Duvall residents are consistently and passionately speaking up about their concerns related to growth in Duvall. Looking at the results of the community survey in 2014, three of the top four concerns relate to growth. We are anxious about the decline of rural character (ranked #1), residential development (ranked #2) and the roads that service our growing population (ranked #4). Our community has spoken out and the current leadership continues to march forward with more dense development and unnecessary annexations, all while placating resident who are expressing valid concerns. I hear your concerns and share those same concerns myself. Here is what I know:
#1 Community Concern: Decline of Rural Character
The community says, “I am worried about the decline of rural character and want to maintain our small town feel”. Leadership responds, “We are forced to build dense – we must meet affordability targets”.
The reality: While there is certainly merit in providing housing for those that work in our community and not able to afford the high prices, the solution is not as easy as increased density (i.e. building more and more homes on smaller and smaller lots). The truth is that the City is not being forced to meet any “affordability target” and increased density will likely not result in affordable homes. In fact, when the City used that term in the draft 2015 Comprehensive Plan, they were instructed by Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) to remove the reference to “affordability target” and amend the plan.
In a letter written by a resident expressing concerns related to increased density, the City responded “The affordable housing target is one of the driving forces to rezoning area of the 143rd and Main Street Corridor to a higher density zoning designation.” Once again, not true, there are no “affordability targets” forcing Duvall to increase density.
In addition, this increased density zoning is not creating affordable housing, instead, landowners are selling land at skyrocketing prices – these higher land prices are directly related to the City allowing higher density and another reason why landowners are anxious to annex into the City. Developers want to build as many homes possible to maximize profits and do not pass savings on to the homeowner. I am not implying the landowners or developers are in the wrong, these are just the consequences of allowing higher density. Developers and builders are continuing to build incredibly large and expensive homes on these smaller lots and the result is not “affordable”.
In 2016 the City Council approved an amendment to our zoning rules to allow a new R-20 zone. This new R-20 zone is almost twice the density of the previous zone of R-12. R-20, by the way, means 20 housing units PER acre. This will result in enormous 3 story, multi-family complexes, and once again, likely not affordable (take a look at the prices for high-rise condos in Redmond, for example). The price of land and housing is directly related to what the market can bear. If the supply of new homes is on smaller and smaller lots, the price of homes is not likely to go down.
#2 Community Concern: Residential Development
The community says, “Do we really need to grow at this pace and keep annexing more and more land?”. Leadership responds, “Yes, our hands are tied, we are being forced to grow because we must meet growth targets”, or “It’s a myth that we are growing at a fast pace, look at our historical growth rates”, or “these projects take decades to build out, don’t worry about it, these annexations are for the next generation”.
The reality: These are all misleading half-truths that promote a narrative that justifies unrestrained growth.
This “growth target” that keeps being referred to is actually not a goal that the city must hurry up and race toward. Instead, the growth target is more of a lid that our City is supposed to hold itself to.
Growth targets are assigned by King County and used by Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) as a means to plan for growth and transportation in our region. PSRC defines Duvall within “Free-Standing Cities and Towns: These cities are urban islands surrounded by rural and resource lands and separated from the contiguous urban growth area. Due to their isolation from the rest of the designated urban growth area, they will likely receive a lesser overall share of Small City growth, and are not expected to grow as much as Small Cities within the contiguous urban growth area.”
The current leadership of Duvall is not happy about the growth target it was allocated and is fighting PSRC to be allowed to grow even more. Take a look at this letter signed by the City of Duvall arguing that it is unfair to be constrained by these growth targets: http://thelens.news/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/PSRC-North-Bend-Comment-Letter-April-26-2016-RE-Cond.-Certs.pdf Our leadership knows that PSRC considers these targets as a cap, all the while misrepresenting it to the community as some type of justification for their agenda of unrestrained growth.
Below is an excerpt from the 2015 Comprehensive Plan that shows the number of housing units that remain in the growth target for our 20 year plan:
So, according to Table H-6 above, as of the end of 2014, there were 788 housing units remaining in the King County Growth Target. If you subtract out a conservative estimate of 50 homes built since the end of 2014, I calculate 738 homes remaining in the growth target.
It seems pretty obvious that with 700 homes in the “pipeline” (in development review or issuing building permits), there isn’t much risk of not meeting our remaining Growth Target of 738 homes. In fact, the bigger risk is that Duvall will greatly EXCEED this target.
If you are curious, here is a link to the current projects in the pipeline. These 700 housing units are not hypothetical; they are real projects, many already under construction and for-sale signs in the yard. There is no turning back on these projects; they will be built and likely within the next few years: http://www.duvallwa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/3557. Note that this document was created in March 2017, and many of the projects have since progressed significantly and are no longer in “Development Review” and have moved to “Legal Lots” currently under construction.
In addition to these projects officially in the “pipeline”, there are many more projects within City limits that are ready to submit development applications. It is estimated that there is capacity within City limits (beyond the pipeline projects) of at LEAST 300 more housing units (as a side note I believe the City has greatly underestimated the remaining capacity).
There are also two annexations in the works. Annexation is the process where land in Unincorporated King County (where you can only build 1 home per 5 acres) can be brought into City limits (where you can build between 4 and 20 homes per acre).
The first area requesting annexation is the North Urban Growth Area (NUGA) with capacity of 250+ homes – Quadrant Homes, the developer, has stated they would like to begin construction in 2018. The second annexation is the Big Rock Urban Growth Area with a capacity of about 72 homes. City Council approved resolutions related to both of these annexation areas. Certain council members like to refer to this process of moving that annexations forward as only “continuing the conversation”. The trouble is they are making promises in these resolutions that will make it nearly impossible to stop the annexations from proceeding.
