Above: Theresa Nation, representing the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife presents testimony today regarding the proposed Oak Tree Preserve development at a hearing held yesterday and today at the Thurston County Fairgrounds in Lacey. Numerous homeowners from the area attended and also provided comment. Written public comment has been extended to April 3.
By Janine Unsoeld
Oak Tree Preserve LLC of Bellevue proposes to subdivide 258.5 acres of land in Lacey into 1,037 single-family residential lots. Multiple tracts will also be developed for storm water drainage, preservation of some oak tree habitat, parks, open space, alleys, and landscaping.
The area is addressed as 3346 Marvin Road SE, which is generally on the east side of Marvin Road SE bordered by the Burlington Northern Railroad on the south and the McAllister Park subdivision on the north. It is within the Lacey urban growth boundary.
Through a process of four phases, City of Lacey domestic water and sanitary sewer utilities will be extended into the subdivision to serve all lots. A Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) for the project was issued on December 2, 2014. The MDNS establishes mitigating conditions for school impacts, soil contamination, traffic impacts, and timber harvest.
The project is proposed to be developed in Thurston County's largest oak stand of 64 acres.
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife comments called for preserving 100 percent of the oak habitat. Only 55 percent of the oak habitat is being preserved under the proposed plans.
The project, under previous owners, was vested in 2009. The property changed hands in 2012. In May, 2014, Thurston County received a revised application listing the new owner and met with county staff. Staff provided comments and thus the application was considered to be a revision of the original application. Written notice of the public hearing was sent to property owners within 300 feet of the site and others on March 9. Notice was also published in The Olympian newspaper on March 13.
The McAllister Park Homeowner Association had two appeals. On March 23, within 24 minutes of the beginning of the hearing held at the Thurston County Fairgrounds, Mark Quinn, president of the McAllister Homeowner Association, and the Association's attorney announced to Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice that the group had settled the SEPA appeals, surprising Rice.
Quinn and the attorney then left the building, leaving the rest of the time to the developer to explain the development.
One appeal challenged the county's decision to issue an MDNS. The appeal asserted that impacts to traffic conditions on area roads, Oregon white oak tree habitat, and storm water drainage were not adequately addressed. The Association stated that the proposed subdivision is likely to create significant adverse environmental impacts and asked that the issuance of the MDNS be overturned and that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared. A motion by the applicant to dismiss the oak habitat and stormwater issues was granted by the Hearing Examiner on March 4.
The second appeal by the applicant challenges MDNS mitigating condition numbers 2 and 3. These conditions pertain to testing and possible cleanup of soil contamination including contamination related to the former Asarco smelter in Tacoma. The applicant believes these conditions are unlawful to the extent they impose requirements on the applicant that exceed state law.
The proposed development will impact children and families attending Evergreen Forest Elementary School, Nisqually Middle School, and River Ridge High School.
In a letter sent to McAllister Park Homeowner Association (HOA) members prior to the March 23 hearing, Quinn discouraged homeowners within his association from speaking at the public hearing, notifying them that the group had reached an agreement with the Oak Tree Preserve LLC owners.
“Late yesterday afternoon, the McAllister Park HOA signed a preliminary settlement agreement with Oak Tree Preserve, LLC, the applicant proposing to build 1,027 homes just south of McAllister Park. The agreement provides essentially everything we asked for in terms of traffic calming in McAllister Park, including several features in OTP (Oak Tree Preserve) and a couple of other revisions to the plat not related to traffic like increasing the size of the buffer between the subdivisions and putting better controls on construction traffic….
“I believe the agreement is the best that we could have hoped for without stopping OTP altogether or closing the road, things that appeared to us virtually impossible considering the cost to the HOA and the risks involved. Although few of us like the idea of a huge development just to the south, our main objective from the beginning was to insure adequate traffic calming in McAllister Park. I believe we have achieved that. After the dust settles, we plan to continue pursuing solutions to the larger Marvin Road traffic problem with neighboring HOA's.
“We are not able to distribute the preliminary agreement (attorney's orders) but a more formal agreement should be available in a couple days.
“The agreement requires that we drop our SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) appeal of traffic issues and voice no objection to approval of the preliminary subdivision. Based on our acceptance of the settlement, we ask all MPHOA members to refrain from participating in the Plat Hearing on March 24th. The agreement further stipulates that the MPHOA will not appeal OTP land use approvals.
“These restrictions do not apply to homeowners in adjacent subdivisions, who are still welcome to attend the public hearing and voice their concerns about the Plat and traffic….One thing that we asked for and the developer agreed to, not related to traffic, was to increase the buffer to 25 ft. between OTP and homes in McAllister Park and Evergreen States.
“For McAllister Park Residents we will be able to have a full discussion of the settlement and ramifications at our annual meeting in early May,” wrote Quinn.
The hearing continued on Tuesday with public testimony beginning at 1:00 p.m. Theresa Nation, representing the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, spoke first, followed by residents from several nearby homeowners associations, including Evergreen Estates, The Seasons, Eagle Crest, Laurel Oaks, and Lake Forest.
About 20 speakers focused their comments on the traffic impacts of the massive proposed development that one person described as “out of sync with other developments in the area,” while others addressed the lack of proper public notification and environmental impact issues.
Liz Kohlenberg, Olympia, commented that many of the materials needed to comment on the subdivision were not on the county’s website, such as the previous Critical Areas Ordinance. A couple of speakers asked how the county was planning to serve all these people, noting the current lack of law enforcement to handle current property crimes.
Elizabeth Rodrick, a wildlife biologist representing the Black Hills chapter of the Audubon Society, stated that in Washington State, 35% of pre-settlement oak habitat remains, and 16% of what remains is on private land.
“Local government plays an essential role in protecting oak habitat....several bird species are associated with large oak sites, and the roads for this development increase fragmentation and should be re-routed,” she said.
Rice closed public comment shortly after 3:00 p.m. Rice, the developer and staff, and county staff responded to public comment.
Rice said she will reach a decision on April 24. Acknowledging that county staff will need time to put additional materials on the county website, Rice gave staff through March 27 to post the needed documents, and extended public comment through 4:00 p.m. on Friday, April 3.
Written comment may be sent to Cami Petersen, Land Use Clerk, Resource Stewardship Department, Thurston County Office of the Hearing Examiner, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Building One, Second Floor, Olympia, WA 98502. Refer to Case: #2009103087.
For more information, contact go to http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/permitting/hearing/hearings/oak-tree-preserve/otp.html or contact Cami Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 754-3355 ext. 6348 or TDD Phone: (360) 754-2933.
Full Disclosure: Janine Unsoeld is a board member of the South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse (SPEECH) and presented written and oral testimony on behalf of the SPEECH board of directors opposing the Oak Preserve Development proposal. Presenting a variety of points, SPEECH believes that the Mitigated Declaration of Non-Significance should be retracted and a full Environmental Impact Statement prepared.