on social media sites which appear to be dedicated to North Bend, for example, also have Snoqualmie residents wanting to learn and be in-the-know. Lots of crossover, and that’s a great thing, because we are one valley.
    What is concerning for both Cities, which would seem to trump residential *and* commercial development, is the lack of sufficient water to support future growth.
    Both Cities are impacted, so if you have any insight on this for North Bend, I think folks would appreciate your insight.
    Thanks again!

  10. Gary A Fancher says:

    This open letter to Citizens of North Bend by Londi Lindell is worth reading. As the former Chair of the North Bend Planning Commission, I was pleased to lead the recommendation for changing low dentistry residential lot sizes from 5000 square foot to a minimum 8,500 and removed the maximum 12,000 lots size. The NB City Council ultimately settled on and approved 8,000 square feet. Yes, I wanted 10,000 minimum lots sizes for our City, which could not be as it would result in over-payment of the ULID assessments by some homeowners. The NB City Council approved the Constrained Low Density Residential idea that came from the Planning Commission in order to protect sensitive habitat and flood prone areas from dense development with a limit of 2 homes per acre (18,000 sqft min lots). The City Council took this idea and expanded the zone to surrounding city edges and in the City’s UGA.

    Next, North Bend was under a growth moratorium during the housing boom that ended in 2007. During the following years of recession North Bend remained low growth even as the region around us grew by leaps and bounds. King County lead the region with the most growth in 2013. Now the Puget Sounds ninth fastest growth in our nation, the City must adhere to the GMA and take on the minimum 662 allocated housing units. If you do not want growth, own the property and do not develop it. That does preserve your space but requires the units to still be developed elsewhere inside the city.

    My seven years on the Planning Commission has given me knowledge and insight. What does a rural city look like to you? How many homes, condos, apartments. parks, trails and business should there be in our 3866 acres? What is the GMA and where should growth happen and not occur? How wide are the streets and sidewalks? How high are the buildings to be? Are some people living in group homes, ADU’s tiny homes , or homeless due to affordability? In 2015, North Bend had 43% of the land zoned as Low density residential. 21% is zoned as park and open space. About 3% is High Density.

    Supply and Demand principles apply to housing costs, and the Puget Sounds region’s growth remains one of the fastest in the nation. The population increased by 1.5 percent (about 33,000 people) in 2017, down from 36,000 in 2016. Both Pierce and Snohomish counties grew at a faster rate than King in 2017. (https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/seattle-just-one-of-5-big-metros-last-year-that-had-more-people-move-here-than-leave-census-data-show/) And is very similar to other high-priced large metro areas, where central counties are losing population to less-expensive, farther-flung suburbs. Housing supply tends to lag behind housing demand; it could be in the coming years supply finally approaches demand (https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2017/03/27/25043201/more-than-1000-people-are-moving-to-seattle-every-week-census-report-shows).

    With demand so high, many average wage and salary workers are priced out of the current $700,000 average home price (April 2018)(https://www.realtor.com/local/North-Bend_WA).
    This dramatic rise from $375,000 back in June 2015 is mostly due to the Puget Sound population increase and demand as well as those from Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond looking for our rural lifestyle. The high price excludes our fellow citizens from owning a home here who we depend on for serving our community, from public employees, waiters and waitresses, to our children in starter jobs, and anyone of the 14% of our residents earning under $110,000.

    Growth could be limited by sewer capacity and if water is available. We all should be wise with our water usage because the ground water that we draw also feeds into the Middle Fork and South Fork of the Snoqualmie River. The Department of Ecology ensures that what is drawn has a minimal or no impact to our streams and rivers systems which support the aquatic habitat (https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/eap/flows/regions/state.asp?region=2). Those with water rights should find ways to draw and store it over the winter months when ground water is in abundance so the minimum amount is drawn in summer months.

    The Planning Commission was wise to work with the City Staff and also recommend and push for onsite stormwater management and use of bioswales. This system allows storm water to recharge the groundwater below so that it is not put in the sewer system with the burden of treatment and then flushed straight down the river.

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