environmental design

pla | Phillip Lehn Architect


Edmonds, WA 1993


Snohomish County's 1st Low-Impact Development (LID)

28 Affordable Townhouse Community and Forested Wetlands Preservation

With HIs Eminence Ngawang Migyur Rinpoche's encouragement and financial investment, I found and negotiated GTi's purchase of the land and invited Rich Haag - a long and dear friend, teacher and co-conspirator, Founder and Professor Emeritus of the University of Washington's Department of Landscape Architecture, Beijing Olympics site design finalist and the world's only landscape architect to win the American Society of Landscape Architects coveted gold medal twice (Seattle's Gasworks Park and Bainbridge Island's Bloedel Reserve) - http://richhaagassoc.com/studio/ - to help design GREENWAY, Green Tara incorporated's (GTi's) first site design and development project. Together we envisioned a new community of 28 affordable townhouses sharing a forested wetlands preserve and traffic buffer that became Snohomish County's first Low Impact Development or LID.





pla | Phillip Lehn Architect © 2016

From the outselt it was clear that the County's new street and storm water management standards needed to be improved. The County's new standards imposed rigidly uniform and unnecessarily wide (65 feet) residential street right of ways with concrete curbs, gutters, 5 foot planting strips, sidewalks and costly underground concrete pipes and manholes on both sides of a crowned road section to drain storm water to and through an oil/water separator that would be rarely if ever maintained. GTi's alternative eliminated the planting strips and unnecessary sidewalks to save more of the site's many grand native trees and proposed a much narrower and less intrusive (33 feet) street right of way that drains laterally to convey storm water to a shallow bio-filtration swale that drains to a wildlife sanctuary with a new duck pond that provides secondary bio-filtration and further settling of sediments before the significantly cleaner storm water spills naturally into the forested wetlands.


Although GTi's plan significantly reduced site development costs and promised a more intelligently designed community and much larger profits when compared to the many conventionally designed sites developed at the time, the subsequent financial investment, which Migyur Rinpoche expected at least one of his top three Taiwanese Buddhist benefactors to provide, never materialized. As a result, GTi was not able to design and build the buildings and create design and construction jobs for local Dharma students and practitioners.  


Eventually, I found a group of developers from California who were eager to buy the project (renamed Forest Isle) for a price that permitted me to repay Migyur Rinpoche's initial investment, cover GTi's consultant fees and expenses, and contribute our nearly $70,000 profit to Rinpoche's efforts to rebuild his monasteries in Tibet.


Except for their wildlife biologist, who had little authority, the County's Planning and Public Works officials (mostly traffic engineers) stubbornly opposed GTi's innovative and more holistic site, street, buildings, wetlands, and storm water management design for more than six months. Eventually, Greenway's many benefits became too difficult to resist and the officials grudgingly approved the project's controversial site development permit with the warning "Don't ever think you'll be able to do this again!"


During record rains a few years after it was built and occupied, Greenway's site plan allowed it to avoid the widespread flooding that adversely impacted surrounding multifamily residential developments. Sometime afterwards, at least one county official traveled to the site on at least one occasion to promote the project's innovative site planning principles as a proven way to minimize the negative impacts of a site's development while significantly lowering its cost.