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Falls Crossing problems continue

The Snoqualmie Planning Commission is faced with more

problems from the long-running Falls Crossing Mixed-Use application. The

latest glitch is the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife's (WDFW)

refusal to prepare a wildlife habitat study.

Ted Muller, the WDFW Regional Habitat Program manager, testified

on March 20 that studies for endangered and threatened species, such as

the pileated woodpecker, spotted owl and marbled murelet, would need to

be conducted in April when the nesting season began.

However, responding to a status inquiry by Planning Director

Nancy Tucker, Muller said the study had not been conducted, nor was the

department willing to do it in the future.

WDFW's refusal was based on a March 24 objection from Puget

Western attorney Tom Pors at the close of the last written public comment

period.

In a strongly-worded letter to the commission, Pors said that

WDFW did not have developer Puget Western's permission to enter

the property. He further questioned their authority to conduct the survey.

Stating that WDFW had no regulatory authority and only limited

authority to protect fish through issuance of hydraulics permits on the

project, Pors characterized WDFW's walk-over of the property as "illegal

trespass" and accused the agency of "suspicious behavior." He asked

that Muller's testimony be stricken or given no credence.

"After learning of the proponent's adamant objections that

department personnel are not welcome on their land, our Regional Wildlife

Program manager … decided against doing them," Muller said in his May 4

response.

Muller suggested that the city find a way to make Puget Western

responsible for conducting the survey.

"My credibility was attacked by the developer's attorney as was that

of my staff and also that of the department, without good cause," he

said. "And I believe we no longer need to be part of this `in-fighting' over

this project."

Muller concluded that he hoped the city would do what is necessary

to protect the environment, but offered no alternative recourse to the

WDFW survey.

Pors said that a study might not be required, but the company will hire

a consultant to determine what must be done.

"Some properties with specific habitat possibilities require the

survey in order to get a Special Forest Practices Permit from the Department

of Natural Resources so the trees can be cut and the land cleared for

development," Pors said.

Regardless, the planning commission will make the wildlife

habitat study a condition before any clearing or construction permits are issued

if the project is recommended for approval. The consultant chosen to

conduct the study would be subject to approval by the city.

The wildlife and habitat study is not the only issue delaying a

recommendation to the city council, and while Puget Western and their

attorney have made repeated requests for a speedy conclusion, the

planning commission has made it clear that they will not take any shortcuts in

their deliberations.

Recurring unresolved issues include viewshed concerns, level of

service standards _ such as police and fire protection _ parks and public use

areas, siting of city buildings, including a new city hall and fire station,

affordable housing and gateway issues.

Over the course of the last three meetings, the commission has

compared the applicant's proposal to the city's Comprehensive Plan for

compliance with growth management intent and protection of the city's

natural and historic resources.

Compounding the already complex set of circumstances is the

siting of a gas station/convenience store, included in the developer's original

and revised application, to be located on Snoqualmie Parkway at the first

entrance to the development. The business would be visible from the

State Route 202 intersection.

Located east of the Parkway and across the street from the village

retail section, semantics have divided commission members as to

whether this should be considered a part of Falls Crossing.

If determined to be part of the development, it would be a

pre-approved business that might violate setbacks and other constraints. The

planning commission, which currently also acts as the city's design review

board, wants changes that would subject the building to the same design

standards review as the rest of Falls Crossing.

In other Falls Crossing matters, the commission took testimony from

an honorary member of the Snoqualmie Tribe regarding her knowledge of

the historical importance of the property and the waters based on her

close friendship with several tribal elders, including Chief Kanim.

The city's viewshed advisor Roger Dane presented graphics

and viewshed study findings in response to Puget Western's objections to

the topography-only screening from Snoqualmie Falls. The developer

is still seeking modifications to the condition.

The commission is waiting for legal notes outlining specific

concerns from Jay Derr, Snoqualmie's land use attorney, and has scheduled a May

24 hearing to hear from transportation consultant Larry Toedtli.

With so many additions, changes and the lack of updated maps

and tables to reflect them, the process has made it difficult for the

commission to access relevant information. City staff will provide commissioners

with a "clean copy" updating the

findings and conditions, and Puget Western will provide tables and a map to

graphically illustrate the current state of the project in light of the specific

conditions.

Another meeting is scheduled for June 5 to sort through new

information and revisit conditions still being modified or under consideration.

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