Politics & Government

Neighbors worry about height of new Oakbrook apartment complex

An apartment complex planned for the northernmost edge of Lakewood’s Oakbrook community has homeowners worried the development won’t fit in with the surrounding neighborhood.

The 66-unit complex is planned for 2.83 acres sandwiched between Ruby Drive and Zircon Drive. It would consist of four, three-story buildings, a multipurpose building and 121 parking stalls. The building at 7701 Ruby Drive SW would be 40 feet tall.

Neighbors aren’t necessarily opposed to the multifamily idea. Townhouses are located across Zircon Drive, and two-story condominiums are next door to the proposed development. But homeowners are worried about building height, increased traffic and a loss of recreational space.

They also say the development does not comply with the covenants, conditions and restrictions in the Oakbrook 4th Addition Homeowners Association bylaws. The restrictions have been tied to the land since the 1960s.

“To come into a community and in the face of all the other members of that community saying ‘No, the covenants and restrictions that apply to everybody don’t apply to me,’ that in my view is not right,” said Don MacSparran, who lives on neighboring Turquoise Drive Southwest.

The bylaws state only single-family residential buildings are allowed in the neighborhood and can’t go above two stories.

But city zoning, which supersedes the covenants, requires the high-density development.

The property owner suggested building single-family homes in April 2013, and the city told him no.

Neighbors want to meet with developer J.R Sampson and the city to find a resolution.

“I don’t think there’s an issue that’s too tough to resolve if reasonable parties sit down,” MacSparran said.

Most people who live nearby didn’t know the land was zoned multifamily until the project was proposed earlier this year.

Before Lakewood incorporated in 1996, the area was zoned for single-family homes. During an update to the city’s comprehensive plan in 2000, the city rezoned the property to multifamily because it needed to accommodate for population growth as required under the state Growth Management Act, city planner Dan Catron said.

Similar zoning changes from single-family to multifamily were done elsewhere in Lakewood that same year.

The city can’t change the zoning now because neighbors are upset, and even if it did, the proposed apartments would be vested under the high-density zoning.

City Councilman Paul Bocchi thinks the project doesn’t fit the neighborhood and worries about the traffic impact on narrow residential roads winding through the area. Bocchi lives in Oakbrook but in a separate part of the community and is not part of the homeowners association.

“I am in sympathy with the neighborhood,” Bocchi said. “I think it was a mistake by the City Council (in 2000) to zone it at that density in the first place.”

Neighbors also worry about the loss of open space, which they say is limited in their neighborhood. The city’s draft park legacy plan identifies the neighborhood as underserved for parks and recreational opportunities, said Mary Dodsworth, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service.

The property currently houses a swimming pool, tennis courts and 1,200-square-foot building. The Oakbrook Golf and Country Club formerly owned the site but, when the then-private club ran into financial trouble, a limited liability company bought the land. Local business owner Ron Eaton and his family are listed as members of the company.

Eaton, a member of the country club, purchased the land in February 2012 for $200,000, according to Pierce County tax records. He leased the property to a group of club members for $1 a year so they could keep the pool and courts open, but with development plans moving forward, the amenities are now closed.

The proposed project is under review by the city under the State Environmental Policy Act. People have until Feb. 27 to comment on potential impacts.

The city will review the application to determine whether mitigation is required to offset environmental impacts, Catron said. The next step would be to review the project against the city’s development standards and zoning code.

Comments can be mailed to Beth Jorgenson, Lakewood Community Development Department, 6000 Main Street SW, Lakewood, WA 98499.