Preservation initiative land uses will vary

SNOQUALMIE - As city, county and state leaders hail the deal that would save Snoqualmie Falls from development, land uses for the remaining 10,000 acres involved in the proposed Snoqualmie Preservation Initiative remain largely unsettled.

Three land-use designations are incorporated into the plan: public open space, mixed-use business and residential and sustainable forest practices. While a specific use is associated with each parcel of land included in the initiative, detailed rules governing the specific uses contained in each of the three categories are subject to future environmental studies, planning processes and public hearings.

The open-space classification will allow passive, public recreational activities, such as hiking. Motorized vehicles would be prohibited, but no decisions have been reached for equestrian uses or other potential activities.

"We know that there will be no structures on the open-space land," said Snoqualmie Planning Director Nancy Tucker. "There will be some trails and possibly some picnic areas, but we just don't know specific details yet. Those decisions will all be subject to a stewardship plan."

The city, along with the Cascade Land Conservancy and the Snoqualmie Tribe, would share stewardship responsibilities in the open-space planning and monitoring process.

Now that the initiative has received the nod from the City Council and the Metropolitan King County Council, the Falls Crossing mixed-use development will be downsized to 11 acres, all located on the south side of Snoqualmie Parkway. The business, office and residential plan originally proposed for that parcel will remain the same, with no increase in density.

The northern portion of the Puget Western Inc. (PWI) property, about 180 acres, will be designated as permanent open space, with the exception of a 6-acre plot of land to be donated to the city as a municipal building site for its new fire station and city hall. Also included in the open-space designation are 600 acres of sensitive Tokul Creek watershed land, tributaries and trail areas.

Another 200 acres, currently slated for future development as urban-growth reserve land, will be assigned permanent open-space status in an acre-for-acre zoning swap with Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co. (WRECO). WRECO would then gain an equivalent amount of property adjacent to Phase II land at Snoqualmie Ridge.

"We've already identified about 110 acres that can be rezoned as open space," said Snoqualmie City Administrator Gary Armstrong. "We're looking at further options now, but we're already halfway there."

The parcel is located near North Bend Way, adjacent to Snoqualmie Point Park.

The land to be rezoned urban use, identified in the initiative as the "northwest parcels," involves a 193-acre plot situated just north of Lake Alice and a 72-acre piece west of State Route 202. Of the larger parcel, 40 acres is owned by the Snoqualmie Valley School District. A deep ravine and gullies run through the smaller plot, leaving most of the land unsuitable for development.

"We will ask to annex and develop 119 acres north of Lake Alice and 14 acres on the eastern parcel," said WRECO Director of Land Use Lynn Claudon. "We will also do conservation easements, or deed to the city 166 acres in connected property."

The Lake Alice land abuts the already-developed Phase I at Snoqualmie Ridge, with a road dead-ending at the property line. The land is within the established city of Snoqualmie-King County joint planning area (JPA).

"We don't know what Phase II will look like just yet," Claudon said. "Phase I is nationally recognized as a high-quality example of maximizing the ability to have housing and business, while minimizing the footprint on the land. We've been able to be environmentally sensitive and still provide services and extensive parks and trails.

"We would like to do something similar with Phase II. Many of those decisions are dependent on environmental impact studies, and the city and the Planning Commission will also have a role in making those determinations."

Claudon noted that while roads in the northwest parcels would run to Phase I, language contained in the JPA prevents Phase II roads from connecting with Lake Alice Road. The agreement will likely require a significant buffer area between Snoqualmie Ridge and the Lake Alice community, Claudon added.

"We will focus on community input and guidance from the city and county before we begin the planning process," Claudon said.

Now completed, Phase I at Snoqualmie Ridge encompasses 1,340 acres. If the initiative wins approval, the combined, existing land and new annexations for Phase II will total 658 acres.

The final land use contemplated in the initiative provides for sustainable logging practices on 2,800 acres of Weyerhaeuser property along the Raging River. As part of the agreement, WRECO would develop a forest management plan (FMP) with the city of Snoqualmie and King County.

The plan would map out conservation easements for trails and establish logging practices. According to documents provided by the Cascade Land Conservancy, the FMP would require preservation of water quality, salmon habitat and wildlife corridors.

"Sustainable logging means different things to different people," said Alan Soicher, a scientist with the Evergreen Land Trust.

The non-profit organization develops and manages FMPs, and practices sustained forestry on Washington state lands. While declining to state an opinion without seeing a completed FMP, Soicher said that the language including trails and habitat protection is a good sign.

"Sustainable logging means sustaining the ecosystem long-term to support all functions, including forest products, wildlife, water and recreation," Soicher said. "Although sustainable logging is a generic term used by all sides, the language to this point indicates a softer touch, and that's a good start."

The most likely scenario would be the use of thin-logging practices, Soicher explained. This method allows the gradual removal of trees over time, while leaving mature forest growth of all tree species across the landscape. Logged trees would then be taken out by helicopter, or by using narrow corridors to protect the surrounding forest.

No logging will take place on the Weyerhaeuser land until the initiative is approved and a FMP is fully developed, a Weyerhaeuser spokesperson said.

An adjacent 6,000 acres of Raging River land belonging to the Fruit Growers Association is included in the initiative, but acquisition of that property has not been secured. Although the group has expressed an interest in participating, it is not a party to the rigid performance obligations required of the city, King County and WRECO.

The City Council met March 12 to vote on adoption of a memorandum of understanding, which outlines the intent of the initiative and the responsibilities of each party. Since it has been adopted by the city and King County, environmental studies and a more detailed planning process for each of the properties will be initiated.

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