Second time the charm for Treemont development?

RENTON - Fourteen years after it was first proposed, Port Blakely Communities' Treemont development was back before a hearing examiner in an effort to determine how many houses should be built on its 239 acres near Fall City.

It marks the second time Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith has heard arguments in the case. In 1999, after listening to five days of testimony, Smith recommended to the Metropolitan King County Council that Port Blakely's proposal to build 194 houses, which originated in 1988, be approved.

But upon hearing the concerns of neighboring residents, County Council members remanded the proposal to Smith. Port Blakely undertook another traffic study of the impacts the development would have on the State Route 202 corridor.

Once that was complete, the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) re-examined the proposal. At the hearing, which began Thursday, March 7, the department, in a report to Smith, recommended that the development be scaled down to 47 houses, citing traffic impacts and environmental concerns.

Before hearing testimony, Smith acknowledged how long it's taken to get this far.

"This Treemont [plat] application goes back to 1988, the last year of Ronald Reagan's presidency," he said, eliciting laughter from those attending the hearing, which was held inside DDES's offices in Renton. "... The Mariners were in town, but they weren't doing very well then."

Rich Hudson, a senior planner with DDES's Land Use Services Division, said in light of the new traffic study, his department recommended scaling back the 194-lot development because of an unmitigated increase in traffic at the intersection of SR 202 and Northeast Ames Lake Road.

Under an 83-lot scenario, the increase in traffic continued to exceed county standards, but a 47-lot alternative fell within guidelines.

Hudson said if traffic was the lone issue, and if Port Blakely could mitigate the traffic increase at the intersection, it would recommend approval of the 194-lot plat application.

But DDES's report also looks at the environmental impacts of the development. Under the 47-lot scenario, it would not be necessary to construct a new road, called Southeast 19th Street, to access the site, and a drainage discharge line that runs from Treemont east to the Snoqualmie River would not be needed.

In addition, it would match the zoning of the surrounding area - one house per five acres.

However, in 1988 the county identified Treemont's zoning as General, or one house every acre. That zoning is vested, meaning even though the surrounding area is zoned rural, the Treemont site could be built to a much higher density.

Several neighbors spoke against Port Blakely's proposal at the hearing, including Ralph Svrjcek, who said Treemont is one of only several developments that could harm the surrounding environment.

"The cumulative impacts of all developments must be weighed," he said.

Others argued the rural character of the area would be tarnished if Port Blakely is allowed to build 194 houses.

"We see our rural neighborhood turning into very much a suburb of the [Sammamish] Plateau," said John Karlen, president of the Blakely Ridge North Homeowners Association.

John Sutherland of the Washington State Department of Transportation said the agency currently has no plans to upgrade the intersection at SR 202 and Northeast Ames Lake Road, but Port Blakely is willing to help fund any improvements.

"The developer has asked to collaborate to whatever ends up there," he said.

Sutherland added that plans to build Southeast 19th Street, which would be located 125 feet from Patterson Creek, were acceptable to the department. He said another access route into Treemont, Southeast Eighth Street, would have to be widened even under the 47-lot scenario. He expected SR 202 would also have to be widened where it intersects with Southeast Eighth Street.

Carl Hadley, a consultant for Port Blakely who studied the development's impacts on fish, said widening that intersection has the potential of harming a wetland that abuts the highway. It could also affect a small stream that flows into Patterson Creek.

"[Widening] Southeast Eighth would infringe on riparian habitat, and SR 202 widening would permanently place part of a stream in a culvert," he said.

In constructing Southeast 19th Street, Port Blakely would build the road from the top down, using berms to control runoff. Ben Giddings, an engineer with Port Blakely, told Smith the company is using the same method to construct a road from its Issaquah Highlands development to Interstate 90.

Like Southeast 19th Street, that road had to be built down the side of a large hill, and it, too, was close to a creek: the East Fork of Issaquah Creek.

"Basically, you just kind of move down as you go and kind of hollow the hill out," he said.

For that project, Port Blakely will remove 752,000 cubic yards of dirt, building the 2,350-foot-long road over three construction seasons. By comparison, the company expects to remove 135,000 square feet of dirt for Southeast 19th Street. That road, 1,200 feet long, would be built over two construction seasons.

"I think based on the experience we've had over the past two years on a difficult project, Treemont should not be any problem at all," Giddings said.

Tom Uren of Hugh G. Goldsmith and Associates, who would serve as the project manager of the Treemont development if the plat application is approved, said the drainage discharge line to the Snoqualmie River was needed because of the steep slopes on the east side of the property.

He added with the proposed stormwater system, Patterson Creek would receive a normal amount of water runoff, while the Snoqualmie River would see a negligible increase in runoff under the 194-, 83- and 47-lot alternatives.

The hearing will continue Monday, March 18, at King County offices in downtown Seattle, with a time and location to be announced. The hearing is expected to conclude Friday, March 22, at DDES's offices in Renton.

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