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Decision on Falls Crossing, delayed, again
SNOQUALMIE A beleaguered and conflicted Snoqualmie
Planning Commission again failed to reach consensus last week on Puget
Western's Falls Crossing Mixed Use application. The issue has proven to be the
most contentious and long-running debate in Snoqualmie city history.
"We've had difficult issues before," commented city attorney
Pat Anderson, "but nothing like this _ nothing that has been through the
process twice and has taken so long and been so involved and complex."
Primary concerns center on missing or incomplete data, such as
the wildlife and endangered species survey, gateway issues, potential
hydrology problems, the Snoqualmie Tribe traditional and cultural study and
results of the pending Highway 202 Corridor master plan.
"The economic and (Highway 202) corridor study will be done
with or without the Falls Crossing project. It is unfair to delay a decision
based on these studies," Puget Western attorney Tom Pors told the
commission. "It is too late to start construction
this year anyway, so they have four seasons to accumulate data."
The planning commission and city council are bound by regulations
in place at the time of the application for the permit, and cannot use any
subsequent changes governing land use in their deliberations.
As it stands, the commission's report to date has 133 conditions,
631 findings and is 147 pages in length. Questions about the document's
compliance with both the letter and intent of the Snoqualmie
Comprehensive Plan is at the heart of the debate
with regard to studies and proposals that have already been completed.
Encouraged by city staff to make a decision leading to finalizing a
document recommending approval with conditions or a denial with
written findings, the commission scheduled three more meetings to attempt to
reconcile the amended application with the comprehensive plan.
"The property has already been zoned for mixed use," Pors said.
"I'm asking that you keep in mind that the planning commission's jurisdiction
is not to zone _ that has already been done _ but only to determine if the
plan is consistent with the mixed use zoning."
Pors went on to say that wildlife and water quality should not be
looked at individually by the planning commission at this time, that a
post-approval and pre-construction time frame would be more appropriate.
If endangered or threatened species are found on or near the site at that
time, federal protection rules would override any planning commission or
city council approval.
The other major legal issue facing the city is the topography
only viewshed buffer, which could be a problem because downtown and
other parts of the city are not subject to the same regulation.
Snoqualmie's viewshed advisor, Roger Dane, will appear at one of the three
upcoming meetings to discuss variations.
Commissioner Terry Sorensen asked whether the viewshed issue
has been tested in court. City officials could not find a similar case in
Washington, claiming that the Falls viewshed is a unique feature which
the city took steps to protect.
"There is ample authority that the viewshed requirements are
appropriate for regulation," Anderson said. "The question is, what is adequate?"
Either way, the issue could end up in court. The applicant could
petition to change conditions for process and substantive reasons, and citizens
could also challenge on the same grounds.