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Hearings board upholds Fitzgerald development standards

The hearings board charged by the state with deciding growth-management issues sided last week with the city of Bothell, upholding development standards put in place in March for the Fitzgerald neighborhood in northeast Bothell.

But if city officials are crowing a bit about a victory, those who challenged the city’s rules say they are happy with the outcome of their efforts.

The Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board specifically ruled that Bothell’s development regulations do not violate the state’s Growth Management and Environmental Policy, according to a press release put out by the city.

“The city of Bothell has taken a leadership role in enacting the most advanced Low Impact Development (LID) regulations in the state of Washington,” said Bothell Mayor Mark Lamb. “These laws protect and honor both our natural environment and property rights for our citizens.”

Lamb added he was encouraged that the board upheld every part of Bothell’s development regulations regarding the Fitzgerald area.

“It is unfortunate that significant resources needed to be expended to uphold important environmental laws, which protect both North Creek and our citizens who live near it,” Lamb said.

Resident Ann Aagaard led the group that challenged the city legislation as being, according to Aagaard, too vague in some places and possibly allowing denser development than might be environmentally sound. She said she offered to settle the issue with the city without going to the hearing board, but Bothell officials declined.

Aagaard added that her group knew going in that in order to prevail it would need to prove Bothell’s rules were “clearly erroneous,” a high burden of proof they never thought they would be able to meet.

“You don’t have to win the case to get a ruling that is significant,” Aagaard said, stating that in the course of its long ruling, the board several times indicated the challenge raised legitimate concerns.

“The board does not accept the city’s suggestion that petitioner’s case is simply NIMBYism,” the board ruling reads at one point, referring to the acronym for “Not in My Backyard.”

According to Aagaard, the challenge resulted in clarification of some of the city’s rules, clarifications she said that were in at least one instance included in the city’s responses to the hearing board. In Aagaard’s opinion, there were three main issues at stake, a key one being possible variances on lot diameters in the area. Another involved a wildlife corridor, while the third addressed plans for the so-called Bothell Connector, the proposed new roadway that could run from Everett to Woodinville via 39th Avenue Southeast in Bothell.

The connector could open the Fitzgerald neighborhood to new development, which is partly what sparked the city to create the impact regulations.

Among other requirements, the LID rules demand between 50- and 60-percent forest cover for all future developments within what is officially known as the North Creek Fish and Wildlife Critical Habitat Protection Area. The rules also limit the use of non-porous surfaces such as concrete and asphalt to between 15- and 20-percent of an area.

If developers can’t meet the rules in one area, they can acquire credits by preserving comparable portions of land within the habitat area or by using LID methods that reduce surface-water runoff.

Reducing runoff protects streams from erosion, pollution and sudden infusions of warm water, all of which can be lethal to fish populations. Aagaard referred to a couple of scientific studies that showed North Creek is a thriving salmon habitat. In 2006, City Council decided to help protect the creek and the surrounding area. The effort ended up taking some 17 months and encompassing nine public hearings.

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