"LDMR!": Readers use four letter
word in response to column
Last week, I wrote about the deteriorating condition of three vacated houses located at 1210 Vernon Road in the newly annexed Frontier Village section of the City. Scheduled for demolition, the homes sat unoccupied and unsecured, drawing undesirable side-effects to a newly-annexed neighborhood.
Appliances and trash sat in the untended yards, and the doors and windows of all three homes were open. One of the developers involved in the project told me he was tired of chasing meth-heads and copper-stripping vandals off the property. The day after the column came out, the City responded, and contacted the developer. Temporary fencing went up at the project, and most of the doors and windows were shut.
After writing the column last week, I heard from three developers involved with the project. One assured me that in the future, he would do a better job of securing vacated homes.
All three developers are Lake Stevens residents, and two of the developers said they make frequent charitable donations to the community. The developers also said they shouldn’t be expected to police vagrants and drug users.
As of Sunday, the property is still generally unsecured, overgrown and littered with trash, but developers say demolition should occur any day.
The column generated a ton of reader response. While many of you were upset by the condition of the property, most readers expressed disbelief in the development plan. The developers of Horizon Hills plan to build 44 single family homes on 3.51 acres, in what is known in the building industry as an “LDMR” type development. We’ve covered LDMR development in the Journal before, but it’s such a fun topic, I thought we’d visit it again!
The basics: LDMR development is a type of high-density, single family, detached condominium occurring in areas of unincorporated Snohomish County. Because of a loophole in the County code originally designed for multi-family (apartment) zonings, developers found a way to place detached single family residents at apartment density without subdividing the land, causing numerous design problems sited by cities and fire districts. Further, the LDMR zoning process is incredibly expedited, avoiding all together the requirement of public hearings allowing developers to gain project approval up to 60 percent faster than other residential projects.
As one might imagine, development code that allows packing 44 detached homes on 3.5 acres can result in many problems. The interior streets are privately maintained, and often as narrow as 20 feet. There is often little or no visitor parking, and the movement of emergency vehicles is often impeded. School buses will not enter the development. Setbacks and separations are minimal. And while LDMR land is often commonly owned by the residents, there is usually little or no useable recreational space.
These design flaws had the cities of Snohomish County up in arms. Many wrote to the County and requested a moratorium on the construction of LDMR projects. Fire officials wrote to register complaints regarding safety. Deputy Chief Steve Sherman of Fire District #1 wrote the following:
“The project places additional needs on public safety due to the narrow roadways and dead ends. The narrow roadway and lack of guest parking for the housing creates a potential for fire lane obstruction that is difficult to monitor and enforce. Future obstructions of the required emergency vehicle access are predictable and, therefore, the fire department cannot assure that delivery of emergency services will not be compromised.”
The problems expressed County wide were echoed at Lake Stevens’ City Hall. LDMR development is not allowed in the City of Lake Stevens, but because some projects in newly annexed areas were approved by the County, LDMR development is coming to Lake Stevens for example, Horizon Hills.
So, you might ask, what do our local officials think of LDMR projects? Let’s take a look.
“Some of that stuff is ugly and unlivable,” City Council President Heather Coleman said.
“It’s a big issue for the emergency providers because they can’t get their fire truck or ambulance through there. The city’s policy is always no private roads.”
“Normally when you buy a home the road in front of you is public and the city takes care of it but in the LDMR circumstance they’re private substandard roads so the jurisdictions don’t even want to take care of them.” - Lake Stevens Planning Director Becky Ableman
Many of those who wrote to me about Horizon Hills expressed frustration at the lack of options for public involvement.
“We would love to hear what the developers have to say,” wrote one blogger. “How about a town meeting where the developers can present the scope of the Horizon Hills project to the Lake Stevens community?”
Another pleaded with the developer to scale back current plans.
“Developers PLEASE...Don't OVERBUILD on a particular site just because you CAN. More is not always better.”
Others were more blunt.
“Dear developer....What were you thinking....44 units on 4 acres?
I think your planned development of this property STINKS!”
As of Sunday night, the Snohomish County Planning Department listed the land use zoning permit as “pending”, but it may be too late in the process to affect the development plans. On the other hand, perhaps another tactic might work.
All three developers I spoke with said that they genuinely love Lake Stevens. I believe them. I know for a fact that they’ve done some great things in this community. So maybe those who are concerned could go straight to the developer and try to change their minds.
The City doesn’t want it. Fire departments are worried about safety. Sitting Council members don’t like ‘em. And our Planning Director says they’re often substandard. Why would anyone who truly loves Lake Stevens want to bring a project like this into our City?
Maybe even love isn’t enough to stop LDMR development. I talked to Snohomish County Planning Director Craig Ladiser last fall, and he predicted the following outcome:
“I think there’s going to be a backlash against the developer of these projects. The sellers’ market is balancing out, and I think people are going to start to asking, ‘Who built that thing?’.”
For links to previous LDMR stories, County Planning resources and past blogs mentioned in this column, visit the Off the Record blog at www.lakestevensjournal.com.