FOLLOWUP: District rejects environmental appeal of Alki Elementary rebuild/expansion

(Rendering by Mahlum, from last year’s info packet for proposed zoning ‘departures’)

6:27 PM: The decision isn’t final until Seattle Public Schools superintendent Dr. Brent Jones reviews it, but a district hearing examiner has issued his recommendation on an appeal related to the plan to rebuild and expand Alki Elementary (previous WSB coverage here). SPS hearing examiner Gary McLean said the appellants did not prove that the district was wrong in determining that the project did not require a full environmental review. His ruling’s summary:

Based on the entire record taken as a whole, the appeal should be denied. The appellants failed to offer sufficient evidence to establish that any probable, significant, adverse environmental impact will result from the project, even after requiring the project to meet existing laws, regulations, and measures noted in the environmental information included in the record. The Examiner is not left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.

In this type of challenge, the burden is on appellants to prove that the original decision – in this case, the decision that a full environmental review was not needed – was in error. The appeal was argued at a two-day hearing last month. The ruling summarizes testimony on behalf of the appeal – mostly area residents – and on behalf of the district – an array of “expert witnesses” led by an attorney from a private law firm that specializes in land-use cases. Hearing examiner McLean also noted that he visited the site multiple times between the completion of the hearing and the issuance of his ruling. His ruling summarizes the issues presented in the appeal as:

Archaeological/Cultural Resource Concerns;
Aesthetic/View Impact Concerns, especially for residents located uphill, behind the building.
Traffic and parking concerns.
General discussion.

In all, McLean wrote, “The witness testimony presented during all three appeal presentations added little, if any, substantive evidence that would serve to rebut the expert consultant studies, and on-site observations of the surrounding area, summarized by District witnesses during the appeal hearing. … The appellants’ evidence and testimony in this appeal was mostly a recitation of personal beliefs, opinions, and conclusory assertions. While sincere and genuinely concerned about the neighborhood and public schools, none of the appellant witnesses presented testimony or evidence of the same weight as the professional subject-matter expert reports and testimony included in the record.”

Again, the SPS superintendent now has to review this and make a final decision on the appeal. But that won’t be the last say on the project. The building and land-use permit applications remain under review by the city Department of Construction and Inspections; its decision, including whether to grant nine zoning exceptions (“departures”), also will be subject to appeal. Construction at the 3010 59th SW site is planned to start after this school year ends in June; Alki students and staff are scheduled to move into the former Schmitz Park Elementary for the next two school years.

9:14 PM: Just got word that the superintendent’s decision is in. In a one-paragraph letter, he accepts the hearing ecaminer’s recommendation:

I have received the Hearing Examiner’s Recommendation (“Recommendation”) regarding the SEPA Appeal that was filed by several appellants for the Alki Elementary School Addition and Renovation Project. I have carefully reviewed the Recommendation and find it to be sound. As a result, I adopt the Hearing Examiner’s Recommendation. Appellants’ evidence has not shown the Responsible Official’s SEPA determination to be clearly erroneous.

SEPA = State Environmental Policy Act; its provisions shape processes like this one.

35 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: District rejects environmental appeal of Alki Elementary rebuild/expansion"

  • Alki March 16, 2023 (7:06 pm)

    Provide sufficient parking

    • Reed March 16, 2023 (8:59 pm)

      Perhaps adjacent homeowners should do their part and park their private vehicles on their private property.

      • Niko March 16, 2023 (9:31 pm)

        Why?! People who live in the area pay for the schools as well as the roads

        • DC March 17, 2023 (10:06 am)

          The entitlement homeowners have to free publicly owned and maintained parking is incredible. You realize everyone who lives in this city pays taxes right?  Renters pay their landlords property taxes, and yet homeowners freak at the idea they might park in front of their house. 

      • John March 16, 2023 (9:40 pm)

        Property owners have 57% of their property taxes going to fund the schools so I’m going to say no on that one

  • BeTruthful March 16, 2023 (9:22 pm)

    >>>Aesthetic/View Impact Concerns, especially for residents located uphill, behind the building. The hearing examiner’s assertion that view impact concerns dominated the interest of the witnesses, especially those living uphill and behind the school is incorrect, in spite of SPS attorneys alluding to it on several occasions.  Three of the witnesses at the hearing  live uphill and behind the school, and only one of them would have minimal view blockage.  The other two have no view blockage, and both of them focused on parking and traffic impacts; views were not mentioned by these parties.  None of the residents with significant potential view blockage were at the hearing  and in fact, those (mostly absentee) owners know nothing of the SPS construction plan to date.  

  • Jim March 16, 2023 (9:30 pm)

    Time for a good old fashioned sit in. 

  • WS Teacher March 16, 2023 (10:59 pm)

    This comes as no surprise…. As an employee of SPS, I’m used to the district pushing things through without regard to the concerns or possible problems that come from district decisions…. Concerns that the front line (teachers and staff…) have openly shared again, and again. We were shut down. So in this case, the unsafe traffic issues WILL happen…. And parking nightmares in the neighborhood WILL happen…. As a taxpayer who VOTES, I’ll remember all of this come the next levy.

