Falls Crossing hearing heated
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:31 PM
SNOQUALMIE The Snoqualmie City Council was
met with emotional testimony and expressions of frustration and anger at
the Oct. 24 Falls Crossing closed-record hearing, held at Mount Si
Falls Crossing, a controversial 182-acre housing and business
project proposed by Puget Western Inc. (PWI), is in the final stages of the
approval process. If it gains approval from the City Council, the
development will be situated between Snoqualmie Ridge and State
Route 202. The site is located directly across from Snoqualmie Falls.
The Tuesday night meeting represented a final opportunity for
citizen comment before the council begins its in-depth analysis of the record.
However, problems arose even before the public comment period began.
In compliance with the Appearance of Fairness doctrine, each
council member disclosed any involvement with the proposed development
and any potential conflict of interest.
All council members said they had conversations or correspondence
relating to the project at one time or another, but each affirmed that they
could make a fair and unbiased decision based on the record developed by
the Planning Commission.
Cathy Reed, the last council member to present her disclosure
statement, said that while she felt that she could be unbiased, she did not think
the council could legally deny the development application. Her
comment brought immediate response from the audience. Snoqualmie resident
Dan Nelson formally challenged Reed's ability to be impartial, and he
asked that she be removed from the decision-making process.
Also challenged was Colleen Johnson, who disclosed that she
was part-owner of a lot abutting the PWI property.
Following a 20 minute executive session, city attorney Pat
Anderson explained that the final decision _ whether to continue deliberations
or recuse themselves _ rested with the individual council members.
Johnson, who noted that her property was wetland and therefore
unlikely to change in value in any event, said she would step down.
Reed arrived at a different decision.
"I was very surprised at the challenge," Reed said. "I think that
perhaps my comments were misconstrued. I will say it again _ I have
been advised by the attorneys that there are certain obligations. One of them is
to acknowledge and honor vested rights (of the developer). I am not
prejudiced in favor or against the
development," she concluded, adding that she
would not remove herself from the process.
Both council members said that they had received direction from
the attorneys during the break, but neither disclosed whether they followed
the advice in making their decisions.
With the council issue decided, PWI attorney Tom Pors gave an
overview of the proposed development. Noting the project contained
more open space than required by the city and that the development would
provide a broader economic tax base, Pors said the retail portion of the
mixed-use proposal had been scaled back to reduce competition with
"We have done a good job preserving wildlife habitat considering this
is an urban growth area," he said, adding that bypass lines designed to
manage stormwater and impervious surface water runoff have more than
However, the corporation objected to some of the conditions
developed by the Planning Commission. In a written brief to the City Council,
PWI asked council members to ease the topography-only viewshed
protection standard and make changes to traffic concurrency requirements and
traffic mitigation fees.
"PWI acknowledges the importance and popularity of
Snoqualmie Falls and the passionate views of the public regarding its protection.
However, the city cannot use public pressure or opinion as a means for
justifying the viewshed findings and conditions," Pors said.
The company had proposed a plan to block any view of the
development from the observation deck and walkways at Snoqualmie Falls by using
a combination of natural topography, green fencing, vegetation and
planted nursery trees.
Taking the position that there is no proof that high winds, root
damage, inadequate buffer maintenance or catastrophic events are likely to
pose significant risk, PWI argued that the natural topography screening is
unreasonably restrictive and violates both the state and federal constitutions.
"(The) natural topography condition imposes the maximum
restrictions possible, denying PWI the use of substantial acreage appropriate
for single-family homesites," Pors continued. "This application of
(the viewshed ordinance) creates an unreasonable distinction between PWI
and other property owners in the city by prohibiting development on a
substantial portion of PWI's property solely on aesthetic grounds. Other
property owners in the city have the right to construct buildings in
conformance with zoning regulations without these viewshed protections, which
denies equal protection of the law to PWI."
Although comment ran strongly in favor of the natural topography
requirement, there were a few exceptions cited for special circumstances.
Forest Theater owner Ben Harrison testified that the
topography-only condition would interfere with his ability to cut trees on his
property, which is located within the viewshed area.
Dick Causey, speaking on behalf of the Mountains to Sound
Greenway Trust, noted that the organization has planned work to restore
the Snoqualmie-Preston trail, which runs through the viewshed. The project
involves restoration of a trestle that is part of the historic landscape
visible from the Falls.
"We hope the Planning Commission did not intend to apply (the
topography restrictions) to the Snoqualmie-Preston trail,"
The applicant's brief also set out objections to a condition that
requires PWI to pay for improvements to the Interstate 90/State Route 18
interchange. Because the intersection is located outside Snoqualmie city
limits, lawyers argued that the city does not have the authority to mandate
the improvements as a condition for approval.
PWI also said traffic mitigation payments are too costly and that
the method of calculating the developer's fair share of expenses should
be changed. When presenting the overview, Pors said that he believes
the mitigation fees, as calculated, are unfair because overall growth in the
region is partly to blame.
Finally, Pors told council members that they must waive specifics
within the city's comprehensive plan and decide if the project meets overall
intent of the comprehensive and zoning plans.
"It would be impossible to meet all the goals and policies in the
comprehensive plan," he said. "For instance, it is impossible to
`preserve, protect and enhance wildlife habitat areas' while at the same time allow
for clearing and construction that is incident to providing housing, jobs,
commercial development and recreational opportunities. (The) City
Council must look for balance among the goals and policies and determine
whether the application is consistent with this balance."
Citizen comments following Pors's presentation ran
strongly against approval of the project, often becoming heated and personal.
"We haven't learned from the decisions of the past if you approve
this project," one resident said.
"Twenty years ago this was cast in stone," said another. "This is not
the old USSR. If 90 percent don't want it, there has got to be a way to stop
it. This is still a democracy. It was once a nation by the people, for the
people _ but now our community is by the corporation and for the corporation."
Speaking for the Snoqualmie Tribe, member Lois
Sweet-Dorman said approving the project
"would impact the very existence" of the Tribe.
Several individuals expressed concern about raising the cost of livin