The City of Lake Stevens in 2006
From the City of Lake Stevens Comprehensive Plan, July 2006
The City of Lake Stevens is currently located on the north side of the lake from which the City gets its name. Lake Stevens is a non-charter code city under the State of Washington enabling legislation. It is overseen by a Mayor/Council form of government with the Mayor and all seven Council representatives elected at large. The City Administrator is the chief executive and reports directly to the Mayor.
Lake Stevens supports its own police department and surface water utilities and contracts with Sno-Isle Regional Library for library services and Fire District 8 for Fire Marshall services. Sewer service is provided under an interlocal agreement with the Lake Stevens Sewer District. The City is organized into five departments including Administration, Finance, Police, Public Works and Planning.
The City is fully planning under the Growth Management Act and administers its own Shoreline Master Program under the Shoreline Management Act.
There are other agencies with service, taxing, and/or regulatory jurisdiction within City limits including the Lake Stevens School District, the Lake Stevens Sewer District, the Snohomish County Fire Prevention District No. 8, the Snohomish County Health District, Snohomish County P.U.D. #1 (water and electricity), and all state and federal agencies.
There are several appointed boards and commissions including the Planning Commission, Park Board, Arts Commission, Library Board and Civil Service Commission.
Urban/Rural Transition Area
The City of Lake Stevens recognizes that the UGA is bordered by residential land labeled by the County as “transitional”. The City also recognizes only some of the impact that this transitional area directly and indirectly has upon the City’s quality of life, infrastructures, finances, stewardship of land, transportation, Lake Water quality, and numerous unknowns from the county and neighboring Cities. Therefore the City’s vision should be expanded to include all of the land bordering the City of Lake Stevens UGA in all of the City’s planning and studies.
The City of Lake Stevens covers about 30% of the total 12.4 square miles of the Lake Stevens Urban Growth Area (UGA) and is home to about a quarter of its 2000 population of 24,432. The City, in July, 2006 encompassed about 3.7 square miles. The City intends to annex the entire UGA by 2011. The 2025 population within this UGA is projected to exceed 46,000 persons.
Snohomish County is the provider of local government services and oversight in portions of the UGA not in the City.
The County provides police services and surface water utility in the unincorporated UGA. Other services, such as fire protection, schools, water, electricity and sewer are provided by the same special purpose districts listed above for the City. In addition, Drainage District 8 provides surface water management services in some portions of the unincorporated UGA.
The urban growth area boundary adopted by the Snohomish County Council was based on 20-year population forecasts, environmental constraints, the concentrations of existing development, the existing infrastructure and services, the location of existing and/or planned transportation corridors, and areas where urban services could logically and economically be extended. When the County Council adopted a sub-area plan for the unincorporated UGA in 2001, they removed a number of acres from the UGA area, taking out lands on Sunnyside Hill that were deemed unsuitable to support urban development given the existing slope and drainage constraints.
The population of the Lake Stevens area, both inside and out of the City, has been steadily increasing since the City was originally incorporated. In 1960 the City’s population was 900. In 2003 the estimated population was 6,910. Similarly, residential growth in the unincorporated UGA has been steady. Between 1992 and 2000, the unincorporated UGA population increased a full 80%, from 10,044 to 18,071. Population growth is determined by the number of births and deaths, the amount of people moving out of the City and the number moving in. The 2000 Census tracked the latter and found that 3172 people who lived in the City in 2000 had not lived in the same house in 1995. The Census does not tell us how many of those moved from one residence in the City in 1995 to another before 2000.
Lay of the Land
The Lake Stevens UGA occupies a Pleistocene glacial terrace, rising east from the flood plain of the Snohomish River and is in the foothills of the north range of the Cascades. It is on a relatively level plateau, with minor variations in topography along the lakefront and other drainage basins. The elevation of the UGA is approximately 300 feet above sea level.
Wetlands - Wetlands are fragile ecosystems which assist in the reduction of erosion, flooding, and ground and surface water pollution. Wetlands also provide an important habitat for wildlife, plants, and fisheries. Numerous wetlands have been identified in Lake Stevens and the UGA -- some on a very general basis from aerial mapping; others have been precisely mapped where development has occurred over the past few years. Generally, as properties develop the wetlands are more accurately delineated and mapped.
