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Originally published October 25, 2009 at 12:10 AM | Page modified October 25, 2009 at 12:16 AM

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Pressures of growth heat up 3 Snohomish County Council races

The candidates for County Council from both parties agree on the need to support aerospace and biotech industries, to attract a four-year college and to accept commercial air service at Paine Field. But when it comes to directing future growth and balancing the need to protect rural areas and the environment while also preserving the property rights of landowners, the collegial discussions break down.

Times Snohomish County reporter

District 4

Dave Gossett

Age: 58

City: Mountlake Terrace

Occupation: Two-term county councilman

Civic experience: Former Mountlake Terrace mayor and city councilman; Community Transit board of directors; Puget Sound Regional Council Economic Development District; Washington Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board

Education: Bachelor's degree in history and philosophy from the University of Washington; master's in history, UW; associate degree in labor studies, Shoreline Community College

Endorsements: Washington Conservation Voters; Snohomish Business Alliance; Snohomish County Deputy Sheriffs Association

Campaign Web site:

District 5

Steve Dana

Age: 59

City: Snohomish

Occupation: Restaurant owner

Civic experience: Former mayor, Snohomish; Snohomish County Planning Commission; Snohomish County Tomorrow Steering Committee

Education: Attended Everett Community College

Endorsements: Snohomish County Republicans, Snohomish County Farm Bureau

Campaign Web site:

District 1

John Koster

Age: 58

City: Arlington

Occupation: Two-term county councilman and former dairy farmer

Civic experience: Three-term state legislator; board of directors, National Association of Counties; executive member, Washington Association of Counties; former Snohomish County Agriculture Advisory Board member

Education: Associate degree, general studies, Everett Community College

Endorsements: Snohomish County Sheriffs Deputies Association; Snohomish County Farm Bureau; Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties

Campaign Web site:

Ellen Hiatt Watson

Age: 44

City: Stanwood

Occupation: Marketing consultant

Civic experience: Past president and founder, 7-Lakes organization; Snohomish County Tomorrow Steering Committee; lake monitor, Snohomish County Surface Water Management Volunteer Program

Education: Bachelor's degree in mass communications and political science, Central Washington University

Endorsements: Washington Conservation Voters; Washington Women's Political Caucus; Snohomish County Labor Council

Campaign Web site:

Bob Meador

Age: 66

City: Mill Creek

Occupation: Retired fire chief

Civic experience: Stevens Hospital board of directors; Fire District 1 board of directors; past board chair, Evergreen Federal Credit Union

Education: Associate degree in chemistry, Everett Community College; bachelor of science in geology, University of Washington; associate degree in firefighter administration, Edmonds Community College

Endorsements: International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1997; Snohomish County Republicans

Campaign Web site:

Dave Somers

Age: 56

Occupation: Two-term county councilman

Civic experience: Puget Sound Regional Council executive board; Washington State Forest Practices Board; Business Coalition of Snohomish County

Education: Bachelor of science in fisheries, University of Washington; master of science in ecosystems analysis, UW

Endorsements: Washington Conservation Voters; Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties; Business Coalition of Snohomish County

Campaign Web site:


How do you spell politics in Snohomish County?


The candidates for County Council from both parties agree on the need to support aerospace and biotech industries, to attract a four-year college and to accept commercial air service at Paine Field.

But when it comes to directing future growth and balancing the need to protect rural areas and the environment while also preserving the property rights of landowners, the collegial discussions break down.

District 1

Nowhere is the argument over growth more contentious than in the county's northernmost district, where development along the Interstate 5 corridor and around the rapidly growing cities of Stanwood, Arlington and Marysville is transforming once rural farmlands and forests.

Two-term County Councilman John Koster, a second-generation dairy farmer and former state legislator, is facing Ellen Hiatt Watson, a marketing consultant who entered the District 1 race because of her concerns about proposals that would have allowed large residential developments in currently remote, rural areas of the county.

Koster, the council's lone Republican, supported a plan to add high-density residential developments known as fully contained communities in rural areas to the county's land-use options, an option the council's Democratic majority ultimately voted to eliminate.

