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Originally published Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jobs, homes proposal for Snohomish County touted as eco-friendly

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon unveiled plans Tuesday for an environmentally friendly development of businesses, housing and recreation...

Times Snohomish County Reporter

Community meetings

Snohomish County will host meetings to collect public input on how the Cathcart property should look and fit into the surrounding community. The meetings will be from 7-8:30 p.m. June 4 and June 24 at Willis D. Tucker Community Park, 6705 Puget Park Drive, Snohomish.

Source: Snohomish County

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon unveiled plans Tuesday for an environmentally friendly development of businesses, housing and recreation on 600 acres of county-owned land off Cathcart Way near Highway 9.

The county envisions a job center, a transit hub, four-story condominiums and "green" businesses such as hydroponic greenhouses and solar-energy production on land once slated for a county landfill.

Reardon suggested that the project could allow homeowners in the rapidly growing subdivisions between Mill Creek and Snohomish to work closer to where they live and that it could be a model for low-impact development.

"This will be our showcase for a sustainable community, a place that will change development patterns in the county for the next generation," Reardon said.

The idea of creating job centers closer to burgeoning suburbs has gained popularity in recent years, particularly as a way to reduce fuel consumption and commute times. But similar projects, like the Snoqualmie Ridge Development in eastern King County, have struggled to bring in the right mix of business to the sprawling Snoqualmie Ridge housing development.

Reardon didn't attach a price tag to the Cathcart proposal, which is strictly conceptual at this point. He announced the plan to open a conversation with the community about how to proceed with the property.

Reardon also set an ambitious timeline for the project, calling for public meetings through the summer, presenting a conceptual design and proposed zoning changes to the County Planning Commission by October, and approval by the County Council by the end of the year.

The land has sat vacant since it was purchased from the county's Public Works Department for $30 million in 2004. It had originally been acquired to expand an existing landfill, but the county decided it was cheaper to send the county's garbage to Southwest Washington by train.

The County Council wasn't able to agree on a plan for the property.

Meanwhile, interest payments on the property are accruing at a rate of $1.4 million per year.

Reardon said the current economic slowdown will give the county time to develop a plan and be ready to move forward when business activity and the real-estate market pick up again. He said proceeds from the sale of 20 percent of the land for private investment could fund the remaining 80 percent of public spaces, parks and infrastructure.

The Snohomish School District bought 63 acres of the Cathcart land for $10.5 million in early 2005 for Little Cedars Elementary School, which opened last fall, and Glacier Peak High School, which is scheduled to open in September.

The high school's athletic fields overlook 35 acres that Reardon proposed for an office park. Housing would be located on a 73-acre hillside that faces east with expansive views of the Snohomish River Valley and Cascade Mountains.

Below the elementary school, 12 acres could be used for community amenities such as shops, stores, restaurants and public facilities such as a library. About 170 acres would be left as open space with trails, wetland restoration and the protection of a creek that flows through the property.

The remaining acres would go toward a new transit center, roads and infrastructure.

"We have an opportunity to take this gem in the rough and make it a great asset for Snohomish County," said County Councilman Brian Sullivan.

Most cities in the Puget Sound region have plans to promote more livable community centers with better access to jobs, shops, housing and other amenities. But attracting the right mix of private development, housing and public services — and doing it on a government-driven timeline — has proved challenging.

"These places evolve over time. The day-to-day services and businesses don't spring up overnight," said Ben Bakkenta, a planner for the Puget Sound Regional Council.

The Snoqualmie Ridge Development was intended to bring jobs close to a huge new housing development, Snoqualmie Ridge. But Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson said the city has struggled to find the right mix of business types to complement the largely high-end housing.

"You don't want a toothbrush factory, even though that's a great business, if your housing is more higher-market. You end up with blue-collar workers commuting from Enumclaw and Maple Valley, the very people who can ill-afford time in traffic and the cost of gas," Larson said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

This story includes information from Seattle Times archives.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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