Treemont back before county hearing examiner

LOWER VALLEY - After more than a year of conducting studies and analyzing alternatives at the behest of the Metropolitan King County Council, plans for Port Blakely Communities' Treemont development remain unchanged as the company and opponents of the project prepare to go back before a hearing examiner.

A pre-hearing conference for the Treemont plat application has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at the county Department of Development and Environmental Services' (DDES) offices in Renton. At the conference, representatives from Port Blakely and groups opposing the development, including Neighbors Against Flooding and Friends Against Excessive Development, will set the schedule for the hearings, which will be conducted by Examiner Stafford Smith.

It marks the second time the Treemont plat application has gone before Smith. He had previously recommended approval of Port Blakely's plans for 194 lots on 239 acres near Fall City in a Feb. 2, 2000, report to the County Council.

However, council members remanded the project back to the hearing examiner on June 5, 2000, saying more study was needed of stormwater drainage at the site, impacts to streams, especially nearby Patterson Creek, and whether a planned entrance to the development was in the best location.

Those living near the site say they are concerned about the project's high density, as well as the possibility that 194 new houses could increase the likelihood of flooding.

"That is such a big thing plopped down in the middle of a rural area," said Cindy Parks, who lives near the Treemont site and is a member of Friends Against Excessive Development.

Since the County Council remanded the project back to the hearing examiner, Port Blakely has looked at alternatives to its proposal. John Adams, senior vice president for real estate, said the company studied whether to use Southeast Eighth Street as the main entrance to the Treemont development instead of the not-yet constructed Southeast 19th Street.

Port Blakely also analyzed its plans for a stormwater pipeline to the Snoqualmie River and scaling back the density of the project to 107 lots. But those alternatives raised additional concerns, Adams said.

"We think the project as designed does the best job to mitigate the impacts," he said.

In regards to stormwater, Port Blakely considered letting the eastern half of the site naturally drain into the Snoqualmie River, but because of the terrain's steep slopes, the threat of erosion was too high and the idea was discarded.

The western part of the Treemont site drains into Patterson Creek, and current plans call for Port Blakely to construct a pipeline to contain stormwater and empty it into the creek. Adams said to reduce the amount of stormwater running off the eastern half of Treemont, the studies looked at rerouting part of it to Patterson Creek. Because the creek provides habitat for salmon, that, too, was ruled out.

"Everyone that has looked at it from a scientific point of view says we're not going to allow you to add more water to Patterson Creek," Adams said.

He added that reducing the size of the development doesn't help much, either. According to the studies, the flow of the Snoqualmie River at the point where the stormwater pipeline drains into the river during a 100-year flood event is about 73,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).

A 107-lot development would add about 37 cfs to the Snoqualmie River during a 100-year flood, Adams said, while the 194 lots would raise it by about 57 cfs.

"We think it's a responsible stormwater plan," Adams said of the current proposal. "It does have an increase, but we don't think it's a measurable increase."

Robert Seana of Neighbors Against Flooding said the increase may be small, but when added to other development occurring upriver - such as construction in the Snoqualmie Ridge community - it increases the chances of flooding.

"They're creating impervious surfaces, and those impervious surfaces are dumping water down on the Valley," he said of upstream development.

"Truly, almost anything you do in that area, you can impact Patterson Creek or add water to the Snoqualmie," Parks said.

The owner of a farm along West Snoqualmie River Road Southeast, Seana said farmers are particularly hit hard during a flood because high waters can strip the area of its silty soil.

"When we're in a flood stage, there's a high possibility that it's going to wash away our dirt, which is our silt," he said.

Plans for Southeast 19th Street, which would serve as the entrance to Treemont, have also been opposed by neighbors because building up the side of a slope could cause runoff into Patterson Creek. Adams said Port Blakely discussed using Southeast Eighth Street as the entrance to the development, but the Washington State Department of Transportation said major improvements would be needed at the intersection of Southeast Eighth Street and State Route 202, including building left- and right-turn lanes on SR 202.

To accomplish the widening of SR 202, the highway would have to be closed for a period of time, an idea that didn't appeal to the project's planners; and it could harm a small, fish-bearing stream that serves as a tributary to Patterson Creek.

Adams said building Southeast 19th Street would require no road closures and could be completed in two years, with construction halted during the rainy season. It would be constructed from the top of the slope down in segments, using berms to contain runoff and erosion.

He said Port Blakely is using a similar method to build its road connecting Interstate 90 to its Issaquah Highlands development in Issaquah.

After deciding that its original stormwater and road-construction plans adequately mitigated environmental concerns, Adams said economically it didn't make much sense to decrease the density of Treemont from 194 lots to 107 lots, the zoning of which falls under the county's previous policy of one house per every acre. That zoning was vested when Port Blakely submitted its plat application in 1989.

Since then, under state and county growth-management efforts, land near the Treemont site has had its zoning changed to RA-5, or one house every five acres.

Parks said she would like to see the Trust for Public Lands or a similar land conservancy group become involved and preserve the Treemont site because it is in an environmentally sensitive area.

"I find it amazing to put 194 septic systems in there; [it] just seems crazy to me," she said.

If Smith approves the plat application, it would go back before the County Council. If council members approve it, Adams said construction would likely start in 2003 - 14 years after the development was first proposed.

"This is probably the longest reviewed plat in King County," Adams said.

You can reach Barry Rochford at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail him at

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