Arbor Heights appeal hearing #3 ranges from trees to transportation

(Mid-January photo of Arbor Heights site, courtesy Mike R.)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The hearing’s over, and now a written decision is awaited in the third appeal filed against the Arbor Heights Elementary rebuild project.

Testimony heard this afternoon before city Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner on the 40th floor of the Municipal Tower downtown included one new wrinkle: A question about traffic effects to potentially be compounded by the charter school proposed at 35th/Roxbury, a plan that just surfaced a month ago, which is why it was not a factor at the time of the two appeals decided last year (May 2014 WSB coverage here; August 2014 WSB coverage here).

APPELLANTS’ CASE: District watchdog Chris Jackins presented the appeal case, though he is not the lone appellant; several nearby residents are listed too.

Jackins began by noting key points including the two 24-inch-diameter Douglas fir trees whose fate had been at issue, a madrone tree already removed, the contention that the Duwamish Tribe should be involved in case of archaeological discoveries on the site, and the contention that the proposed school is too large for the site. Here’s his official appeal document (featured here when we first reported on the appeal):

(If you can’t read it embedded above, here’s a PDF version.)

Regarding the school’s size, he brought up what’s been mentioned in previous cases, that Westside School (WSB sponsor) is building a new campus, to open this fall, a few blocks east on SW 104th, and that its transportation impacts had not been taken into account. He referred to the discussion in the first appeal hearing, held at SPS headquarters in May 2014. He quoted from an analysis that “the cumulative impact from both schools could degrade operations from 104th onto 35th,” and noted plans for the future Summit charter school campus at 9601 35th SW, that we first reported here last month (newest details here).

Even aside from the transportation effects in the area, the amount of parking needed on the site itself is more than what’s being provided for, Jackins contended. The appellants also take issue with the lighted signboard approved for the renovated campus.

DISTRICT’S CASE: On behalf of Seattle Public Schools, land-use lawyer Richard Hill contended in his opening statement that the city decisions on the matters at issue here are “far from erroneous.” Regarding the trees, he said the Douglas firs will be kept and that the project has a tree plan that will more than make up for a madrone tree that was lost. And he said that several tribes including the Duwamish are or would be involved.

Half an hour later, at the start of his presentation, Hill called Tim Ausink, project manager for Heery International, who said he’s been working on the Arbor Heights rebuild since last October, overseeing “what remained” of the permitting/design process, as well as the second-phase bid process that is under way now. (As previously reported, the first phase involved demolition and site preparation; the second phase will involve the actual construction of the new school.) Hill led him through an explanation of where bus loading/unloading was done before the old AHES was demolished, compared to where it will be done at the new school, scheduled to open in fall 2016. Families dropping off children will enter on 104th, drop them off toward the front of the school, and exit onto 105th; bus loading/unloading will be mostly on 104th, as it had been in the past, he said.

He affirmed that four zoning exceptions had been requested and that an eight-member advisory committee had recommended approval: First, to allow fewer parking spots than the 71 that would be required, with the rationale given, to leave more open space on the site (Ausink
pointed out that the old school had six off-street parking spaces and would now have 55). Second, to continue allowing bus loading in a manner that would maximize on-site open space; 104th and 105th will have improved curb/gutter/sidewalks, Hill and Ausink pointed out, suggesting that would make bus loading/unloading easier. Third, regarding the reader board: 7 am-7 pm on days when school’s in session, with exceptions for special events. Fourth, modulating the north facade of the building; the committee deemed the design “sufficiently respectful of the neighborhood” but asked the district to “explore other design elements” that could soften it, such as vegetation/landscaping.

Regarding contacting tribes, Ausink said the Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Snoqualmie, Suquamish, and Tulalip tribes would be contacted before construction begins.

Hearing Examiner Tanner asked what the plan would entail. “We try to make first contact by phone; if that is not successful, we’ll try by e-mail … then we will send a letter,” said Ausink.

Second witness called by Hill was Paula Johnson, who works for Environmental Science Associates as its director of cultural resources for the Northwest region. She said she has worked on multiple school projects regarding the State Environmental Policy Act checklist component. Asked how she and her staff evaluated cultural aspects at the site, she said they began by reviewing an online database that includes a “statewide predicted model … a tool for us to consider as a starting point.” AH is considered at moderate/moderate-to-low risk for cultural resources being present. They studied historical maps, photographs, geotechnical information, and compared it with construction plans to try to “evaluate what the actual risk is based on what is proposed for that landscape.” Their conclusion, Johnson said: “Based on the geological data and the history before school construction, we concluded a low risk for encountering buried cultural resources.” The district still requested an “inadvertent discovery plan,” just in case, she said. “It’s a good management tool when you have a construction project to have protocols in place” in case you find something.

