Lake Forest Park Conservation Cluster Housing repeal -- and going forward

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The first permit application for Cluster Housing

By Donna Hawkey

The Lake Forest Park (LFP) Municipal Code that allows conservation cluster housing as a conditional use has been repealed by the passing of Ordinance 1179 at the Council meeting on June 14. 2018.

City Administrator Phillip Hill stated that the residents could expect a city-wide housing study in the spring of 2019. This will also involve the residents in a public process to determine if cluster housing works in LFP, and if it does, how should the City implement it?

A new beginning is being asked of the City Council and asked of the residents, too.

“This is a no name and no blame situation and let’s move forward,” commented Deputy Mayor Catherine Stanford at the June 14th Council meeting.

The City is faced with a mountain of work (Big Five City Projects) that represent the biggest changes in LFP history. Conservation cluster housing ideas grew from the various stages of Town Center growth and planning considerations.

Without the proper process for citizen input and education, the ordinance became misunderstood, and resentments and tempers flared. When something happens “out of order” residents can become concerned and sometimes angry.

Vice-Chair and Councilmember Tom French asked for the personal attacks on social media to stop. He said, “We are better than this as a community.” Other Councilmembers also stated at the June 14th meeting that what has taken place has been hurtful and not very civil.

The subject of a significant change in land use requires a community-wide discussion, and citizens feel this did not happen. It did appear on the Council’s agenda eighteen times, however, it was listed under the critical areas discussion and the wording of conservation cluster housing appeared only once, so it seemed buried in the agendas due to semantics.

Citizens throughout the City appeared in various Council Chamber meetings including three former LFP City Councilmembers, Don Fiene, Jack Tonkin and Ned Lawson.

These three LFP former Councilmembers believe that protecting the ecosystem and saving green space by encouraging higher density doesn’t equal out to them. Various trends in Washington are seeing some cities halting development to manage growth. 

These cities are making sure that regulatory infrastructures are both feasible and in place and to take the time to assess whether future development matches a community’s history and its vision. There is also a trend to build larger homes as more families expect to house their elderly parents, and some children are living at home longer due to various social and economic factors.

Lake Forest Park residents are known for resisting attempts for population or economic growth. Many multi-generational residents enjoy living in nature and gardening in a forest-like atmosphere. Since the original and unique platting of the LFP land in 1912 residents have been committed to maintaining and to grow the ecosystem through various preservation efforts.

The huge growth in the region threatens LFP’s history of a low-density residential neighborhood, and residents wonder about not only losing the surrounding nature and trees, but are concerned about the overall quality of life with increasing air and noise pollution and safety issues on the rise.

Remember that all seven LFP Councilmembers have stated in previous public meetings, and all have voted, that they believe conservation cluster housing is a good housing alternative going forward, and that is how the City got to this place.

For instance, Councilmember Phillippa Kassover said she has worked hard to understand the concepts. She has put together an extensive mathematical chart that shows how conservation cluster housing can save green space as compared to the current short plat and subdivision ordinances. Councilmember John Wright said he has “never been convinced that this type of housing absolutely does not have a place in LFP. But we have to take a deeper dive to make that determination... and to hear the concerns of citizens.”

Larger square footage homes have been viewed as a concern by City Council as the City’s open green space is suddenly being absorbed at higher rates. According to many architects and builders, these larger homes tend to require the use of more impervious surfaces. Conservation cluster housing reduces the sizes of individual houses but requires that a larger quantity of smaller homes be built on the site. A permanent “forested” easement is created to conserve 50% of the properties land.

Housing prices continue to climb in the entire region as well as the cost of labor and materials for building. If a good stock of housing is not available, all property values continue to increase along with property taxes.

Lake Forest Councilmembers are also hearing from residents that do support added density and are willing to examine cluster housing as an alternative housing option; there is already some resident support of the concept.

City Council members have previously stated that their primary and collective goals for cluster housing are to encourage greater environmental conservation when a property is being developed. Other intentions are housing options for LFP seniors who want to transition to smaller homes yet remain in LFP, and as a means for a younger population to gain entry into the housing market.

No matter what housing alternatives the residents finally accept, population growth will continue in the Seattle “Emerald City” and beyond.

For an in-depth discussion of what happened during the conservation housing quorum vote - that was considered invalid because it did not have the four votes that are required by Washington State law- and other info about past RCW’s and their passage, view the June 14th City Council regular meeting available on the website. Deputy Mayor Catherine Stanford provides a detailed account at (00: 21:37). It’s about 5 minutes in viewing length.

If you want your voice heard, be aware of those upcoming City outreach meetings in spring of 2019. This is when the subject of cluster housing is scheduled to return on the Council and the Planning Commission agendas again.

Donna Hawkey is a LFP resident for almost 22 years. She can be reached at Mike Dee from the LFP Citizens’ Commission provided editorial input.


Anonymous,  June 27, 2018 at 9:28 AM  

As is frequently the case with Donna Hawkey's "reporting," this is largely opinion and might better be labeled as an Op-Ed.

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