Neighbors, environmentalists win appeal over City approval of Buchan project threatening Ebright Creek, kokanee

  • Hearing Examiner highly critical of City Staff.
  • Outright denies project, and raps City for decisions over roads, environment.
  • Says project should never have been approved.
  • Residents pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight City’s approval.

A development approved by Sammamish that drew four appeals on environmental, street standards and other grounds was rejected last week by the City’s Hearing Examiner.

Even the developer, William Buchan Inc, appealed the decision by the City Staff, a highly unusual move, protesting conditions the City put on the development.

The Friends of Pine Lake and Wally Pereyra appealed over environmental impacts and Chestnut Estates Neighbors appealed over impacts to their neighborhoods.

Hearing Examiner John Galt found that the City improperly approved Buchan’s application for an extension of the Chestnut Estates development, at 212th and SE 8th, to a new project called Chestnut Estates West, across sensitive Ebright Creek. Accordingly, Galt denied the application. With this denial, several elements of the four appeals became moot, and he didn’t rule on the merits of these.

But in a 44 page decision, Galt minced no words. He said residents of Chestnut Estates could not be blamed for feeling Buchan engaged in “bait and switch” tactics with Chestnut Estates and the City’s decision—and its staff testimony—was “constantly changing” and “troubling.”

About the City Staff Galt wrote:

The seemingly constantly changing position of Public Works during the hearing regarding the conditions that should attach to the SE 8th Variation is troubling: It challenges the notion “that requirements for safety, environmental considerations, function, appearance, and maintainability are fully met and the variation is in the best interest of the public” in the Variation as it was initially issued. It would seem from the back-and-forth during the hearing that those factors are a fluid and imprecise concept.

About Buchan Galt wrote:

In hindsight, the evidence is quite persuasive that Buchan likely had an intention (or, at the very least, wanted to preserve the opportunity) to extend SE 8th Place through Tract D to serve development of property on the west side of the Ebright Creek ravine – a lot more development than the two lots that Beeler had envisioned on that side of the ravine when the Chestnut Estates process began. By not disclosing that intent, Buchan created what the purchasers of its homes in Chestnut Estates see as a “bait and switch” tactic: Sell them on an intimate, exclusive, dead-end neighborhood and then convert it into the entry way to an additional neighborhood of at least 30 more homes. Neighbors’ upset is easily understood.

At issue:

Buchan developed what is now known as Chestnut Estates years ago. Located at the intersection of SE 8th St. and 212th Ave. SE, SE 8th continues into Estates and ends in a cul-de-sac. The street standard is a narrow, 22 ft wide neighborhood street. Buchan proposed extending 8th St. off the top of the cul-de-sac, building a short bridge across Ebright Creek and its steep ravine, and build about three dozen homes. Because of sensitive areas, two of the lots would access through a subdivision called Loree Estates.

The City requested that Buchan dedicate and transfer to the City certain lands for permanent open space. Buchan appealed this condition. The City also wanted a 184 ft long bridge vs 150 ft desired by Buchan, so this was appealed by the developer, as were a number of other technical conditions imposed by the City.

The Chestnut Estates Neighbors appealed on a number of grounds, but principally on the fact that SE 8th is a street designed for a cul-de-sac and not a through collector street for dozens of more homes. Christie Malchow was a leader of Neighbors and a primary funder of the legal fees. She subsequently filed to run for City Council in part because of her belief that the City Staff is ignoring its own codes and regulations in approving development.

The City at various times indicated it wants to extend SE 8th through to East Lake Sammamish Parkway to provide another east-west connector to the Plateau. Such a street would necessarily become an arterial street, overwhelming the 22 ft wide neighborhood street through Chestnut Estates.

