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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lynnwood

Hotel, condos may start city's makeover

Times Snohomish County Bureau

An upscale hotel-and-condominium complex across the street from the community's convention center is expected to be the first development to rise as part of Lynnwood City Center, a 300-acre district that civic leaders hope will someday resemble downtown Bellevue.

The Lynnwood City Council two weeks ago adopted a formal zoning map for City Center, which it plotted out in March 2005. The development community, which had grown jaded waiting for the city to take concrete action, is optimistic that the zoning changes will jump-start construction.

"I think there are people waiting in the wings," said Mark Hinshaw, an urban consultant who helped design Lynnwood's downtown concept. "It's setting up a totally different set of expectations for a taller, denser mix."

The Spokane-based Inland Group is negotiating with the Edmonds School District to buy 4 vacant acres on 196th Street Southwest just west of Interstate 5. The company wants to build a hotel, possibly eight stories tall, facing 196th, with about 300 condos and apartment units on the property's south side.

"We've talked with them [school-district officials] since last fall, but being able to do this was predicated on the zoning being enacted," said Chuck Daiger, Inland's acquisitions director. "The old zoning wouldn't permit anything like this."

The City Council last year divided City Center into three sections, allowing towers up to 350 feet tall around a future town square just south of 198th Street Southwest.

The plan was modeled loosely after Bellevue's 1981 development blueprint, which called for a three-tier "wedding-cake" skyline, with the tallest buildings in the center. Lynnwood's plan has two tiers, with a 140-foot height limit on City Center's outer edges, west of 44th Avenue West and northeast of the convention center.

Though the development community hailed Lynnwood's plan as spectacular in its potential, business leaders warned nothing would happen until the City Council backed it up by changing downtown zoning and finding the estimated $112 million to $125 million needed for new streets, sewer lines and parks.

The city's 2006 budget includes $575,000 in seed money to plan the streets and parks, and to study creating a local tax district. The City Council also recently created a two-year mitigation program that requires City Center developers to build roads and parks or pay fees for future improvements.

The latest plan would create seven streets, including three to fill in the gap between 40th and 44th avenues west.

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Jean Hales, the president of the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce, hailed the new zoning changes as "a very, very big deal" for the city.

"It's almost too bad it's taken so long because it's anti-climactic," she said. "It should be just huge. It makes me sad that people aren't out celebrating."

The delay nearly stretched longer.

The council barely approved the zoning changes July 10 on a 4-3 vote. Council members Ted Hikel, Lisa Utter and Mark Smith had wanted to wait until the parks study was complete.

The council last year approved a zoning map that didn't rezone several parcels intended for parks, upsetting some property owners. In February, the council repealed that map because changes to the initial street plan affected the positioning of parks.

This time, the council approved a blanket rezone of the entire area, without excluding the park sites.

Smith, a freshman councilman, said he wanted to protect potential park properties from development.

"I campaigned on the development of the City Center as an urban village with ample public spaces," he said. "But now that the zoning is in place, we're all very excited this is moving forward."

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

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