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County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert faces boisterous crowd, Old Mill annex questions

Noise problems associated with a King County property brought a large, loud, and angry assembly to Snoqualmie City Hall on Tuesday, May 17. Nearly 100 people came to listen and be heard at the meeting, organized by King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert.

"We will be listening to you," Lambert assured the group. The evening's testimony would inform the county council's discussion on the future annexation of the Old Mill Adventure Park into Snoqualmie city limits, she said.

Lambert, along with Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson, and Department of Development and Environmental Services John Starbard, gave a brief background on the property, where DirtFish Rally School operates a driving school.

The site, the former Weyerhauser mill, is in unincorporated King County, bordering the city of Snoqualmie and several unincorporated neighborhoods. Because of an unusual zoning requirement, Lambert said the county asked the city of Snoqualmie to annex the property rather than to get involved in a legal dispute between the property owners and the city.

Annexation conditions require a pre-annexation development agreement with the city and the business, an interlocal agreement between the city and county, with public hearings required before each action, plus two more public hearings at the city level before final action can be taken. Lambert estimated it would not happen before July, at the soonest.

DirtFish opened in October of 2010. Starbard said neighbors immediately filed complaints with his department about the noise levels. An enforcement case was opened, and DDES investigated, to determine if the business is an allowed school, or a disallowed race track. The enforcement case has stalled because the property is in the pre-annexation process.

The county council issued an administrative permit for a temporary event at the mill site, the ESPN-broadcast Global Rally Cross race that prompted many more noise complaints. "Because we don't expect to have this property much longer, we did not want to stop an action that then would maybe be changed by the city," Lambert explained.

What the city will do with the property, in zoning and development code, was a huge concern for many who felt that as unincorporated county residents they had no voice in that process.

"It seems like this process has happened awfully quickly, and there hasn't really been an opportunity or, perhaps an ability for people to evaluate whether or not this is really in the best interests of our community," said Snoqualmie business owner Wendy Thomas.

Dave Eiffert of Snoqualmie said he was a local taxpayer, but "I feel really excluded in this process....and when taxpayers are excluded from the process, that's not balanced."

Karen Schotzko was one of several to ask about environmental impacts. Matt Bell said there was already enough traffic on the neighborhood roads. Warren Rose, echoed by many, raised a concern about the school's impact on property values in the area. Most people talked about the negative impact the noise was having on their lives.

A few also spoke in support of the school, including Snoqualmie Chamber of Commerce's Susan Livingston, who said she saw how the "micro-businesses" in the city were suffering and needed local support, because "help isn't going to come from Olympia, and it's not going to come from (Washington) DC."

Finaghty's Irish Pub owner Phil Stafford, a former racer, assured the audience that DirtFish's operation is not comparable to any of the area race tracks.

DirtFish owner Ross Bentley told the group "our door is open," and encouraged anyone with noise concerns to stop by the business any time to see the school in operation, and to discuss their concerns. Some audience members confirmed this by reporting on their own conversations with Bentley.

Bentley also was very clear that he had no plans to ever serve alcohol at DirtFish, noting that for 10 years, he'd been a public relations person for Labatt's Brewery's anti-drunk driving programs.

At the end of the meeting, Lambert told the crowd that their concerns had been heard, and would be considered when the county begins its negotiations with Snoqualmie for the annexation.

Snoqualmie's City Council will discuss the pre-annexation development agreement at its next meeting, May 23, 7 p.m., Snoqualmie City Hall. A citizens group rallying against the annexation is planning a meeting for Thursday, May 19, at 6 p.m. at the Mount Si Senior Center.

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