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DDES changes tune on Treemont

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FALL CITY - In an abrupt about face, King County's Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) is recommending that Port Blakely Communities' proposed 194-lot Treemont development near Fall City be scaled down to 47 houses.

The recommendation is contained within a report that will be presented to Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith Thursday, March 7, at a hearing in Renton. It stands in marked contrast to a previous recommendation, in which the department signed off on Port Blakely's plans to build 194 houses on 239 acres of land.

The Treemont project originated in 1988. At the time, the 239 acres in unincorporated King County were zoned General (G), or one house every acre. The project is opposed by neighbors who say it goes against the rural character of the area, much of which is zoned AR-5, or one house every five acres.

"I'm more than delighted," Bob Seana said of the DDES report issued Feb. 21. "It was what we have been saying all along."

Seana represents Neighbors Against Flooding, one of the groups appealing the Treemont plat application.

A final environmental impact statement for Treemont was issued in September 1999, with both DDES and Smith subsequently recommending approval of the 194-lot project to the Metropolitan King County Council.

But on July 5, 2000, after council members heard residents' concerns, they remanded the project to the hearing examiner and DDES, saying more information was needed on traffic and

environmental impacts. Port Blakely undertook another traffic study, which was completed early last year. Using the new information, DDES took a second look at the project - this time with instructions from Smith that Port Blakely's vested G zoning shouldn't take precedence over traffic and environmental issues.

"The idea was to do that assessment without having vesting as an overriding, or directing, approach," said Rich Hudson, who is the DDES planning project analyst for the permit and State Environmental Policy Act review. DDES considered scenarios involving 194 lots, 83 lots and 47 lots.

Vesting, however, is controlled by state law, leaving Port Blakely's senior vice president for real estate, John Adams, a bit perplexed after reading DDES's most recent report.

"It's inappropriate to disregard vesting. It's a state law," he said.

Hudson said in conducting its new analysis, DDES scrutinized Port Blakely's traffic study and focused on some environmental impacts stemming from the project, most notably a drainage discharge line that would run from the east end of the Treemont property to the Snoqualmie River.

The intersection of State Route 202 and Northeast Ames Lake Road proved to be a sticking point. Under the 194-lot scenario, the Treemont development would increase traffic there to levels that were unacceptable by county standards, and there were no plans to mitigate the increase.

The 83-lot scenario continued to exceed county standards, but the 47-lot proposal fell within guidelines.

Adams said Port Blakely was unaware that mitigation should be provided for the intersection, but the company was willing to work with DDES and the Washington State Department of Transportation to find a solution.

"We think we can look at what might be done to address that impact," he said.

He believes if Port Blakely can mitigate the traffic increase to the SR 202-Northeast Ames Lake Road intersection, DDES would approve the 194-lot Treemont project.

But Hudson said the 47-lot scenario has one major advantage in that it would not require the discharge line to the Snoqualmie River. In addition, it would not need a new road to be constructed to access the site. Called "Southeast 19th Street," it would be located near Patterson Creek, which contains threatened chinook salmon.

"It's one of the few healthy creeks in the area that have salmon in them," said Cindy Parks, whose group Friends Against Excessive Development is also appealing the Treemont plat application.

For its Issaquah Highlands development, Port Blakely is constructing a road that connects to Interstate 90. The company is building the road from the top down, using berms to stop runoff from reaching nearby Issaquah Creek.

Adams said that same type of construction could be used to build Southeast 19th Street.

"We think we can build the road in a safe way, and that the stormwater system that we build will not have an impact on Patterson Creek or the [Snoqualmie River]," he said.

While vesting wasn't a focus of the latest DDES report, it will be one of the factors Smith, the hearing examiner, considers before sending his recommendation to the County Council.

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