Koster said the county needs tools to accommodate a projected 350,000 new residents by 2025. And he says that large developers can be required to pay infrastructure costs, such as for roads, sewers and schools, that county taxpayers would otherwise bear.

Hiatt Watson, a Democrat, wants the county's cities to take the bulk of the coming growth. She formed the 7-Lakes nonprofit organization when a single developer bought 2,000 acres in her rural neighborhood with plans for a large residential development.

The 7-Lakes group also sued when the county's planning director ruled that property owners could build duplexes on lots too small for single-family homes because the county code didn't specifically prohibit duplexes. A hearing examiner ruled in favor of Hiatt Watson's group.

"Citizens shouldn't have to sue to get the county to follow its own rules," she said.

Koster says excessive regulation stifles business and jeopardizes jobs. He wants the county to do more to support its businesses, including Boeing and its farmers.

"There's nothing more important we can do than strengthen the economy," he said.

Koster has raised more than any other candidate for County Council, taking in $155,741 through Oct. 14, much of it from construction and business interests, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Hiatt Watson has raised $35,084, the bulk of it from Democratic Party and women's organizations.

District 4

In the race for District 4, which includes Mountlake Terrace, Brier and Bothell, the battle over growth takes the form of how much density existing suburbs should be forced to accommodate.

Two-term incumbent Dave Gossett initially supported fully contained communities because it took some population pressure off his district. Gossett, a Democrat, ultimately voted against the dense rural developments when he was assured by fellow council members that the growth that would have gone to rural areas under the measure would not be disproportionately assigned to his district.

Gossett's Republican challenger, retired Lynnwood Fire Chief Bob Meador, said he wouldn't have supported the rural developments in the first place. Meador is also critical of the county's past development standards that allowed private lanes instead of regulation-size roads in new housing complexes and didn't require sidewalks, adequate parking or turnarounds. That's meant that cities adjacent to these developments, which must eventually annex the new neighborhoods, will have to use taxpayers' money to bring them up to city codes.

"The county's development standards should be compatible with the cities," Meador said.

Gossett said he's worked over the past several years to tighten development standards and eliminate abuses that resulted from the lax rules adopted by previous councils.

"I've worked hard in the last four years to correct the problems," Gossett said.

Gossett, who was previously a council staff analyst as well as a Mountlake Terrace city councilman, said he's also working to bring more transit to the district to help ease congestion. Meador, who serves on the boards of Stevens Hospital and Fire District 1, argues that transit isn't practical in outlying areas and that more roads should be built.

Gossett has raised $116,720 for the campaign, much of it from developers and businesses. Meador has declined to accept donations but says he likely will spend about $5,000 of his own money.

District 5

In the contest for the District 5 seat that includes Monroe, Lake Stevens and Snohomish, incumbent Dave Somers is facing restaurant owner and former Snohomish Mayor Steve Dana.

Somers, a Democrat who lost a re-election bid in 2001 and narrowly won in 2005, easily outdistanced three GOP rivals in the primary with 51 percent approval.

But Somers' vote total was lower than that of the other incumbents running for the council, Koster and Gossett, who each received over 58 percent in the primary. And the 5th District hasn't re-elected an incumbent since it was formed in the 1980s.

Somers, a former fisheries biologist, said he's worked hard to balance growth and environmental protection. He brought developers and environmentalists together to revise the county's critical-areas ordinance. It was adopted, he said, without the backlash from property owners that the same effort produced in King County.

But Dana, whose family has run the HUB restaurant in downtown Snohomish for almost 50 years, said Somers' efforts to strengthen environmental protections have been "heavy-handed" and have hurt property owners' right to develop their land. And Dana is critical of the county's salmon-restoration efforts — supported by Somers — where they return farmland along estuaries to marine habitat.

Both candidates say improving the business climate in the county and supporting aerospace and biotech businesses should be a priority. Dana favors less government providing fewer services, while Somers wants to improve some county services such as transit. Somers also supports converting an abandoned rail line that runs from Snohomish to Renton into a commuter line.

Somers has raised $86,468, largely from unions, environmental groups and builders. Dana's campaign reported $17,040 in contributions, most of it coming from individuals.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or

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