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Treemont should be scaled back, examiner says

FALL CITY - One side said 194. The other said 47.

In the end, King County Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith split the difference, recommending that Port Blakely Communities' proposed Treemont development near Fall City include 83 lots. The Issaquah-based developer had applied for 194 lots, while neighbors of the site and the county's Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) called for the project to be scaled down to 47 lots.

Stafford issued his recommendation Thursday, May 9. He cited traffic impacts and potential environmental impacts to Patterson Creek as reasons for reducing the project's number of lots to 83.

In his recommendation, Smith said if Treemont was developed at 194 lots, it would negatively impact traffic in Redmond, specifically along State Route 202 west of Sahalee Way to State Route 520.

But John Adams, senior vice president of real estate for Port Blakely, said no one asked his company to address potential traffic impacts at those intersections.

"No mitigation was requested," he said.

Smith also ruled out Port Blakely building a new road, called Southeast 19th Street, to access the Treemont development. Instead, he said, the developer could improve the existing Southeast Eighth Street.

"It is the examiner's recommendation that avoiding potentially serious environmental impacts to the Patterson Creek aquatic environment ought to be a more compelling consideration than the procedural obstacles and temporary inconvenience attendant to reconstruction of Southeast Eighth Street," he wrote.

Port Blakely had proposed to build Southeast 19th Street in a "top-down" fashion, using a large berm to control runoff - a method the company is using to build a road that connects Interstate 90 to its Issaquah Highlands development.

Adams said that plan had won the approval of federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for protecting endangered chinook salmon.

"All of those agencies found that this road could be built without impacts to fish," he said.

"We don't think the record indicates the problem that [Smith] thinks might happen."

Smith's recommendation comes several weeks after the proposed Treemont development went through a round of remand hearings that were ordered by the Metropolitan King County Council in 2000. Prior to that, he and DDES staff recommended the project be approved for 194 lots.

But a DDES staff report issued this spring recommended the Treemont plat application be approved for 47 lots.

When the plat application was first submitted in 1988, the Treemont site was subject to General zoning, or one house per acre. Since then, King County has changed the zoning in the rural area west of Fall City to RA-5, or one house every five aces.

Because the zoning is vested, Port Blakely has said it should be allowed to develop to the higher density, and that has drawn the criticism of neighbors.

Bob Seana, a farmer and member of Neighbors Against Flooding, who argued against the Treemont plat application at the remand hearings, said he was happy with Smith's recommendation, but he still has reservations. Under 83 lots, the Treemont development would still require a drainage tightline to run from the site to the Snoqualmie River, which he thinks could exacerbate the Lower Valley's flooding problems.

"I still think that we're susceptible to flooding," he said.

Seana said the environmental impacts involved in building 194 lots on Treemont's 239 acres are just too high.

"The reason we sort of prevailed on this issue had nothing to do with how good we were, but with how bad the site is," he said.

Adams said Port Blakely will appeal Smith's recommendation to the County Council, a process that is expected to take some months to complete. He explained Port Blakely, because of the costs involved in developing Treemont, can't build it for 83 lots.

"The 83 lots is not a feasible project, unfortunately for us," he said. "Most of the costs are the same [for 194 lots versus 83 lots], but the revenues, as you can imagine, are considerably lower at 83."

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