One week from today, the proposal to “upzone” a block-plus of California SW (map) makes its final stop before City Council consideration: A public hearing before city Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner, in her chambers downtown. Also to be heard that same day – Wednesday, August 18th – is the appeal filed against an environmental “nonsignificance” ruling issued in connection with the city’s recommendation that the rezoning proposal be approved. How will that day play out? We have an outline, after covering a pre-hearing conference on Tuesday with Tanner presiding, mostly focused on the appeal – read on:
Proceedings before the Hearing Examiner are open to the public, but no one came to watch this one – your editor here was the only person in the gallery of Tanner’s small, windowless hearing room on the 40th floor of the Municipal Tower, where we have covered other West Seattle cases (including the Satterlee House appeal that ultimately went all the way to the state Supreme Court).
At the table: Admiral residents Dennis Ross and Stephen Levey, who are appealing the “determination of nonsignificance” that the Department of Planning and Development issued along with a recommendation that the rezoning request be approved; DPD planner Shelley Bolser (not the original planner on the case); consultant Josh Stepherson, on behalf of area land owners Mike Gain and Roger Cayce.
It was noted that these conferences usually happen several weeks before an appeal hearing, but some sort of scheduling difficulty caused this one to fall just nine days ahead. That meant, for example, that “discovery” requets made by Ross and Levey won’t be granted – Tanner said they needed to have been requested long ago.
The main point, though, was to clarify what they are contending. Tanner repeated several times during the conference that the burden of proof in an appeal is on those who challenge it, to show why it was in error, or incomplete. A determination of “nonsignificance” under SEPA – the State Environmental Policy Act – means that the city believes granting the rezoning will not significantly affect environmental factors. The appeal, according to what Ross and Levey said in the conference, takes issue with that on a variety of fronts, including soil stability linked to earthquake risks in the area because of the nearby Seattle Fault, which Levey said runs right through the block proposed for rezoning.
Ross also said the proposal would bring noise and pollution that the city’s decision did not adequately address, as well as traffic/transportation challenges – he mentioned a perceived shortage of curb space for parking on the east side of the street.
No one had a complete list of what witnesses they might call or exhibits they might show, so Tanner asked repeatedly if everyone was OK with proceeding to the appeal hearing on August 18th as scheduled – particularly Stepherson. Ultimately, the answer was “yes,” so that set up this order of events for that day, according to Tanner (starting at 9 am):
*Public testimony on the rezoning proposal – this is the official “public hearing” (no time limits for each speaker, Tanner said in response to a question from Ross, unless a huge number of people show up to speak)
*DPD presentation of the rezoning request/recommendation
*The applicants’ presentation of the rezoning request/recommendation
*Rebuttal, if any, first from DPD, then from the applicants
*The appeal hearing (which again, just covers the DPD’s determination that the rezoning proposal is environmentally nonsignificant)
*Appellants will present their case (Tanner noted that anyone who plans to speak as part of that presentation is welcome to speak in the earlier “public hearing” section – as long as the two appearances are NOT redundant)
*DPD will present its evidence
*Applicant will present their evidence
*Rebuttal of any, in the same order as above; closing remarks, in the same order
Tanner said her calendar currently has only the one full day set aside for this, not knowing how long the public hearing will be and how many people will show up to speak.
After more logistics discussions, including how all sides would get copies of basic case documents given the short turnaround – Tanner said her office did not have the ability to e-mail them, so would have to rely on faxes, though both appellants and applicant said they’d just come pick up the documents – the conference concluded after less than an hour and a half.
If you are interested in participating in the upcoming hearing – or any other Hearing Examiner proceeding – the office has a downloadable guide on how its process works. After next week’s hearings, the next step will be for the Hearing Examiner to write a report on the rezoning recommendation, and to issue a decision on the appeal – that usually takes a few weeks.
WSB coverage of the rezoning proposal, dating back to 2007, is archived here, newest to oldest.