Ground Water - While drinking water in the UGA is provided by the Snohomish County Public Utilities District No. 1 (PUD), some residents use wells as their main source of drinking water. (PUD also maintains emergency wells within the City limits. The aquifer for these wells is found in the northeastern corner of the City, generally under the industrially zoned area.) The depth of the aquifer is approximately 35-120 feet and most uses should not affect the water quality. The water quality is good if not overdrawn (whereupon iron may become a problem) and for most of the year does not require chlorination.
Surface Water - The lake itself, at 1,040 acres, is the most dominant physical feature within the UGA. It acts as a social, recreational, and aesthetic focal point. It shapes and buffers the local microclimate. It cleans and filters groundwater. And it is an important regional habitat for various piscine, mammalian, reptilian, amphibian, and avian fauna and aquatic flora.
Historically the lake has been plagued by algae blooms resulting from excessive nutrients introduced by activities associated with urban development. The City, Snohomish County and Drainage District 8 jointly operate an aerator during summer months to combat the effects of pollution.
Other bodies of water of note in the City include Catherine Creek, Kokanee (Mitchell) Creek, Stevens, Lundeen, and Lake Outflow Channel. The Lake and Catherine Creek south of Hartford Drive are the only bodies of water in the City that are within the jurisdiction of the Shoreline Management Act (SMA).
The Lake Stevens UGA encompasses three major drainage basins: The Lake Stevens Drainage Basin, the Sunnyside Drainage Basin, and the Pilchuck Drainage Basin. The latter two basins are in turn comprised of many minor basins. All waters within the UGA eventually drain into Puget Sound, either draining directly into Ebey Slough or via the Pilchuck then Snohomish Rivers.
According to the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), areas prone to floods from a 100 year storm are limited to properties by and large fronting along Catherine Creek and the lake. However, flooding in the downtown area has been observed in areas beyond the narrow strips of land adjacent to those waters. Winter water levels creep into close proximity to homes on 16th and 18th Streets NE and during heavy rains 18th and 20th Streets NE are subjected to potential flooding when area wetlands, streams and ditches have more water than they can hold. The triangular area between Hartford Drive and Grade Road is periodically inundated, most recently following the December 1996 storm.
Air quality is monitored by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) and the Washington State Department of Ecology. According to a study2 published by the PSCAA, the air quality in the Puget Sound region has not been degraded even in light of increasing urban growth and vehicle miles traveled. The agency attributes this to improved technologies in reducing vehicle emissions, reduction of industrial emissions, decreased levels of wood burning in fireplaces and wood stoves, and the elimination of leaded gasoline.
The agency monitors air quality for four standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone. Nitrogen Dioxide is measured in only one location in the region (Beacon Hill in Seattle) and has consistently been far better than federal standards. Monitoring of lead and sulfur dioxide ceased in the region in the 1990’s as a result of technology and industrial changes which has resulted in those pollutants no longer of concern.
The nearest monitoring stations are located in Everett and Marysville where higher concentrations of pollutants can be expected than in Lake Stevens given the higher concentration of urbanization and traffic. The PSCAA report notes that in the years 1999-2001, the air quality was moderate to good for 98%-99% of the year, and 1%-2% of the year it was found to be unhealthy for sensitive groups. At no time was the air found to be unhealthy for the general population.
Although most natural habitat has been lost to urbanization, the Lake Stevens area supports a variety of species of fish (bass, catfish, perch, etc.), birds (waterfowl, songbirds, raptors and others), amphibians, reptiles, and insects and other invertebrates. There are numerous species in the general region that are either endangered, threatened or a candidate for listing by the state and federal governments. At this point the City does not have comprehensive knowledge of the occurrence of many of the species within the immediate vicinity of Lake Stevens. Among those that have been observed include the bald eagle, western pond turtle and pileated woodpecker.
The area supports deciduous and coniferous trees (Douglas fir, spruce, hemlock, cedar, alder, cottonwood, and maple) as well as native shrubs, herbs, grasses, and wetland plants.
