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Greens to houses: Developer, farmer group at odds over planned 18-house, farm project at Carnation's former Tall Chief Golf Course
In the Snoqualmie Valley, it’s tough to find a development proposal that doesn’t raise objections among farmers. Everything from clearing the land to building the roads and infrastructure to support a new neighborhood can increase the flooding downstream. Knowing all that, though, the team behind a proposed 18-home neighborhood near Fall City really thought they had a winner.
“We’re only altering 22 acres of 200 acres of these lots,” for home construction, said Peter Hayes, consultant on a new housing and farming development on the former Tall Chief Golf Course.
The project, as put forth by owner John Tomlinson, would support farming by returning some 43 acres of land to King County’s Agriculture Production District, as well as attracting people interested in agriculture, possibly igniting new interest in the old industry.
“Our goal was to have 18 families, all interested in the Snoqualmie Valley and in being a part of the agricultural community,” said Hayes.
Those families could be mentored by a local farmer, he added, who could teach them to plant their own half-acre garden plots, or sublet them to grow produce that would be sold at a neighborhood farmstand, with each of the Tall Chief homes sharing in the profit. The homes would also share in the profits produced on the larger piece of farmland.
Hayes believed the project had broad support from Valley farmers, after meeting with many of them.
Not all Valley farmers agreed, though, and a group of them have challenged the preliminary plat in appeal after appeal.
The Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance, a non-profit organization created to fight flooding in the Snoqualmie Valley, claims that the project hasn’t met several flood-prevention requirements, besides having an initial plat application so incomplete that it should be rejected outright.
“It seems to us that they cut corners that shouldn’t have been cut,” said Erick Haakenson, alliance board member. For example, he says, the alliance hired its own hydrologist to review the project’s drainage plan, “and he just trashed it.”
Hayes states confidently that the project will not increase flooding downstream. King County requires zero-rise development, which forbids any height increases in the floodplain, and the project will voluntarily meet the county’s highest standard for surface water detention. Further, every lot will be required to have 65 percent open space, and, as of the last hearing examiner review, 70 percent open space in the lots above the Keller Dairy.
The entry road to the development will be lowered, too, Hayes, said, and electronic monitoring will be implemented to track flood dangers. Each home will be wired into a central emergency communication system for these situations.
Additionally, “They’ll have state-of-the art septic systems,” he said “…the level of environmental protection is unprecedented.”
Like most alliance members, Haakenson is skeptical of projects claiming to have little or no impact on downstream flooding. He jokes that the alliance is “the same group that so successfully sued the Army Corps of Engineers over the Falls project.”
That lawsuit, opposing the recently completed lowering of the dam at the Falls, called for further downstream studies of the flooding effects, but was defeated by a federal judge who ruled that the Corps had done all the necessary research before beginning the project.
Although they lost that suit, as wel as their latest appeal against Tall Chief, Haakenson is happy to report that a proposal for the downstream study is now being developed by the county, and a measure to fund it could go before voters in the future.
Flooding is not just the concern of farmers. Several King County Council members, including District 3 representative Kathy Lambert, raised concerns about the safety of school children living in a future Tall Chief development during flood season. Project planners attempted to address every safety concern, by adding a school bus turnaround, and talking with the Snoqualmie Valley School District about their emergency plans, including communications.
By the time the plat application was ready for a final vote by the council, however, Lambert didn’t have answers to all of her questions. On Dec. 5, 2012, when the project came up for a vote before the council, she requested parts of the application be remanded back to the hearing examiner, to ensure they adequately addressed flood safety concerns.
Following a series of public hearings in March, the hearing examiner again approved the application, with additional conditions.
The alliance appealed that decision, as well, but in a July 2 council meeting, the application was approved 6 to 3. Lambert, Jane Hague and Pete Von Reichbauer cast the opposing votes.
Haakenson is disappointed with the result, and said the alliance could appeal again, but were more likely to challenge the project’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) application, one of several steps the project must still go through before any homes can be built.
Most alliance members are more than interested observers. Haakenson and his wife, Wendy, own Jubilee Farm, just downstream of the property. Steve and Janet Keller, both alliance board members and named intervenors in the group’s last appeal to stop the project, own and operate a dairy farm directly downhill and across the river from the proposed building site.
Their opposition is only partly about flooding concerns, though. While Haakenson admits “we farmers… we don’t want a development in a growing farming area,” he’s also concerned about the cultural impact of the development.
“People … like to see farms, they like to see what things looked like, before,” he said.
Two segments of West Snoqualmie Valley Road, which goes past Jubilee Farm, the Keller Dairy and and Tall Chief, have been designated Historic and Scenic Corridors by the King County Landmarks Commission, he says, and Tall Chief is “right smack halfway in one of those roads.”
Alliance opposition is dogged on this project, mainly because it is the first one.
“Once you’ve permitted one, how are we ever going to stop others,” Haakenson asks.
Despite the proposed project’s location, Haakenson is intrigued by the concept that Tall Chief proposes — creating a community to attract families to farming, and supports it whole-heartedly.
“It’s their intention that the land be farmed, and that the land be farmed organically,” he said, “and if they pull it off, I’ll be pleased.”
The Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance is also working on developing a watershed improvement district, to support and be supported by Valley landowners with water rights, and hosts its annual Taste of the Valley fundraiser this weekend.
Learn more at www.svpa.us.