Pereyra and Friends of Pine Lake appealed to protect Ebright Creek from development and what they saw as the City Staff ignoring codes and regulations designed for protection. Ebright Creek is the primary spawning creek of endangered kokanee salmon. Pereyra has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money restoring and protecting the lower reaches of Ebright Creek, which runs through his property. Friends of Pine Lake years ago appealed, and won, a project by then-Seattle Mariners player Edgar Martinez, who proposed developing a large estate west of Ebright Creek and building a long bridge across it. This project was denied, and Martinez moved elsewhere.

The facts, findings conclusions of the case are complex. I won’t repeat them in this post; the 44 page Decision may be downloaded here: Chestnut Estates Decision.

What is important is that Galt found the City staff to ignore its own standards on many issues, from the street standards to environmental rules and protections, to ignoring the City’s own codes. With respect to the street issue, Galt is particularly critical of Staff:

The major shortcoming which the Examiner finds in the City Engineer’s evaluation of the SE 8th Variation request is the decision to not consider whether future connections of the Chestnut Estates West  street system would change the classification of some or all of the subdivision’s streets and thus the classification of SE 8th Place and SE 8th Street in Chestnut Estates. If Chestnut Estates West were approved as currently designed (which it can’t be for reasons set out above), there can be no question but that its street system would extend either south and/or west at some time in the future to serve currently un- and under-developed parcels.

And:

City staff cannot on the one hand require Buchan to extend a 60 foot right-of-way to the west edge of the Buchan/Scindia Parcel for “an alternate [access] route” into Chestnut Estates West and to “allow the City to make a future east-west road connection if additional routes are warranted” (Exhibit S-203, p. 11, Finding 62) and then, as it did in testimony throughout the hearing, declare that such a connection is so remote and speculative that its effect on the existing and proposed street system simply cannot be evaluated now.

D.5.     The notion that a street with 22 feet of pavement is the functional equivalent of a street with 36 feet of pavement is simply not believable. If that were the case, why would the City have any street section wider than 22 feet except for multi-lane arterials?

Galt is no less incredulous over the City’s agreement to reduce buffers to Ebright Creek.

Here, the City has copious reasons to not reduce the landslide hazard area buffer: Ebright Creek is one of four in the City that holds a special significance to the City; Ebright Creek is a very important Kokanee resource; there is a history of surficial slides in the Ebright Creek ravine; the Ebright Creek ravine is a designated wildlife corridor. Why would one reduce the margin of safety in such a situation? While surficial slides may occur naturally, given the sensitivity of the Ebright Creek ravine and the importance of its fishery resource, why would one consciously increase that risk by building closer to the edge of the ravine than normally allowed by code?

 This isn’t the first time Galt slapped the hands of City staff. As far back as 2008, Galt rapped Staff’s decision in two Trossachs developments to remove barricades to Beaver Lake Drive, as sub-standard street without sidewalks, bike lanes or even shoulders. Galt wrote then Staff exceeded its authority and only the City Council could remove the barricades. A successive series of City Councils have done nothing.

Malchow told Sammamish Comment, “What is frustrating from my end, is that as a taxpayer I never should’ve had to have paid an attorney tens of thousands of dollars to fight this. The city failed to do it’s due diligence on this, and basically said so much in the hearing.  I’m incredibly frustrated to that end.  And I believe our case is are hardly an exception on the plateau.”

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7 Responses to Neighbors, environmentalists win appeal over City approval of Buchan project threatening Ebright Creek, kokanee

  1. Frank Blau says:

    Hey Scott, is there a link to the actual decision document?

    Thanks, Frank

  2. otto_the_taxpayer says:

    Malfeasance, plain and simple.

    As for the attorneys we taxpayers paid for — those are the same ones that won the no-bid contract to represent developers, err I mean represent the City (hehe).

    And as for accountability? Don’t hold your breath. Here in Sammamish, developer money doesn’t just talk, it swears through a bullhorn called the City Council.

  3. Pingback: City blocks environmental report in land use appeal | Sammamish Comment

  4. Pingback: Buchan sues Sammamish for damages, overturn of Chestnut Estates West denial | Sammamish Comment

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