- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

MUKILTEO, Wash. (AP) - Emily Mydynski hiked through wooded ravines on a rainy morning with her infant daughter on her back, marveling at a natural refuge from the subdivisions that have sprung up on both sides.

This slice of forest near Picnic Point Elementary attracted Mydynski to move to the neighborhood three years ago. But it might not stand much longer.

The 22-acre parcel next to her house is slated for development of 112 homes. The project, known as Frognal Estates, has been in the works for a decade and is scheduled for review by the Snohomish County hearing examiner in January.

“We know we’re bound to grow and we’re not against development per se, but some places are special,” Mydynski said.

She and other opponents contend that steep terrain, water runoff and other factors make Frognal Estates a risky proposition.

They have organized a neighborhood group called Picnic Point Preservation Committee, where Mydynski serves as president. They’d like to see the land preserved in its wooded state for hiking trails and habitat. For precedent, they point to adjoining county-owned land that’s kept as open space and Lynnwood’s purchase earlier this year of property on steep slopes above Meadowdale Beach Park that had been destined to become a residential neighborhood.

Developer John Lakhani isn’t interested in selling - at least not without recouping his investment. The CEO of Everett-based Integral Northwest said he receives offers all the time and met with Mydynski.

Lakhani said he’s conducted peer-reviewed storm water and geotechnical studies to make sure his plans will work. He points out - correctly - that the proposed project lies in an area designated for urban growth.

“We think it’s a great residential site,” he said. “It’s under the Growth Management Plan. We have addressed all the issues, time and time again, in every little detail.”

The development was called Horseman’s Trail when it was first submitted to the county planning department in 2005. It is subject to rules in place at that time.

“It would have been developed a long time ago, but for the fact that the county asked us to do an (environmental impact statement),” Lakhani said. What he thought would be a six-month process, “took several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The county issued a final environmental impact statement in September. The Picnic Point Preservation Committee appealed to the hearing examiner.

The examiner must decide whether the impact statement adequately addresses plans to move earth on steep slopes as well as potential downstream effects on Picnic Point Creek. The plan calls for grading 285,000 cubic yards of material to even out ravines. An extensive wall system would help buttress slopes.

Two separate geotechnical consultants have reviewed those plans, county permitting manager Mike McCrary said.

“The majority of the site that was considered a steep slope or a geologic hazard area was set aside in native growth protection areas, or regraded to be able to construct an access road up the hillside to tie into 60th Avenue West,” McCrary wrote in an email.

The road also would tie into Picnic Point Road to the south.

A groundwater consultant concluded there would be no effects to a nearby wetland, McCrary said.

Some neighbors aren’t convinced.

Sean Burson lives downhill from the proposed development in Regatta Estates - a subdivision that Lakhani also developed.

“Slides, flooding, runoff from streets above, that’s all concerning to us down here at the bottom of the hill,” Burson said. “If it increases the drainage at all from the hillside going toward my house, my yard would likely flood again.”

Merle Ash, a land-use consultant on the project, said much of the potential runoff would be channeled into sandy soils through a process called infiltration, to prevent it from flowing onto other properties.

Plans also call for managing runoff with rain gardens and buried stormwater detention vaults.

“There won’t be nearly as much surface water leaving the site,” Ash said.

The developer opted to adhere to updated storm water runoff guidelines, Ash said, rather than the older rules that were in effect when they applied to build.

Frognal has attracted enough interest that the county created a special web page for it with a video that describes the history of development in the area.

If built, it would be the last large subdivision in the area, county planners say. There’s no more room.

With the county’s population forecast to expand by about 10,000 people per year over the next two decades, demand for developable land is growing. That’s left developers looking to build on more challenging properties - like Frognal Estates. On that point, the project’s backers and opponents tend to agree.

The main access to the new neighborhood would be along 60th Avenue West, behind Picnic Point Elementary.

It lies about a half mile from Mukilteo city limits, and is designated for possible future annexation by the city.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said the city has asked county planners to look carefully at the development’s effect on the environment, as well as to the road network.

“In this part of south Snohomish County, the places that can be developed are tough,” Gregerson said. “There are steep slopes and critical areas and other things that make it difficult, and in some ways risky. We have those same issues in Mukilteo.”

Ash agrees that the Frognal site presents challenges, but says they’ve been taken into account.

“It’s a beautiful site, it’s going to end up being an extraordinarily nice community when it’s finished,” he said. “It probably wouldn’t have been developed in the 1980s or 1990s with the conditions that exist.”

The hearing examiner has scheduled proceedings for the week of Jan. 11 to 15. Most days will be taken up with expert testimony. Time to hear from members of the public has been set aside starting at 6 p.m. Jan. 14. Anybody interested in speaking is invited to send comments in advance to Snohomish County planner Ryan Countryman at ryan.countryman@snoco.org.

The hearing examiner can approve the development with or without special conditions, send it back to planners for further review, or deny it outright. The examiner’s decision can be appealed to the County Council.

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Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com

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