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Fears, cheers for North Bend hotel plan
Convening before a crowd of more than 100 people last Thursday, Sept. 24, at Mount Si Senior Center, the North Bend Planning Commission's official business was to hear testimony on new city requirements covering all hotel development in the city.
However, the dozens of residents who spoke up at that night's public hearing had one specific hotel on their mind — the one planned by North Bend businessman George Wyrsch for the south side of Interstate 90 near the Forster Woods residential neighborhood.
Comments were roughly split between those who see that hotel as a boon for residents and the economy, and those who say its development will harm those who would live near it.
Before the hearing opened, North Bend Community and Economic Development Director Gina Estep briefed audience and commissioners on the latest recommendations for where and how hotels or motels could be built in the city. Estep and her staff are calling for motels — lodging with room doors on the outside of the building — be restricted from the Interchange Mixed Use area south of I-90.
Under the new recommendations, hotels could be built to 55 feet — making a new hotel the highest building in the city — but would be held to design standards meant to reflect the community's character and not jar with natural views or landmarks such as Mount Si.
The new standards call for a hotel with deep eaves, well-hidden mechanical infrastructure, minimized light pollution, tree-filled parking lot buffers. No pole signs or flat roofs would be allowed, and building should be warm, earthy colors — no whites, grays, concrete or stucco.
"We don't want this big white beacon," Estep said. "We want it to blend, and make our town look like what we are — the natural north Bend."
"Our uniqueness is our natural surroundings and our views and vistas," she added. "We want to maintain our character and not be looking at a bunch of silver, mechanical equipment thrown up on the top of a roof."
The new design standards, Estep said, address many of the problems and concerns raised by citizens.
"This is our first impression for the city," she said. "We want to set a baseline. Any developer can go beyond it, but we want to ensure that... North Bend's small town character is maintained."
Against the site
Forster Woods resident Dan Ahner countered that any large hotel near the exit would damage the city's image as a rural community.
"It's a plus that North Bend doesn't have a chain hotel off I-90," he said.
Ahner and other hotel foes questioned how the hotel would help the downtown district, which some speakers said should take priority for development.
"Putting a hotel south of I-90 is going to detract business from the downtown core," Aher said.
"How does expanding south of the freeway and putting in another high-volume business help revitalize downtown North Bend?" asked Snoqualmie resident Jack Webber. "We should be enhancing current zoning codes."
Other residents raised safety, security and property value concerns.
"Everyone has the right to do with his or her property as he wants, as long as it does not interfere with the freedom and lives of others," said Forster Woods resident Uwe Mayer. "My family is very concerned about plans to build a hotel south of I-90."
Mayer said he searched online and found studies of higher rates of crime by some hotels, and questioned what that meant for safety and property values in his neighborhood.
"Would I buy a house in Forster Woods if there was a hotel in the neighborhood?" he asked. "Probably not. I'm sure other buyers would feel the same."
Bill Miller questioned whether the city would increase law enforcement activity to protect the neighbors.
"Is the city of North Bend prepared to screen patrons of the hotel for known sex offenders?" he asked.
"We will be defined by that hotel," said Jean Hoedl. "Do we want to be defined as a beautiful city, as a place to live, work and visit? Or by a cheap hotel?"
"We need assurance that it would be built by George, and that the land won't be sold," Hoedl added. "Because if it's sold, anyone can come in and build a Motel 6."
"This isn't about the hill," she said, referring to neighbors on the hillside. "This is about the future of North Bend."
For the hotel
Terril Perrine, chairman of the North Bend Economic Development Commission, and Fritz Ribary, councilman and former Chamber of Commerce member, both said that lodging has long been a priority for visitors.
"Always, in the top five questions from tourists has been a request for a better place to stay" Ribary said. "This represents a good blend of providing for the community and providing for business. It would be beneficial for tourists, city revenues and local small business. This change benefits the entire community."
"I came here 80 years ago," said longtime resident Betty Vaughn, who drew laughs when she joked about leaving the gate open as a girl.
"I forgot to close it, and look what happened," she said. "You all got here."
"I don't know about you folks, but when I have company for graduations, weddings, what have you, I have no place to put them," Vaughn said. "I want a list of all you people that don't want it. So when my company comes, I'll send them to you!"
Ernie's Grove resident Sue Beauvais told the commission about how similar discussion happened when Forster Woods itself was built. The hotel will be an asset to the community, she added.
"I'm so disappointed that there's so much animosity between people who are for and against," Beauvais said. "You need to stop drawing this line in the sand."
Wyrsch himself was one of the last to speak. He related how he spoke to the local motel owner and asked about crime. Wyrsch said he learned that there was only one incident of police being called — for a man who refused to leave or pay for his room.
"People that pass through are just like you," he said. "Forty percent of our customers are going to be your friends and your relatives — they're not going to be transients."
"There's a difference between transients and travelers," said resident Chris Garcia. "We have capable police chiefs. Let's get King County's information on the status of other hotels in (the county). Let's make our decision based on the facts."
The planning commission is expected to make a decision on the amendment on Oct. 8. All comments received from residents will be entered as exhibits. Estep said city staff will attempt to address all questions raised in the hearing in memo form. Once the planning commission makes its decision, the city council will consider the changes.