    • Shufflerunner March 17, 2023 (11:12 am)

      I don’t believe you, or at least your logic is flawed. I drop-off there every day and traffic and parking issues are minimal. If you go down there during the middle of the day there is ample street parking. Our schools are old, contain unsafe materials, and would be structurally unsound in the event of an earthquake since they were built prior to code adjustments made in the late 1980s. These buildings need to be replaced for the health and safety of the students and staff. Your supposed response to a building you don’t like (that is already funded) for whatever reason is to deny school funding for students and staff that would have no connection to Alki. There is a small and vocal minority opposed to this pretty much done deal that hasn’t realized there is no support for their cause in the real world. 

      • Anne March 17, 2023 (4:33 pm)

        No problem with  the building-but adequate parking for staff with a few extra spaces for visitors doesn’t seem to be asking that much. 

      • WS Teacher March 17, 2023 (6:27 pm)

        You’re correct…. I don’t like the building. We could have come up with something much, much better….. And it’s great that YOU can find parking in the middle of the day…. Perhaps you don’t realize that staff members are required to be in the building before 7:30 am. Many arrive well before that when street parking is difficult to find. To your point that the drop off /pick-up traffic is “minimal”….. that’s because Alki currently has a student enrollment of approximately 250 students. That will no longer be the case. With over 500 students, 75 staff members, AND a lot more school buses, it’s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt. Several years ago, during the neighborhood levy presentations asking voters to support the building levy, plans were shared on the district vision towards the re-build of Alki Elementary. Voters were told the school, due to its small footprint, could only continue to be a small school, housing no more that 400 students. However, several  years later, the plans have comically morphed into a building that will house over 600. The district disputes this, but history says otherwise. Ask the folks at Genesee Hill…. (They ballooned to over 800 students at one point). When the district and the design team were asked about this discrepancy, they simply stated that the personnel who made that levy presentation were no longer with SPS, and therefore, the they couldn’t comment on why plans changed….. It’s just plain dishonest to SAY the building will be roughly the same size, then substantially change the plans AFTER the levy passed. There is no question that Alki school does need to be replaced or retrofitted. But SPS is behind other comprehensive school districts in their design of K-12 pathways. It’s time to re-configure the pathways in West Seattle. Alki is better suited to a pre-K through grade 1 program. Lafayette could house 3-5. This would make better use of district special services (counseling, PE equipment, walk-to learning…) Lafayette Elementary sits on a huge piece of property…. In the 1950’s Lafayette had close to 1000 students….. that’s why there is so much pavement on the site. It housed many portable classrooms. Lafayette is better suited to a large building. But again, SPS does not think creatively. 

    • listen to me. March 19, 2023 (2:13 am)

      I’m a college student who’s watching my neighbor/besties mom be let go as a teacher from Gennessee elementary along with 3 other teachers (4 entire classrooms, thats like 80 kids if class sizes were actually that small) because enrollment is low and now this brand new super cool school with collaborative learning spaces will be wasting space as a new goddamn school is built less than a mile away, that could potentially impact schmitz park forest, not to mention every other concern mentioned here. 

  • Lola March 17, 2023 (7:17 am)

    Re-Open Schmitz Park School.  Plenty of parking.  Plenty of room for expansion and busses to drop of the kiddo’s. It was once a wonderful school with still lots of life left.  Make Alki School a really big Community Center for After School Programs and weekend stuff. 

    • listen to me. March 19, 2023 (2:16 am)

      this is so true just reopen the building and send overflow there, i don’t understand how people are able to justify wasting money on expansion when theres already a whole school collecting dust nearby.

  • Anne March 17, 2023 (8:26 am)

    The view objection is not the biggest issue in my mind. Does it make any sense for a new school to be built with no parking for staff or visitors (parents)-especially in that neighborhood which has little parking to spare? No. But  how vocal  were the   objections when it was being planned?  I live in WS-but not in Alki neighborhood-I knew a school was going to be built – & thought -that’s nice Alki is overdue for a new school-but honestly didn’t look at the plan in detail-if it was going to be built in my neighborhood-I would have. 

  • wetone March 17, 2023 (8:33 am)

    Seattle school district enrollment on decline, all streets surrounding Alki school property are basically one lane roads (meaning barely passable if delivery truck/car or bus is stopped) traffic in area is increasing greatly with all the new builds. Most people moving to area are childless. It seems to me the school district is way overbuilding in today’s times and needs. In the 1960’s when I went to Alki school the area had a large family base, not so today. This project shows a poor choice in tax dollar spending. As said in other replies, this makes my voting choices much easier……..

