Lynnwood wants to nearly double its population and geographical size under a proposed annexation plan. The final meeting on the proposal is tonight.

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Once the butt of jokes about big hair and strip malls, the city of Lynnwood is enjoying a surprising cachet these days among residents who appreciate its affordable housing in quiet cul-de-sacs, upscale shopping at the expanded Alderwood mall, and the diversity tucked into Somali groceries and Korean barbecue restaurants along Highway 99.

The city, which has long envisioned itself as the urban hub of South Snohomish County, plans to nearly double its population and geographical size under a proposed two-phase annexation plan. If the first phase is approved by voters, the city will grow from 35,700 to almost 63,000, making it the second-largest city in the county behind Everett.

Lynnwood officials have hosted almost a dozen meetings over the past two months to pitch their proposal, which would annex unincorporated areas east, north and southeast of the city. The final meeting is tonight.

The response so far largely has been positive, say city leaders, with future residents anticipating improved police and fire services, stronger land-use protections for existing single-family neighborhoods and lower property taxes than they are presently paying to Snohomish County.

“Most people are open to the idea of coming to the city,” said City Councilman Ted Hikel, who has attended six of the meetings.

But some holdouts still see Lynnwood as a “low-rent” address, and the prospect of annexation a threat to their property values, especially when compared to Lynnwood’s waterfront neighbor, Edmonds.

“I like the Edmonds address. It’s got prestige behind it,” said Alexis Erickson, who lives in the Meadowdale area slated for annexation and has an Edmonds address. “I feel Lynnwood just wants our tax money.”

The state’s Growth Management Act envisions that cities will annex surrounding areas that they have designated for future growth. The idea is to protect outlying rural areas by accommodating denser development near existing cities.

But annexation typically costs cities money because the revenue they gain through additional property taxes rarely covers the expanded services they must provide to new residents such as police, fire, water and roads.

The state Legislature in 2006 offered cities a financial incentive to go forward with annexations. The state will refund a larger share of local sales tax to cities, but only if they commence annexation by January 2010.

Lynnwood would reap an additional $5 million in sales tax a year for 10 years if it adds the projected 28,000 people it anticipates incorporating in Phase I.

The city projects additional revenues of $22.4 million including property taxes and utility taxes in the first year of annexation, but expects to spend $29.4 million to expand city services to the new residents. After the first year, the city estimates it will take in about $3.4 million more a year in revenues than costs for the annexation areas, according to a consultant’s report.

The promise of additional state money has prompted other cities in the area to fast-track their own annexation plans.

Marysville next year hopes to add an area of about 20,000 people to its city of 36,000, for a total of 56,000. Mukilteo plans to add 12,000 to its current population of 20,000. Bothell is looking at two potential annexations, one in Snohomish County and one in King County, that could add 52,000 to its population of 32,000.

The Lynnwood City Council is scheduled in February to consider moving forward with the Phase I annexation, and could hold an election next November. Residents in the areas to be annexed must approve the annexation by a simple majority.

Phase II could come within three to five years, said Lynnwood Planning Manager Kevin Garrett.

One of the strongest arguments for joining Lynnwood, say potential residents, is the dense housing developments Snohomish County has allowed in existing single-family neighborhoods. One unincorporated area known as Maple Precinct has been fighting a proposal to build seven houses on two-thirds of an acre.

The dense housing developments typically allow three-story homes, which are 10 feet apart. The roads are private, and only 20-feet wide compared to city streets that are 50-feet wide, sidewalk to sidewalk. Firefighters can’t get ladders to third-story bedrooms or turn their engines around on 20-foot-wide roads, Garrett said.

Lynnwood zoning doesn’t allow those developments in existing residential neighborhoods, and that appeals to many county residents in the annexation areas.

“This isn’t a fancy neighborhood, but we value our privacy,” said Rebecca O’Reilly, a Maple Precinct neighbor. “Annexing to Lynnwood will save us.”

Police protection also is a selling point. Lynnwood police officers patrol a smaller area and have more officers per 1,000 people than does the county sheriff, Garrett said. Vivian Greenwood, who lives north of the current Lynnwood city limits, said that when she called 911 to report a man climbing into her horse pasture and harassing the animals, she was referred to a different number and waited about a half-hour for a deputy to arrive.

“He was long gone by the time they got here. If it had been an emergency, I would really have been shook up,” she said.

Greenwood, who owns nearly an acre of land and rents out her pasture for horses, was concerned about whether farm animals would be allowed within city limits.

City leaders say animals and home businesses will be grandfathered in under the annexation plan, as long as they don’t create a nuisance.

Jay Donahue, who lives in an annexation area east of Alderwood mall, said he’s been impressed by the city’s promise of better services and by its long-range vision.

“When we moved here, Lynnwood was big hair and strip malls. It’s changing,” he said. “They have a plan.”

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com