Two updates today: First, we reported earlier this week about West Seattle-based activist Chris Jackins‘ appeal of the Sealth site “determination of nonsignificance,” and a controversy over tree-cutting that had been done before a hearing on that appeal. We have new information on the appeal (and why there was no public notice of the hearing) – also, we have a report from last night’s Westwood Neighborhood Council meeting, where both city Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher and West Seattle’s school-board rep Steve Sundquist were on hand for some honest and open discussion about the future of the Denny site, once the old school’s demolished (shown above, the WNC “vision” for what the site could become – click image for a larger view):
First, the Sealth appeal.
After our first report, we finally made contact with Chris Jackins early yesterday. He provided WSB with a copy of the district-hired hearing examiner’s ruling, issued a week ago (about two weeks after the actual hearing, held at district HQ in SoDo), upholding the determination that the project was environmentally nonsignificant. He also gave us photocopies of his pictures of the tree-cutting along the southeastern side of the property, done almost a month ago so long gone when we walked around the periphery the other day looking for evidence.
At the time we spoke, he was still awaiting word on whether district Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson would accept the hearing examiner’s findings. Late yesterday, we spoke with district lawyer Ron English, who confirmed that Goodloe-Johnson has issued her acceptance, along with accepting two of the recommendations made by the hearing examiner – making sure that Denny and Sealth will work together to coordinate parking, since the project will reduce the number of spaces available on the site by about 200 — the district’s findings indicate there is on-street room for that “overflow” — and also directing that any trees mistakenly removed in the incidence documented by Jenkins be replaced on a three-to-one ratio.
We also asked English where appeal hearings like the one in this case are posted for public access. Short answer to a long discussion – they’re not. He says the public certainly COULD attend – but public comments are not allowed, and the district considers them to be something of an “appellate court” type proceeding, and doesn’t post notice of them. Not ANYWHERE, we pressed – not even if we came down to district headquarters and combed through stacks of paper somewhere. No, he repeated. We pointed out that court calendars are publicly accessible in most jurisdictions where we have worked, often online, and if not online, then you can at least go to the courthouse and see what’s posted for the day. He eventually allowed that he “wished” they provided public notice. We will follow up on this one, as it doesn’t seem quite right for a publicly funded entity to be conducting this type of public business without the public having any way of finding out about it.
Meantime, Jackins has three weeks to decide whether to appeal the superintendent’s decision; we’ll check with him on what he plans to do.
Moments after our conversation with English, we were off to the Southwest Precinct last night for the monthly meeting of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, which currently is focusing on the future of the Denny site.
It’s school district property, but WNC has had some hope of potentially getting the Seattle Parks Department involved, since it runs the adjacent Southwest Community Center. Gallagher said this hadn’t been on his radar before but he’s getting up to speed fast. He agrees it would be ideal someday for the SWCC to be able to expand – it’s 8,000 square feet and that, Gallagher says, is “horribly” small for a center serving an area like this, it should be more like 20,000 — but as he stated flatly, “we don’t own the land” (adjacent to it). He did note the Parks and Green Spaces Levy to be decided by Seattle voters this fall contains some acquisition/opportunity money that might be available to community organizations for a small part of a site like this, if the land were available. He added, “I would say we’re very supportive of seeing whether the city might have some money to buy some small part of this if the land were available, but then there’d be the question of where the money for park development would come from.” He and Sundquist both laughed ruefully at the fact their respective agencies are somewhat cash-strapped and budget-crunched at the moment.
Meantime, WNC president Steve Fischer is concerned about the timetable the school district has for deciding the Denny site’s fate – as we’ve reported here, members are being sought for a Design Team that will meet for a few months this fall, and then the decision theoretically might be made early next year, even though any construction would be at least two years after that, since the current Denny buildings will not be demolished before 2011. The district had promised to involve the WNC closely, but Fischer also noted ruefully, recalling what led up to the Denny-Sealth vote, “We’ve been burned before, when they say one thing and do another.”
Meeting attendee Susan McLain added, “Our concern is that the decision has already been made, that the intention is that this (the Denny site) will be more of the athletic center, more citywide fields that don’t truly serve the local schools and the community.”
Sundquist said, “I’m not cynical enough yet at the 8-month mark of my term to believe it’s all been decided.” But he also said he doesn’t know why the timeline is so tight, but he expects the school district to enter discussions from the standpoint of wanting to hold the land for a possible future school some years down the road, as its properties on the West Seattle peninsula don’t have as much room. So the sports fields the district seems to be moving toward — Fischer has pointed out that the district has been referring to the in-formation group as the “Sports Fields Design Team” (see the browser title on this district webpage, although the body of the webpage calls it a School Design Team) — would be something of a placeholder. (Sports fields and tennis courts also were depicted in the “worst case scenario” that the district displayed at its official environmental hearing for the Denny-Sealth project – the one that led to the challenge mentioned earlier in this article.)
Fischer noted that the Westwood Council vision (as shown at the top of this post) does not include any uses dissonant with potential future use of the site as a school. He and others in attendance stressed that the neighborhood wants to see a more accessible site, with some open space, and with a long-desired way of getting between the school zone along Thistle and Westwood Village along Trenton — right now the tall fencing at the Southwest Athletic Complex, east of the community center, is a barrier to that. Sundquist said even he had been locked out of the site during previous visits as a sports-team coach, and had to figure out who to call. Discussion at last night’s meeting indicated there had been various explanations over the years about the rationale for the tall fence – everything from student safety, to possible flying javelins from track practice/competition.
Whatever it is, Fischer says, the fence is widely considered to be “offensive” and “prison-like.” Sundquist suggested initiating a process with the school district, which owns the sports complex, to figure out how access could be easier, since his understanding is that it was not to be inaccessible round the clock – only during practices and events.
WHAT’S NEXT: To apply to be on the Design Team for the Denny site’s future, start here. And to be involved in the Westwood Neighborhood Council’s push to make sure its vision is part of that future, attend its next meeting, 7 pm September 9th, Southwest Community Center; track ongoing developments here (in our Denny/Sealth coverage archive) and at the WNC website; the group is considering a separate public meeting to discuss the issue, though Sundquist discouraged what Fischer had suggested might be “parallel design processes” this fall – he says he’d rather see cooperation. Looking longer-term, Gallagher noted that it’s been suggested yet another parks levy could be a possibility in two years to seek money for community centers, such as SWCC.