Most of the habitats are already disjointed and greatly impacted by urbanization, logging and agricultural activities. The City currently has a Tree Retention regulation that requires replacement trees lost to urban development at a 3:1 ratio. It also has regulations for critical areas and encourages innovative subdivision design (e.g. planned residential developments, cluster subdivisions, etc.) to protect environmentally sensitive areas.
Climate and Weather
Summers in Lake Stevens are mild and warm (average daytime temperature in the 70's) and winters are comparatively mild (average daytime temperature in the mid-40's). The frost-free period for the City generally begins in April and ends near the first of October. Precipitation is in the form of rain and snow, averaging 39 inches annually (average low of 1.1 inches in August to an average high of 5.9 inches during the winter months of November through December). Relative humidity is fairly high due to the water influences. The prevailing wind is westerly or northwesterly most of the year.
The City’s urban form is largely that of a late 20th century suburban bedroom community, which belies its roots as an early 20th century logging and mill town. Amidst the newer subdivisions, shopping centers and schools, there are a few clues remaining of its earlier form. At the south end of downtown where the Rucker Mill was located in the first half of the 20th century are the remaining pilings that once supported the mill over the lake. Lakefront homes and public open space now cluster where the heavy industrial activity once occurred. Most of the historic downtown is now gone, although a few of the buildings remain and are used for commercial and civic purposes.
Single family residences are the predominant land use in the City, with public use a distant second. There are two significant and distinct areas in which single family residences do not predominate. The first is the Central Business District and vicinity which is characterized by retail, offices, civic, parks and multi-family uses. The second is the industrial/planned district areas which encompass two planned business districts and industrial districts in the north and east portions of the City. The 2006 Plan calls for a closer integration of housing in the downtown area and a revitalization of the industrial area.
Large portions of the City have developed since its incorporation in 1960. Thus the housing stock is relatively new, with significant portions of the housing having been built in each of the subsequent decades.
Neighborhoods have developed at comparatively low densities, with typical lot sizes in excess of the 9,600 s.f. The 1990’s saw construction of several hundred homes on smaller lots ranging in size from 4,000 to 7,500 s.f. This type of development is encouraged as a means of accommodating the projected future population. The decreasing lot sizes have not resulted in smaller homes. The opposite is in fact true where homes are typically larger than they those built in the 1970s and 1980s.
Multi-family residential uses are generally confined to the perimeter of the Central Business District, along Grade Road to the north and 16th Street NE to the south. Architecture is typical 1970's and '80s style. In the 1990s multifamily development was steady, but not necessarily explosive. Developments included assisted and independent senior housing and senior independent housing as well as market rate condominium and apartment units.
The road network has not significantly changed, with new additions primarily coming in the form of roads internal to new subdivisions. The existing road network continues to be substandard with respect to the cross section standards. However, in the past few years substantial progress has been made in upgrading the pedestrian environment throughout the City with new sidewalks and walkways which provide for safe walking away from vehicular travel. The Centennial Trail parallels Machias Road to the east of downtown, providing alternative pedestrian and biking opportunities for the public.
Lake Stevens has a relatively low job to housing balance, meaning that people that live here generally have to commute to other areas for employment. PSRC estimates there were 999 jobs in the City in 2000 (27.6% of all jobs in the UGA). On a preliminary basis, the City has adopted a 2025 employment target of 1,805, representing an increase of 806 jobs. The County’s employment target for 2025 is 6,615 jobs in the UGA.
There is potential for employment growth in the industrial zones which are notably vacant or underutilized. According to Snohomish County Buildable Lands Report, the City has capacity for as many as 2,600 jobs under the present zoning. However, this number represents a theoretical capacity. Given the variety of uses that are permitted in the industrial zones, and the inherent variety in employment generation, it is fully expected that the actual employment will be significantly lower than the theoretical capacity.
As a result of the limited number of jobs in the City, a large number of workers commute to other jurisdiction. Lake Stevens’ residents on average engage in longer commutes. For example, in the Puget Sound region the average, non transit, commute time is about 24 minutes while in Lake Stevens, 54% of workers exceed the average commute time.
Under the City’s “sustainable community” goals, efforts will be made to provide job opportunities closer to residents to reduce these commute times.