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Originally published March 15, 2010 at 5:00 PM | Page modified March 15, 2010 at 1:52 PM

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Shoreline neighbors say Point Wells 'urban center' proposal tramples their beach-side turf

A plan to replace an asphalt plant and oil-tank farm on the shores of Puget Sound near Woodway with a development of housing and retail is generating fierce opposition in the neighboring town of Shoreline.

Times Snohomish County Reporter

The opportunity to replace an aging asphalt plant and oil-tank farm on the shores of Puget Sound with an upscale development of condominiums, shops and restaurants is generating fierce opposition in the neighboring city of Shoreline.

Point Wells, 61 acres of west-facing waterfront, lies in unincorporated Snohomish County but can be reached only by a two-lane road in Shoreline at the northern edge of King County.

Residents of Shoreline's Richmond Beach neighborhood say the proposed development, which could bring as many as 3,500 housing units, 6,000 new residents and buildings as high as 16 stories, will destroy their quiet beach-side lives.

Shoreline's police and fire departments have threatened to stop providing services to Point Wells, and the city has promised to use "all legal means" to challenge the development if Snohomish County approves a request from the developer to change the site's land-use designation.

A decision could come as soon as mid-August.

The developer wants the property to be zoned for an urban center instead of its current heavy-industrial use.

But what most frustrates Shoreline residents and city leaders is that they have no say in the decision.

"It's a scary prospect that they (the Snohomish County Council) are not accountable to the people who are most impacted," said Richmond Beach resident Caycee Holt, who has organized local opposition to the plan.

The property owner, Paramount of Washington, an affiliate of California-based Paramount Petroleum, says the Point Wells development will transform a heavily polluted industrial site into a model green community and will open to the public 3,500 feet of shoreline now fenced off because of homeland-security concerns.

Paramount notes the Dockside Green project at Victoria, B.C.'s upper harbor, where a 15-acre former industrial site was transformed into a residential and commercial village with its own wastewater-treatment facility.

Dockside Green also has a plant that converts waste into heat and hot water, a car co-op to cut down on vehicles and a waterfront promenade and large public plaza.

"The client is not interested in a run-of-the-mill development," said Gary Huff, a Seattle land-use attorney who is part of Paramount's project team. "This will be an iconic, architecturally significant, sustainable development that will serve as a model for the future."

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He said the first homes could be available within six years.

Snohomish County leaders note that the state's Growth Management Act calls for cooperation across boundary lines. Mike Cooper, chairman of the Snohomish County Council, says Shoreline residents will be included in the planning, if the project goes forward.

"They have a right to be involved, and I will insist they be involved," Cooper said.

To regional observers, the controversy may be less about jurisdictional fiat than about the ultimate scale and appropriateness of the project.

Norman Abbott, director of growth, management and planning for the Puget Sound Regional Council, said that with only the two-lane road in and out of the site, resolving questions about density, traffic and municipal services will be the key to community satisfaction.

"Everybody's interest would be served if it was the right development and the right scale," he said.

The vision for development came from an Israeli billionaire who made his fortune transforming neglected land in his country into dense, residential communities.

Shraga Biran, a principal of Alon USA Energy, the parent company to Paramount Petroleum, visited Point Wells in 2006, after the company acquired the property and declared the asphalt plant and tank farm "a scar on the landscape," Huff said.

But the possibility of an urban-scale development at the isolated end of a beachfront community alarms residents, as does the involvement of Biran.

Holt, the organizer behind SaveRichmondBeach.org, has circulated a profile of Biran from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which calls the billionaire attorney the "king of sharks" for his aggressive real-estate development.

"He has a 40-year history of pushing megadevelopments," Holt said.

Project developers say they don't plan to overbuild the site, but to develop it in a way that preserves open space, restores natural habitats and involves the community in the design.

"We understand the fear, but in this instance it is misplaced," Huff said.

If its land-use application is denied, Paramount says, the community could see more intensive industrial uses at the site: more fuel transfers, more asphalt production and more tanker trucks hauling asphalt up Richmond Beach roads from about seven today to an estimated 125, according to the project's environmental-impact statement.

If the Point Wells redevelopment goes forward, costs could exceed $1 billion. Paramount estimates $25 million to $35 million will be needed for environmental cleanup. The site has been in industrial use for more than 100 years and has operated as an asphalt refinery since the 1950s.

Still, similar sites have been transformed successfully, including a former oil-tank farm on the Edmonds waterfront, now the Point Edwards condominium community, said Larry Altose, spokesman for the state Department of Ecology.

Paramount also may spend millions to mitigate the impacts of the proposed development on Shoreline roads, including Richmond Beach Drive Northwest, the narrow access road hemmed in by houses on one side and Puget Sound on the other. Traffic at some Shoreline intersections could increase as much as 1,000 percent, according to the project's environmental-impact statement.

Snohomish County put the cost of road improvements at $12.5 million. The city of Shoreline's study puts it at closer to $30 million and questions whether it can be done satisfactorily.

Shoreline Mayor Cindy Ryu said Point Wells is not appropriate for an urban center land-use designation, the type sought by the developer. She said the designation was meant to encourage transit-oriented projects near established transportation corridors, such as along Interstate 5.

The Sounder commuter train runs through the Point Wells site, but Ryu notes a station there is not part of Sound Transit's 20-year plan.

The town of Woodway, population 1,200, also is concerned about the size of the proposed development but hasn't ruled out annexing Point Wells. The town surrounds the site on three sides but is separated from most of it by 200-foot bluffs.

Eric Faison, Woodway administrator, said the town supports the requested zoning change and the plans for condominiums and shops on the waterfront below. But he said the project description originally provided by Paramount envisioned a maximum of 1,400 housing units and buildings no higher than six stories.

Only when city leaders read the environmental-impact statement did they realize that the project's density had increased dramatically.

"We're concerned that a large-scale project down below would have significant negative impacts on Woodway residents," Faison said.

Shoreline also has included Point Wells as a possible annexation area. But which jurisdiction the property would be annexed into is up to the owner, the courts have ruled.

Snohomish County Council Chairman Cooper said he shares concerns about the development's impacts on Shoreline. But to the project's opponents he said, "Do you want an oil-dump site there or do you want something carefully planned and environmentally friendly? Something is going to be built."

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

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