Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jeannine Roe Sworn In - Says "No" in Vote on Bentridge Development

Above: Jeannine Roe being sworn in as a new Olympia City Council member Tuesday night by Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander.

by Janine Gates

Tonight's Olympia City Council meeting started off with the swearing in of newly elected Jeannine Roe to replace councilmember Joan Machlis. Machlis had been appointed to the council to fill a vacancy and lost to Roe by 96 votes.

Roe gave a statement thanking her daughters, Julia and Allison Dellwo, and her parents, Marilyn and Charlie Roe. She also thanked Machlis for her dedicated service to the city. "I take my seat on the council with humility and with confidence...I am humble to be assuming this leadership role and along with it the obligation to serve all Olympia residents - not just those who voted for me," said Roe.

Roe's first issue on the agenda, along with other councilmembers, was to decide whether or not to proceed with approving a proposed 72 acre neighborhood village project, called Bentridge, located off Boulevard Road near LBA Park and the Chambers Lake basin. This area is located where high groundwater, flooding, and stormwater runoff threatens existing homes. The proposal includes 501 residential units on 348 lots with a 12,500 square foot commercial building. The project proposal includes the building of 160 single-family homes, and other multi-family duplexes and townhomes.

According to a staff report dated July 13, 2009, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) map for the area identifies two flood zones on the Bentridge property.

The controversial project concerns neighboring residents and others who care about Olympia's future growth and development.

Gus Guethlein, a property owner on Wiggins Road, testified during the public participation portion of the meeting. "The site plan shows almost no stormwater capacity and the city is already facing dilemmas with several development projects that are stalled due to the current economic situation. And there is also the impact of added traffic from 500 new households on the Boulevard Road traffic system," said Guethlein.

Another member of the public expressed concern that the council was unwilling to consider the combined impacts of the multiple large developments that are already proposed for this area of the city.

The council discussed a report from the project's hearings examiner, Tom Bjorgen, who had reviewed the project proposal. Bjorgen recommended that the project be rejected on the grounds of "school concurrency" issues. He was concerned that the project was going to result in the arrival of more children than could be serviced by the existing schools. The staff and councilmembers debated whether the children moving into the proposed development should be served by schools in the neighborhood or in schools throughout the Olympia school district. In the latter case, students could be bussed across the city to attend a school.

In a protracted, technical discussion on this matter, Councilmember Rhenda Strub asked the clearest question of the evening that went unanswered by the city attorneys. She expressed concern about busing students and queried how this would fit into the Olympia comprehensive plan's emphasis on sustainablity, walkable neighborhoods and limiting unnecessary transportation.

Another issue of concern involved a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) migated determination of non-significance (MDNS), dated June 16, 2009. This called for specific measures in response to projected increased traffic. These included offsite traffic and pedestrian improvements within the city, and some traffic improvements in the county on the old Yelm Highway.

One concern was that the hearing examiner had not considered, or even been aware of, the MDNS for the project. Tom Morrill, the city attorney, said that it is not clear if the hearing examiner saw or even knew about the MDNS. "He didn't say if he had seen it or not."

"If he didn't see the MDNS, that's stunning," said Councilmember Jeff Kingsbury.

In the end, Kingsbury offered a motion, which was seconded, to approve the project master plan with a request for some clarification on whether the examiner had considered the MDNS. Councilmember Joe Hyer said that he wanted to more forward with the project but he would have to vote against the motion to support neighborhood schools.

Strub said, "I'm voting against the motion. There ought to be neighborhood concurrency (for schools). I am loathe to give the green light for development that will crowd schools or bus kids to the other side of town. I don't think 'horrified' is too strong a word...."

Although she did not participate in the discussion of the issue, Roe's first vote cast as a city councilmember was a "no" to the questionable development project. The motion passed with a final vote of four to three with Roe, Strub and Hyer voting against the motion.

Above: Mary Nolan, Executive Secretary to the Olympia City Council, left, and Terry Gregerson, middle, of the city's Information Technology Department, help Jeannine Roe get ready for her first city council meeting on Tuesday night.