The plan outlines the potential of the area and how they reached that conclusion, and then communications, what notifications would be made, how the construction crew would be oriented to understand the process if they find something. She said the plan mentioned that the Duwamish was notified before phase 1 began and that a wider group of tribes would be notified before phase 2.

Hill’s third witness was Scott D. Baker from Tree Solutions Inc., which consulted on the project. He said the site had “a nice collection of older trees” as well as some planted more recently, which they learned about from “a parent group.” He reiterated that the two Douglas Firs on the northeast corner of the site are to be retained, though they had previously been proposed to be moved, something his firm advised against. The madrone that was removed had been in a right of way, and therefore was not technically “exceptional”; it had been in “fair” condition, Baker testified, showing “typical signs of decline.” (Another tree once considered “exceptional” but found to be in city right-of-way, a birch, was also removed.)

In all, 43 trees are being removed, 113 will be planted, according to Baker, including 13 new madrones. “In time, this will vastly increase the amount of canopy on the site,” he said.

Fourth witness called by Hill was Tod McBryan, co-owner of Heffron Transportation. He said he specializes in transportation analyses for school districts. He oversaw the analysis for the Arbor Heights Elementary project. They studied “six off-site intersections and conducted traffic counts on two days,” October 10-11, 2013, in the morning and afternoon, one day with school in session, one day without. They came up with “trip generation estimates” as a result of that work, he said; they also researched collision data and studied parking utilization around the site, “all roadways within an 800-foot radius,” where they found 463 on-street spaces, with 30 percent midday utilization during school, 32 percent in the evenings. When they did their analysis, the school had fewer than 400 students, but they did the work knowing the new school could be built to hold up to 660 students. They found that even under the new conditions, intersections would operate at acceptable levels. There would be an increase in delays, especially in the 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after the school day, he acknowledged. Parking demand could increase to 92 vehicles, he noted, with overflow in the surrounding areas, as is the case now.

Heffron Transportation recommended a plan to educate the school community about traffic/parking/walking conditions before the new school opens, including a neighborhood-communication plan to inform neighbors of events at the school, McBryan testified.

Asked by Hill about a later analysis, McBryan acknowledged analyzing what would happen with the addition of Westside School’s new campus (opening in 2015, one year before the new Arbor Heights school will open). That analysis, he said, was “focused on afternoon conditions. … We found there was potential that if the schools’ start times continued as there are today, there’s potential for cumulative impacts at 35th/104th … when the times would overlap.” The intersection could drop in at least one direction to as low as an E or F level of service, McBryan said. He added that there are options for working to avoid that if trouble arises – potentially even asking SDOT to make the intersection an all-way stop, and to monitor the start-and-stop times once the schools are occupied, and to consider adjusting them if necessary. He contended that some of the traffic-related contentions in Jackins’ appeal statement were erroneous.

In followup questioning, Jackins asked McBryan what he envisions for traffic coming out on the new SW 105th exit, and whether the district had asked for any analysis related to the addition of traffic from the potential 35th/Roxbury charter school. McBryan disclosed that he’s been retained by the applicant to analyze traffic related to that school, and that the analysis will take Arbor Heights ES and Westside into account.

In his closing statement, Jackins requested that examiner Tanner include in her findings a reiteration of the plan for the two Douglas Fir not to be moved – “having things in writing from the Hearing Examiner helps, I have found” – and challenged the contention that the removed madrone tree was not exceptional because it was on right of way; he said the city was supposed to transfer that land to the district. He also asked Tanner to include in documentation the verbal commitment by the district to contact tribes before the second phase of the project begins. He acknowledged that its “inadvertent-discovery plan” was a “positive change.” Regarding traffic impacts of a third school planned for this area, he suggested it might be a good idea to wait a while to see results of the study that McBryan said his company would be doing for that school, taking into effect AHES and Westside impacts too.

Hill did not present a closing statement, saying he “had the feeling the examiner had heard what she needed to hear.”

DEPARTMENT OF PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT’S CASE: Though hearings of this kind often include testimony from a DPD rep, planner Holly Godard was on hand for much of the hearing but declined the opportunity.

