Conservation Cluster Housing in Lake Forest Park

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Bell Cottages are the first proposal for
conservation cluster housing
By Donna Hawkey

Conservation cluster housing is a development alternative that allows smaller sized but a larger number of homes to be built on a residential property lot.

This type of development is very different than conventional cluster housing. Conservation clusters have the “green” environmental element embedded for protection of open space and interconnected lands.

Because 50% of the property has to be designated as permanent, never to be built upon forested easement land, the City can benefit from a net environmental gain. 

Once the open land is gone – it’s gone forever.

Both Lake Forest Park’s Legacy 100-Year Vision and the updated 2015 Comprehensive Plan, discuss green infrastructure planning and ecosystem protection throughout its documents as the basis for City Council’s consideration of conservation cluster housing. 

Also, the Comprehensive Plan “ensures that there will be enough housing to accommodate expected growth in the City, and the variety of housing necessary to accommodate a range of income levels, ages, and special needs.”

Any home development in Lake Forest Park is supported by two progressive tree canopy and critical areas ordinances. City Council, along with other LFP volunteers and City staff, tirelessly updated these to further protect the City from a higher loss of its green and sensitive areas.

Growth in our region will increase with an estimated 1.8 million new residents expected by the year 2050. While LFP was initially conceived as a rural suburb designed to be an “escape” from the bustle of city life, it is only two miles to Seattle’s now fast growing Lake City Way neighborhood. LFP is no longer the island type retreat envisioned but now finds itself sandwiched between high-density growth occurring in Seattle and Kenmore.

Conservation Cluster Housing Ordinance 1150, however, was put on a moratorium February 8th as it “did not follow Council’s intent,” according to Deputy Mayor Catherine Stanford. 

Specific concerns centered around how density is calculated on the remaining 50% of the property and continuation of the easement. The Council attributes this ordinance process confusion and misinterpretation to the overwhelming mountain of work currently on their agendas, and the Sound Transit 3 deadlines.

The Growth Management Act (GMA) was never a consideration regarding Ordinance 1150. The Southern Gateway project (12 Degrees North) helped fulfill much of that goal. This ordinance was meant to support broader City defined goals and policies as per the Comprehensive Plan.

With the regional growth explosion, the Council wants to keep LFP the welcoming community it has been since its inception. A place where many teachers, police officers, and other government employees, who are relied upon for essential community services, could still afford a home amongst a beautiful environment yet convenient to Seattle. LFP’s founding concept was to be a place for all people - not just the financially wealthy.

The other intent, besides environmental, is to maintain a diversity of housing to retain that City character. Larger square footage homes are being built and concerns are arising that the City’s history of being a green and protected haven could disappear.

LFP has also been a welcoming place for outreach to many other communities. The success of the non-profit Third Place Commons/LFP Farmer’s Market highlights a history of care about overall quality of life and recognizes how placemaking can strengthen a community.

Influential voices from the community spoke up during previous City Council meeting public comments. Julian Anderson, President, Lake Forest Park Stewardship Foundation, was mentioned by Deputy Mayor Catherine Stanford as someone who asked a question that resonated with her. He asked the Council “If Ordinance 1150 is meant to conserve, then what exactly are we preserving or conserving?”

This holistic thinking will be taken into consideration going forward with a slower pace. The City administration can then gather the data needed, and the essential input from the residents to puzzle it all out together.

Also, an inventory of what housing the City now has; ADU’s, condominiums, townhomes, rentals will all be compiled and analyzed with oversight by the Planning Commission. Resident surveys and outreach will be conducted,, and all presented back to citizens in 2019 when the workload for ST3 and Town Center visions are completed.

Ex-Councilmember Don Fiene sent City Council a recent communication that states,” A change of this magnitude should require a complete study and review with ample public comment and input by the Planning Commission, as well as an open community process equal to the public process of the Southern Gateway and the recent Town Center Vision process.”

Councilmember Tom French, who grew up in LFP, remarked that the lack of solid process for this subject is an “unintended consequence of having too much on our plate,” but he feels “a robust discussion” is appropriate. He also reminds everyone that LFP has exceptional population diversity and a unique ecosystem, and it is the Council’s responsibility as stewards to protect these assets.

What types of changes would this type of conservation cluster home construction bring to the character of the community? Are there solutions for seniors who wish to downsize in LFP? Would the City’s lack of pedestrian-friendly assets such as sidewalks and the lack of street parking be a liability? Can this type of development help keep LFP the welcoming community it has been, allowing new residents, such as the young folks returning from college, the ability to buy into a starter home in LFP?

These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, and it sounds like by sometime in early 2019, the answers about future housing needs in LFP will have been accessed and agreed upon community-wide.

For additional information and a question and answer session regarding this subject, attend an upcoming meeting:

Tuesday, May 1st, LFP Citizen’s Commission is hosting an informational meeting and resident gathering to discuss Conservation Cluster Housing at the Third Place Commons stage area from 7:30pm to 8:30pm. The developer of the Bell Homes proposal (see previous article) is scheduled to attend and is interested in a community dialogue. This is the only conservation cluster home proposal that was approved by the City before the moratorium took place.

The LFP Citizen’s Commission is not associated with the City of Lake Forest Park.

Donna Hawkey is a 21-year resident of Lake Forest Park and can be reached at This is primarily a summary report of recent City Council meetings on April 23 and April 26 and attendance at the Planning Commission meeting on April 24, and various self-directed research.

Updated with minor corrections 4-29-18


Anonymous,  April 30, 2018 at 10:40 AM  

So it might be ok to establish housing with particular covenants to protect particular things - access to beach, protection of native mammals, trees, whatever. What we do know is that oversight/enforcement are the first things to go by the wayside. California has laws that protect public access to the ocean - but private landowners put up fences and locked gates, and the state has not the will nor the $ to remove the barriers. A development in So Cal was allowed to go forward with the prohibition that residents could not own cats, in an effort to protect a local, almost-extinct mouse. Guess what? Several years later current residents are unaware of that prohibition. So go ahead with the "conservation easement" but be prepared when less than one generation from now the "messy" trees are removed and the soggy grass is paved for more play and parking space.

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