By: Tom Campbell
The author was one of the principal architects of the Growth Management Act (GMA) in 1990 and a member of the Governor’s Land Use Study Commission. He is a consultant on public engagement strategies, a judge for the Governor’s Smart Communities awards, the chair of the Charlotte Martin Foundation, and a member of Clearwater Commons.
This is the story of a growth management policy wonk turned developer. It is a high anxiety story of a successful effort to build one of the most comprehensive green low impact developments (LID) in the Puget Sound area – through some of the laws I helped to create. This arduous five year journey was made even more difficult by a housing recession; a complex web of new and complicated regulations; and, a reeling banking industry.
However, I don’t intend to use this story to whine about regulators and bankers. I want to demonstrate the trials of the LID process, share important questions that emerge from the effort, and indicate ways to translate the potential of LID and green building into more lasting, positive impacts.
In June of 2006 a group of families banded together to form a community on 7 1/2 acres in unincorporated Snohomish County just north of Bothell. We wanted to develop a 16 unit compact green development combining stream and wetland restoration into an affordable set of housing alternatives.
I volunteered to lead the project, because as one of the principle architects of the Growth Management Act (GMA) I knew a fair amount of what I was going into. But I had no clue that I’d be down on my knees praying for a tiny break in a regulation that might break the project. Each step took incredible persistence and each new requirement added costs that could easily break the project’s success.
Developers I worked with during the development of the GMA might smugly remind me that these new regulations were unworkable. While I now have much greater sympathy for the impact of multiple regulations, I still defend the intent of the GMA and other environmental regulations as important protections to sustain this region.
LID has become the new direction for the future development standards and is supposed to be used area “wherever feasible.” However, it has a long way to go before it can be a viable approach.
Background on the Dream: The Clearwater Commons purchased the land in June of 2006 from a developer that was in the process of short platting the property into a typical Cul-de- Sac development complete with the typical hideous detention pond. Our goal was to establish a creative community that blended cooperative living and environmental restoration. Many of us had worked together for years having created the Clearwater School, an alternative private school for kids ages 4-19. We purchased the school and commons property at the same time with our vision of a community and school right on North Creek, and a salmon restoration project that would run the length of both properties.
Above: The original site and farmhouse that we purchased in 2006.