On Tuesday, February 10, the Hearing Examiner’s Office conducted a prehearing conference regarding the appeal filed by Frederica Merrell to vacate the Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) for the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan update. There was also a prehearing conference for the appeal against the Othello update. The North Rainier (a.k.a. Mount Baker) appeal will be heard by the Hearing Examiner on February 16.
These meetings are the first of many steps to examine the merits of the identical appeals filed by separate individuals against the Neighborhood Plan updates. These meetings are costing City of Seattle taxpayers money and taking staff time away from other DPD business. They are also delaying any progress on the work plans associated with the Neighborhood Plan Updates and halting any development and/or design plans for the sites involved.
El Centro de La Raza has lost $75,000 in funds offered to help them begin preliminary community outreach to discuss design and development ideas for their property. They cannot begin to move forward on developing their site until there is some indication that zoning issues will be resolved. El Centro is a valuable community partner. They would like to develop their property in the best interests of the neighborhood. They cannot begin the conversation about how to do that until the zoning issues are resolved.
Let’s be very clear: the Neighborhood Plan Updates are totally, completely about zoning. The entire point of the Neighborhood Plan Updates—the only reason they were ever developed—was to discuss zoning in the specific areas around the light rail stations. They were not intended to be and will never be replacements for the extensive Neighborhood Plans our communities have in place.
All other issues are red herrings. Concurrency is a completely unrelated issue to the upzone conversation—apples and oranges. The Neighborhood Plan validation process is also completely unrelated—a completely separate process.
This is the core of El Centro’s counter-appeal. DPD can clearly demonstrate that these appeals are too general and many of the complaints are outside the jurisdiction of the Hearing Examiner’s office and outside the scope of the update.
From El Centro’s Motion to Dismiss:
“El Centro de la Raza makes a motion to dismiss this appeal because Ms. Merrell appears to be raising issues related to the passage of the North Beacon Hill Plan, rather than the adequacy of the City’s environmental review. The North Beacon Hill Plan has not been adopted by the City Council yet. No changes to the Comprehensive Plan, nor to the zoning code, have yet occurred. Therefore, any issues related to the North Beacon Hill Plan itself, or related to any potential future zoning change, are not ripe for the Hearing Examiner’s review. In addition, any issues related to the Growth Management Act are not properly before the Hearing Examiner and must be dismissed.
In the alternative, El Centro suggests to the Hearing Examiner that the appeal is essentially limited to a single legal issue: whether the City properly exercised its discretion under WAC 197-11-055, 197-11-060, and 197-11-228 to complete proper environmental review of comprehensive planning documents. We ask that the Hearing Examiner dismiss all other issues raised by Ms. Merrell, as such claims are related to the unadopted plan or possible future zone changes. ”
Unfortunately, it’s going to take weeks (if not months) of public employee time away from actual projects to address these appeals. These appeals are an expensive time-wasting strategy with an end goal of keeping things in limbo.
Development will happen, but it’s going to take years and millions of dollars longer because a very simple zoning question—one that has received a significant amount of community feedback—is not being answered. That’s a shame.
(Melissa is a columnist for the Beacon Hill Blog and recently wrote about speeding drivers on the Hill in her column “Walking with Tica.”)