Both of these annexations have been met with intense criticism and concern from residents. The City Council, Planning Commission and Quadrant sponsored meetings that addressed these annexations were each packed with residents and many, many hours of testimony and letters expressing concerns were given. Even with this extensive public outcry, it is quite clear that the majority on council intends to accept these annexations (within this year or next).
If you add all these numbers up, 700 in the pipeline, another 300+ capacity in City limits and 320+ for the annexation areas, you have well over 1300+ homes likely to be built. With 2600 homes currently in Duvall, this represents 50% growth and will dramatically exceed the assigned growth target.
The Mayor, many on Council and within City Staff, when faced with concerns from the community about additional annexations, frequently state that they must accept additional growth beyond the 700 homes in the pipeline because they are mandated by King County and/or PRSC to meet Growth Targets. I have been told repeatedly that there is a significant concern that Duvall will not meet the Growth Targets and warned that Duvall will “lose funding” and “get in trouble” if they do not meet those Targets. These dire warning create a sense of urgency for housing growth within the City and fuels debate toward accepting annexations. It seems to me, there is ZERO risk of not meeting our growth targets. This is a false narrative used to justify an agenda and must be exposed.
Referring to past growth rates is another misleading justification for accepting more growth – asserting that the city is not growing at an alarming rate. What is missing from this picture is that the growth rate was significantly constrained by a sewer moratorium, an economic recession and the housing market collapse. Even with those constraints, our population grew by approximately 3,000 residents – that is over 65% growth in just the last 15 years. Now that the economy and housing market are booming, the floodgates for growth are open. The City Planning Department is overwhelmed with the intense pressure to process permits and development applications. In a memo issued by the City it was mentioned that additional departments were being utilized to process permits in order to keep up with the demand. In fact, the City of Duvall had to issue a 6 month, temporary Moratorium on new projects so the Planning Department could catch up on some necessary project work.
Another excuse that is given when residents express concerns is that these development projects will take decades before they are built – so we all just need to “relax and take a deep breath”. Once again, this half-truth needs context. Yes, there are some project in the “pipeline” that have been in the “pipeline” for quite some time. Have you ever heard the saying “past performance does not predict future results”. That is a disclaimer required by the SEC to inform investors to not rely on past mutual fund performance to predict future performance. So, it is unfair to assert that based on some past projects taking a long time that current and future projects will also take a very long time.
The current projects that began over a decade ago were stalled as a direct consequence of the economic and housing collapse. Builders and developers went bankrupt, sold their rights, etc. and these projects sat idle for years. Once the market recovered, the new developers had to negotiate with the City to change many aspects of prior agreements and ended up with significant legal expense and time lapsed.
For an opposing perspective, look at the Hower Hill Development, it went from application to construction in just over one year. This will be more typical in the current market environment. As I mentioned earlier, Quadrant Homes stated their timeline for the North UGA annexation area to be “preliminary plat approval by the end of 2017 or early 2018; and start of construction in the late spring or early summer of 2018…home sales would commence in 2019”. So, it is quite clear that current and future projects could easily proceed at a rapid pace given the existing market conditions of high demand and high prices.
In summary, “growth targets” are NOT forcing Duvall to grow beyond what is already in the “pipeline”. The City grew significantly, a full 65%, in the last 15 years even during difficult economic times. With current market conditions, the “pipeline” projects and additional projects (including annexation areas) will likely proceed at a rapid pace and greatly exceed our “growth targets”.
#4 Community Concern: The Roads That Service Our Growing Community
The community says, “How will our roads handle all the traffic generated by these new homes”? Leadership responds, “The City has a transportation plan. We’ve got it all figured out.” OR “Our growth is not impacting the commute traffic, it is Snohomish County traffic that is to blame”.
The reality: Yes, there is a Transportation Plan, but it only addresses congestion within City limits. The Transportation Plan models use unrealistic assumptions that each new home will only generate one new vehicle trip during peak hours (this is based on a national average and not on the reality in Duvall). The Transportation Plan also underestimates the likely growth of new homes.
In addition, there is NO plan to address the traffic problems outside City limits for our commute routes. During the Transportation Town Hall, our King County councilperson (Kathy Lambert) and State Representatives (Larry Springer and Roger Goodman) stated clearly that there are no intentions to expand capacity on any of the roads leading in and out of Duvall – our commute routes will remain 2 lane roads with no ability to expand.
Leadership is also regularly asserting that our commute and traffic woes are primarily related to traffic from Snohomish County. Specifically a councilmember responded to a resident concern about traffic with: “the increase in traffic in not due to incoming Duvall residents but to the number of commuters who travel through Duvall between Snohomish County and the larger cities of King County”. I’m sure some Snohomish County traffic flows through Duvall and may have an impact on our commute, but it is certainly not the primary cause of our increasing commute times nor does it remove our responsibility to manage our growth.
Consider how long the backup is during flooding events, it used to be maybe an hour delay, now it can be up to a 2-3 hour delay – do you really think Snohomish County residents are sitting in the flood lineup just so they can take a shortcut through Duvall? Of course not. Once again, leadership shifting blame, not willing to acknowledge that Duvall has a responsibility to manage its growth in regards to the capacity of our commute routes.
I know this was a ton of information, but I feel it is important to get the truth out to my fellow residents. I want to remind citizens that the Mayor and City Councilmembers are elected to represent YOU. If I am elected to City Council I will work tirelessly to address your concerns and continuously seek community input to ensure that your voice is heard.