North Bend citizens are speaking up for their beloved open spaces, and paying up, too.
In recent weeks, two crowd-funding efforts on GoFundMe were launched and one, organized by two-year North Bend resident Jean Buckner, nearly doubled its goal within a month. Read about the other here.
Jean Buckner was delighted, but not surprised, that people showed such strong support for her project. She launched the crowdfunding campaign to pay for an attorney in hopes that she would find a way to stop a proposed 212-unit multi-family housing development on 21 acres along North Bend Way known as the Dahlgren Property.
“It’s just quintessentially North Bend,” Buckner said in a telephone conversation, of the site. “It’s on the trail, on the river, in front of Mount Si. It’s a crazy perfect place for a park… and we would much prefer to be raising funds for the park.”
Right now, though, Buckner is using the more than $1,000 raised by GoFundMe supporters — she declined to give the specific amount, saying those numbers were “confidential” — to pay attorney Claudia Newman of Bricklin and Newman in Seattle, to review the project documentation in search of a procedural misstep by the city.
She and supporters have also organized to form a so-far unnamed 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with the ultimate goal of buying the property, currently valued at about $460,000 by the King County Assessor.
That all depends, though, on if the attorney finds a flaw in the city’s process, and can stall the project.
In addition to forming the nonprofit, naming officers and planning a social media strategy, Buckner said, “the other thing we’ve done, three times, is we’ve let Mr. Dahlgren know there are a group of us who want to buy the land as a park.”
However, she added, while the proposed project is still viable, the property is under contract with the developer, Cedar River Partners. “So he can’t entertain other options at this time.”
As of June 14, the group’s attorney had sent the city a letter citing concerns about the environmental review process to date, and calling for a new public comment period regarding the initial application. The reason Newman gave for the request was that city code affecting the Dahlgren Property, NBMC 18.10.025, had not been updated since December on the city’s website, although the city updated the code Feb. 7.
In response, North Bend City Administrator Londi Lindell explained that the environmental review process done to date was not related to the project, but to the city’s December, 2016, change to limit the number of housing units allowed on the property to 212, to preserve view corridors and otherwise protect what the city considered “a significant property.”
“We have not done SEPA yet on Dahlgren,” said Londi Lindell. “We have done an environmental review on the interim regulation, which was council’s decision to … basically reduce the number of allowable units when we heard that an application might be coming.”
A SEPA review, basically a checklist of the effects a project could have on the area’s immediate environment, will be done on the project itself, when Cedar River Partners applies for a development permit, Lindell said, some time in the future.
“They haven’t filed a development application… they’re subdividing the lot right now,” she said, adding that citizens will “have an opportunity to submit their comments through the SEPA process on the development application.”
Cedar River Partners hosted a community open house in May to hear from citizens about their concerns for the property. Many citizens called on them to consider alternative uses, such as a proposed park. The developer is already giving the city a four-acre parcel for Tanner Landing Park as part of this process, and a spokesperson for the developers said “we intend to move forward with our plans, which are consistent with the city of North Bend zoning.”
Buckner and the nonprofit are also moving forward with their plans to preserve the site.
“We’re going to be the Middle Fork gateway,” Buckner said, referring to the nearly complete improvements on the Middle Fork Road, expected to draw thousands of new visitors to the area. “People are going to drive past this bucolic pasture, which could be a bucolic park, and instead they’re going to hit this wall of buildings…. It’s wrong.”
She acknowledged the need for the city’s economic development, but argued that a beautiful open space could also lead to economic development.
The development, she said, “is inconsistent with what the city says they want, to be a premier outdoor recreation destination… and it’s inconsistent with why I moved here, from Bellevue, two years ago.”
The next steps for the city are to respond to the group’s attorney’s letter. The group has closed its existing GoFundMe page, but has indicated it plans to launch another campaign regarding the Dahlgren Property.
Initial ground work on the development could start as soon as 2018 on the project, once the application is approved and a permit is granted.