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.

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