WHAT’S NEXT: The hearing examiner usually issues her written decision within two weeks, and she reiterated that time frame at the start of the hearing. At its end, she said she is already “quite familiar” with the site

15 Replies to "Arbor Heights appeal hearing #3 ranges from trees to transportation"

  • AHE Parent February 2, 2015 (3:06 pm)

    They are worried about transportation. Do they not remember what it was like with the old school. I understand about the trees, but from what it looks like they will be planting more trees. Don’t some people understand when you buy a home by a school sometimes schools need to be upgraded and let’s face it AHE needed to be updated.

  • jwright February 2, 2015 (3:56 pm)

    Would you please stop referring to Chris Jackins as “district watchdog”? He certainly isn’t watching out for my interests and judging by prior comments on WSB expressing frustration with his frivolous appeals, I am not the only one who feels that way.

    • WSB February 2, 2015 (4:13 pm)

      It’s an accurate and applicable term. And unlike, say, “gadfly,” it is not a subjective term, and that is why we use it.

      maintain surveillance over (a person, activity, or situation).”
      That’s exactly what he has been doing for years. The term’s application is not dependent on whether the public supports, opposes, or is indifferent to the watchdog’s activities.

  • jwright February 2, 2015 (4:38 pm)

    “Watchdog,” while technically accurate per the dictionary definition typically implies that something needs watching. Personally, I would be perfectly happy if the school district was free from this gadfly (which I believe is the more accurate word). However, if you are determined to confer a title upon him, I think “crusader” is more appropriate.

  • dsa February 2, 2015 (6:15 pm)

    Check out the synonyms.

  • wsog February 2, 2015 (6:15 pm)

    Here, here, jwright. WSB – your heroic attempts at neutrality are sometimes so frustrating. Climate change is a real scientific fact, even if a few knuckleheads don’t believe in it. This guy is pathologically opposed to improving Seattle public school facilities. His motivations are highly dubious. Take a closer look at home.

  • JanS February 2, 2015 (7:03 pm)

    people are worried about street congestion/parking issues, etc, at the charter school location at 35th and Roxbury. There is a huge parking lot there…even with an addition to the present building, there will be an 87 car parking lot. Drop off and pickup won’t be on the street, although, yes, cars do need to get in and out of said parking lot.

    And a question…maybe said “watchdog” will check in and answer. Does he want the school in it’s present location, just with changes? or does he want the school to be located somewhere else (usually known as NIMBY). Is he willing to foot the bill for these “lawsuits”?Does he have alternative plans as to how it should be, according to him?

  • Joe Szilagyi February 2, 2015 (7:48 pm)

    Once this gadfly, watchdog, nuisance, whatever is pushed aside, what is the projected opening date for this new school for our children? Has all this caused any delay?

    • WSB February 2, 2015 (7:59 pm)

      No, it has not, according to Tom Redman at SPS – I asked him that when word of this appeal surfaced about a month ago. The project was scheduled to be in its between-phases stage right now and nothing is on hold because of it. AH is still scheduled to open in fall 2016. – TR

  • Jeffrey February 2, 2015 (10:30 pm)

    From here forward I will refer to the gadfly as Community Stooge Chris Jackins.

    More astroturf that needs to be rolled up.

  • anonyme February 3, 2015 (5:50 am)

    A lot of people who are actual neighbors of AHE (myself included) share these concerns – which are not “pathological”, and do not mean that we hate children. It’s disgusting that any discussion of issues has to be so polarized. The fact is that the school, with an estimated EXTRA 700 car trips per day, will cause tremendous traffic and safety issues. I support the new school, but this is a serious concern for the neighborhood.

  • WestofJunction February 3, 2015 (6:09 am)

    All of this silliness drives up the cost of building the school, and hence we pay more. Schools (unless of the Reform variety) add value and are a positive for any neighborhood.

  • Carol O. February 3, 2015 (8:50 am)

    Looks like a great place for homes and a park, with the added plus of having a future charter school close by.

  • AH206 February 4, 2015 (4:28 pm)

    What is Chris Jackin’s motive with all of the appeals? I have moved into the community about a year ago and his stance seems more disruptive rather than building up the community. Is this his full time job?

  • Rob Drew February 4, 2015 (5:31 pm)

    The Traffic Impact Report predicts an increase in traffic of 178 morning trips and 128 afternoon trips, per school day. There will be nearly 50 more parking stalls on site as well as an on-site pick-up and drop-off lane, which the old school did not have. This increase in traffic is also contingent on the school actually having enrollment increased to 660 students (and not just 490 as is the option) and if all 660 actually attend.

Sorry, comment time is over.