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Urban sprawl vs. right to develop

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SEATTLE _ A decision was supposed to have been made last

Monday in yet another urban sprawl vs. developer's rights struggle.

The Metropolitan King County Council was scheduled to approve

or deny the application for the proposed Treemont housing development

on April 24.

Instead, the council postponed their decision until June 5.

The Treemont property is a 239-acre site owned by Port Blakely

Communities, a local development company that plans to build a

194-home subdivision on the land. The plat sits above State Route 202 near the

Tall Chief Golf Course in Fall City.

Hearings for the project were held late last year, which gave

Hearing Examiner Stafford Smith a few months to make a final

recommendation to the council. He recommended approval in February.

But the county council's decision on the project has been delayed at

least twice.

The first delay was caused by an appeal filed by Robert Seana, a

farmer who owns land near the Port Blakely property, in response to the

examiner's recommendation. Seana and several of his neighbors opposed the

development because they were concerned about the subdivision's impact on

their community.

"It is wrong to put a suburban development in this rural area,"

Seana told the council. "My neighbors and I have organized two community

associations to fight this development, and we will not give up until the

public interest prevails. We have no choice but to fight."

Seana stated that he believes Treemont will cause flooding and

traffic congestion in the area as well as pose a threat to Patterson Creek,

which is a known salmon habitat.

Seana represented more than 20 of his neighbors who attended

Monday's meeting when he spoke before the council.

"Our rural way of life is at risk," he said.

County council members decided to postpone their vote until June

because they wanted to have more time to review the project's details.

Both Seana and Port Blakely attorney Robert Johns were allowed

an extra 15 minutes in the recent meeting to make their statements.

Johns told the council that Seana had fed them misinformation

concerning Treemont's potential impact on the environment and the area's "rural

character."

Johns explained that Port Blakely has spent more than 11 years

doing the required research involving impacts on neighboring property,

roads and streams and has complied with all government standards.

In 1988, Port Blakely applied for county approval to build their

project. According to a document from King County's Office of the Hearing

Examiner, the land was vested the same year, making it subject to the general

zoning laws current at that time.

Since then, the area has been re-zoned to a rural classification,

allowing one home per five acres of land, instead of the one house per one

acre allowance under the general zoning requirements that Port Blakely is

operating under.

Originally, the subdivision was slated to have 236 homes, but after

a few years of study, the developers decided to pare down to 194 homes

to allow for a larger buffer area between Treemont and neighboring land,

said Port Blakely Vice President John Adams.

In addition to the buffer, the project has evolved to include a new road

to the property that will provide direct access from the subdivision to

the Redmond-Fall City Road. Also, a traffic signal will be installed at S.R.

202 and Duthie Hill Road. These measures were designed to reduce traffic

problems.

The county will also require the developers to install a

quarter-mile- long drainage pipe, which would divert runoff water into the

Snoqualmie River instead of letting it flow into Patterson Creek, which floods

seasonally.

The water diversion pipe is designed to prevent the flooding

of neighboring land while protecting the creek. Under the plan, Patterson

Creek will continue to receive its usual amount of runoff, while

the Snoqualmie River would only rise 4/1000th of one foot from the

added water, Johns said.

The road and pipe are the main points of controversy for

neighbors, but Johns insists the county requested those changes and the developer

was just doing their job by complying.

"Port Blakely has a reputation for building and maintaining

environmentally sound projects," he said. "If

we were creating the impacts that are suggested, then we would change

the project to avoid those. And in fact we did make a lot of changes."

However, Seana still believes that despite any mitigation

efforts, Treemont will flood the land and spoil Patterson Creek and its salmon.

Seana, who heads the group called Neighbors Against Flooding,

questions the variances that the council has allowed on the project.

"Wherever Treemont does not meet exceptions, King County

gives them variances so they can do just about anything they want," he said.

Johns said that the opposite is true, that the variances were granted in

order to mitigate any negative impacts.

"You've been given the impression by Mr. Seana that variances are

bad," Johns said to the council, explaining how they are geared to protect the

land and water.

Adams said that the examiner's recommendation to approve

the project was based on years of study and Port Blakely is willing to

comply with any county-imposed regulations.

"I think there's an assertion that we are not studying this enough or

doing enough studies," he said during an interview last week. "But a

tremendous amount of time and work has gone into these reports. We think we are

doing an environmentally sound project that will not have any impact on

salmon, flooding or other issues brought up by neighbors."

Treemont neighbor Cindy Parks has formed a coalition called

Friends Against Excessive Development and said that she wants the council to

listen to residents.

"Here we are, just a bunch of individuals having to battle against

the developers, their lawyers and consultants, and surprisingly, King

County. You would think that the county would be on our side, trying to enforce

the rules," she said.

The King County Council is scheduled to vote on the

subdivision on June 5. If Treemont is approved, Port Blakely plans to begin the

project by the end of this year.

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