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Low-income apartments for Ridge II? Neighbors go to city with concerns
Residents of Snoqualmie Ridge’s Eagle Pointe shared skeptical looks as details emerged Monday, June 11, of a large affordable-housing project in the offing next to their neighborhood.
When the time came to speak during last Monday’s regular Snoqualmie City Council meeting, about a dozen took the microphone to air their concerns and surprise over the plan.
The design, which is in a very preliminary state, would house more than 300 people at below-market rents, but also send the entirety of its traffic through a block of single-family homes.
Snoqualmie City Council heard from prospective developers of what could be the Valley’s biggest affordable housing complex, and from concerned residents of the adjacent Snoqualmie Ridge Phase II neighborhood, during a lengthy, strident discussion.
With low-income housing long considered part of the mix on Snoqualmie Ridge, the council is weighing an ordinance that would exempt affordable multifamily housing projects from property taxes for up to 12 years.
The ordinance is being considered now because Imagine Housing, an affordable housing developer on the Eastside, is considering its largest project yet on the Ridge’s Parcel S-20.
Imagine Housing’s plan calls for a complex of 160 apartments, accessed via Frontier Avenue and Southeast Jacobia Street through the Eagle Pointe neighborhood.
Imagine Housing has a purchase and sale agreement to buy the property, which is owned by Snoqualmie Ridge II Development LLC, contingent on feasibility and financing.
As now conceived, the project would have 25 one-bedroom units, 105 two-bed units and 30 three-bedroom units, and a population between 325, at minimum, and 810, at maximum, in six buildings. The maximum rent, of a three-bedroom unit, is $1,373. Up to seven people would be allowed to live in a three-bedroom unit.
The complex would also include a two-story clubhouse with a recreation room and several family play areas.
The Snoqualmie complex would be twice as large as Imagine’s biggest existing Eastside community, the 60-unit Francis Village at Totem Lake. Imagine Executive Director Ann Levine said larger projects offer greater efficiencies of scale.
The apartments are pegged to serve people who earn at or less than 60 percent of the annual median income for the region, roughly $36,900 for a single person, $42,240 for a couple. Levine said occupants would be mainly employed people living in the community.
The main affordable housing provider on the Eastside, Imagine Housing operates 12 properties in Redmond, Issaquah, Bellevue, Kirkland and Mercer Island, housing about 1,000 people in total.
Levine said her organization’s mission is to help Eastside residents, including seniors, veterans, working families and the homeless, live better lives. According to Levine, Eastside renters need to earn at least three times the minimum wage to be able to afford the average rental apartment.
“That means that thousands who work here can’t afford to live here,” she said. Imagine’s goal, she added, is to allow them to do both.
While some residents who took the podium Monday voiced sympathy to Imagine’s aims, all aired their deep concerns over its Ridge placement. They say they were never informed about what was planned nearby. A number said they moved to Snoqualmie to get away from high-density surroundings, and raised issue with the tax break, and what the project would mean for local schools, property values and traffic on its single-street connector to the Parkway. Others asked that the city take its time and thoroughly consider the impact.
Brandon James, an Elm Avenue resident and Seattle police officer, moved to the Ridge a few months ago. James related how, during his life, he had worked his way up from affordable housing.
“I was able to pull my bootstraps up and provide for my family,” James said. “I was able to afford a $500,000 house in a nice community to get away from the issues I grew up with in an urban, low-income environment.”
James echoed a number of speakers when he argued that Snoqualmie is not prepared for a 160-unit housing community. He urged the city to talk to cities like Kent or Federal Way, and learn how such large rental communities affect cities around them.
“I can almost promise you that their impact on police alone would dramatically increase,” James said.
“Snoqualmie Ridge is not a community that has services for low-income families,” he added. “There’s no collective set of cheap child care… transportation, entry-level jobs. They’re just not in this community… To invite this neighborhood in our community—it’s not proper.”
“We as taxpayers have the right to say how much our property taxes go up so this can be somebody’s dream,” commented Ridge resident Jan Bonner.
“The children in our neighborhood are being bussed because the Snoqualmie Valley School District doesn’t have the space to educate them,” said Charlene Lewalski, a resident of Norman Avenue, who raised a concern over school impacts as the school workforce shrinks by about a dozen positions. “So with less teachers, how are you going to educate the children that are going to be in 160 units? Wouldn’t the taxes that you’re going to allow them not to pay help with your school budget?”
“We worked 40 years and saved our money so we could live in a place like this,” added Keith Lewalski, Charlene’s husband.
The city zoned for high-volume housing at that parcel nearly a decade ago, according to City Attorney Pat Anderson.
“Realize, folks… there are densities that were entitled on those parcels since the inception of (Snoqualmie Ridge) Phase 2,” Mayor Matt Larson said. “We would be sued by the developer” if the city blocked all plans. “Even if it wasn’t affordable housing, there would be some units down there. There would be traffic impacts, there would be kids.”
Larson said the city will do its best to address issues in the coming weeks. Levine said the same.
“We understand and hear, and have taken copious notes,” she said. “We want to be an asset to your community.”
There is no immediate rush to approve the project, said Eric Evans, Imagine’s Director of Housing Development.
“This is an important decision for you,” he said. “We welcome the time you need to make an informed decision.”
“We share your concerns,” Councilman Kingston Wall told the audience. “We hear you.”
• An ordinance on a housing tax exemption is being considered by a council finance and administration committee. A public hearing is to be scheduled.