News

Falls Crossing hearing heated

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

High School.

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

downtown businesses.

"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

adequate capacity.

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,"

Causey said.

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

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