Monday, March 2, 2009

Triway's Bellatorre Project: A River Runs Near It, Part II

Above: Beginning of the Inside Passage....Here the Deschutes River cataracts into Budd Inlet, the most southerly point of Puget Sound where ends the Old Oregon Trail, where Triway Enterprises prefers their proposed Bellatorre project on Capitol Boulevard in Tumwater.

by Janine Gates

On February 25, Tumwater Hearing Examiner Rodney Kerslake approved Triway Enterprises' conditional use permit for the Bellatorre project, a proposed mixed-use development, in which seven of the ten buildings are planned to be in excess of 50 feet in height.

In the consolidated hearing, Kerslake also ruled against citizens Erik and Marcia Kjesbu and Dave and Cathi Read, who appealed the City of Tumwater's issuance of an environmental mitigated determination of non-significance for the project. Their concerns related to environmental issues such as traffic, storm drainage and flooding issues, water quality impacts to the Deschutes River and nearby wetlands, and loss of territorial views by potentially hundreds of Tumwater Hill residents.

The four Tumwater residents, who met at a community meeting about the project in October 2008, spent months preparing for the appeal and represented themselves at the nine hour hearing held February 11 in the Tumwater city council chambers.

I interviewed Erik and Marcia Kjesbu recently about the experience:

What do you think of the hearing examiner's findings?
(Erik) I think we all feel the hearing examiner did a good job. I still somehow don't believe that the project is in line with the intent of the comprehensive plan to provide affordable housing and not adversely impacting surrounding property values and views.

(Marcia) A little disappointed that the Hearing Examiner didn't find a few items for the city or developer to consider.

Are you going to appeal?
(Erik) We would like to, however based on information supplied and TMC 2.58.150 an appeal must contain in writing all grounds on which error is claimed. I am not sure what we could claim as an error.

How do you feel about your efforts?
(Erik) It was definitely a learning process and we got to know Dave and Cathi and some other neighbors. It has taken a lot of time, energy and a price tag. I think we did a great job putting together the facts and presenting an understandable position for appeal. I am really kind of tired of the whole thing.... I just wish these issues could be settled somehow with a public vote.

(Marcia) I was grateful to hear the Hearing Examiner share that he thought this hearing was a "pleasant" experience. Our goal wasn't to stop the project but to keep the project on a smaller scale for our neighborhood, the Tumwater Valley and the area along Capitol Boulevard.

What have you learned throughout this process?
(Erik) Certainly about the appeal process. I always try to think the best about our government processes and have in the past believed that Tumwater City staff did a great job of representing the citizens of this fine city. Now I have to say I feel quite different about this. I have a feeling that in these tough economic times our city is looking for a quick fix and think this development will provide economic relief.

(Marcia) It is good to be prepared with specific/detailed information and information to back up one's perspective.

Under the Hearing Examiner's findings of fact number 10, about transportation, it says, "The new public street would conform to the alignment the City is planning for its cross-valley arterial." To me, it sounds like Triway is buying off the City to make this cross-valley arterial from Capitol Boulevard to Cleveland. Yes, the city may have this in their plans, but it doesn't mean it's in their budget unless they get the money from somewhere. Am I right?
(Erik) I would be willing to bet this might be the case here....

Under the findings of fact number 16, the Hearing Examiner says he has to speculate as to the project's likely effects on views, if any, on the project site. Erik, what do you think about this?
(Erik) Not true! As far as I know they only checked out our neighbor's house and ours for view issues. Again, 2nd Avenue is around 175 feet above sea level and 3rd Avenue average was around 225 feet above sea level. The buildings west across the freeway from us will be 238 feet above sea level. So draw a straight line there and guess what we will be looking at. Also, they are considering the tops of the trees at the project site to be the horizon and not the trees across the valley on Cleveland Ave.

Is there anything more you think you could have done?
(Erik) The rules and regulations definitely have a life of their own and so, in that sense, we have done what we could to this point. At least as far as I know, we have followed the process. We should appeal this decision to the Tumwater City Council, however, we need some guidance and not sure where we will get this. I am not sure everyone is willing to go ahead, however, I think since we have come this far we should take the next step and appeal to the council.

Do you plan to speak to individual council members?
(Erik) We had previously talked to two of the council members and one came to our house.

Have you considered selling your home, knowing your property values may go down now if this project is built?
(Erik) In my mind yes, however, I just wish we really knew what we will be looking at. We really like our little house on the hill and the sunrises over Mount Rainier, that big Ice Cream Cone.

(Marcia) Absolutely NOT. I won't allow a development to push me out of our house. I only wish the building heights would have stayed at the 50' limit the city has declared.

What should be done on the policy level of law-making to make requirements more stringent?
(Erik) The City needs to stick to its zoning codes so uniformity can be achieved.

Above: Triway Enterprises' developer Tri Vo, middle, looks at Bellatorre materials at a community meeting held with Tumwater residents on October 29, 2008.