  • Jort March 17, 2023 (8:54 am)

    Here we see, yet again, the perversion of “Environmental Impact” laws, whose good intentions have been twisted into arguments that more parking lots for more cars is actually good for the environment! The weaponization of these laws to primarily serve homeowner property value and quality of life concerns is a major factor in why so many projects in “liberal” cities languish through endless reviews and cost significantly more than they should. Alki Elementary is likely one of the most walkable elementary schools on the peninsula, and it is surrounded by miles and miles of public streets with ample space for storing private vehicles. “We care oh-so-much about the environment, that’s why we want to make more space for cars!” Farcical and insulting on its face.

    • WhyNot March 17, 2023 (4:09 pm)

      You obviously don’t live at Alki.  There are far more miles of streets, including thoroughfares, at Schmitz Park School and Lafayette School, both a mile or so from Alki School.  This is something that can be measured.  There is more playground space at both those schools (also eminently measurable)  and neither of them are within an overlay parking district (look it up if you don’t know what it is).  If good intentions are not to be twisted, let’s not twist the zoning laws to ask for multiple and extreme departures.  People who don’t like “liberal” cities have plenty of “conservative” ones they can enjoy, inland and to the east and south of this great country..

    • Anne March 17, 2023 (4:31 pm)

      Baloney-schools should have places for staff & parents who need to come to the school for any number of reasons during the day (meetings-picking up sick kids etc). Not huge parking lots- but adequate for amount of staff & a few  extra. I’m guessing if a parent has to come pick up a sick child-they would need to actually sign into the building which means getting out of a car. Would be nice to not have to walk a sick child several blocks to wherever they had to park. 

      • Beach Teach March 17, 2023 (6:43 pm)

        I’m on the staff at Alki. We were specifically told that it is normal within Seattle school sites to park 850 feet from the school entrance. That would be the distance parents, sick kids, etc. would experience as well. It was suggested that we could start using Admiral Way for parking. No “visitor” parking was built into the plans. I’m pretty sure that the few designated parking spaces will be for the Principal, the Custodian, and Kitchen staff. Finally, it’s important to note that the staff of Alki stated very clearly (up to two years ago….) that parking and a safe drop-off area were the top two staff priorities in the new design. Those priorities were not included in the final design plan.

        • priorities March 18, 2023 (7:42 am)

          Finally, it’s important to note that the staff of Alki stated very clearly (up to two years ago….) that parking and a safe drop-off area were the top two staff priorities in the new design.”

          To be crystal clear–an elementary school is being rebuilt and redesigned.  A school for, you know, children (not big drivers, really) and the “top two” priorities for the teachers were about cars?

          You understand how insanely bad that makes you look?

          • Frog March 18, 2023 (10:14 am)

            Someone looks insanely bad here, and it’s not the teachers of Alki.  The job of a teacher is plenty tough, and it’s not at all unreasonable to want a safe, convenient place to park, or to want their travel to and from work to be reasonable.  Few teachers can afford to live in the neighborhood and walk to work.  Bus service to the neighborhood is so-so, and few teachers want to spend 90+ minutes per day commuting by bus.

          • Math Teacher March 18, 2023 (12:49 pm)

            You do know that schools require adults in addition to children? You can’t just open the doors and invite children to come on in to teach themselves. 

          • Beach Teach March 18, 2023 (6:15 pm)

            The top priority was a safe drop off /Pick-up area so students could safely access both the school and the vehicles picking them up…. The 2nd priority was parking….. Not just for staff, but for families and visitors. Shame on you for your subtle jab that teachers care about themselves more than the students we teach. 

        • Ws teach 2 March 18, 2023 (8:55 am)

          None of this is surprising. I work for SPS too and they have a track record or never listening to the front line teachers. I am still waiting to here about their inclusion plan they promised to continuing to bargain for, and their Special Ed caseload calculator.  Whomever signed off on the Alki plans does not understand parking in that area. And why not Schmitz Park instead? Alki could have been turned into an early childhood preschool center which west seattle has a need for.

        • Why March 18, 2023 (9:20 am)

          The school design has NO designated parking spaces. One (1) ADA parking spot was hastily added last minute across the street.

    • Math Teacher March 18, 2023 (10:55 am)

      Jort, I do not disagree with your advocacy for a world without cars. Thank you for continuing to bring that perspective. We need it. But when you look at this as a mere NIMBY issue about on-street parking, I think you are missing  valid concerns about this project.

      Look at it a different way: Suppose you a titan of industry, and you are setting up a business where you expect to exploit 100 employees every day. As a forward-looking environmental steward, you don’t want your employees to drive cars to work. In choosing a location, you would probably make sure to site your business within walking distance of frequent public transit , and you would provide ample bicycle storage. If your pay scale is so low that some employees will probably commute from lower priced housing in Auburn or Tacoma,  you might plan a few spaces strictly for car pools as a transitional support while transit gets built up.  

      • Jort March 23, 2023 (8:18 am)

        There are miles and miles and miles of widely available street parking all around the school. You’re asking the district to make it easier to park. This is not an issue of equity and and pay scales and blah blah blah. Teachers can still drive to the school. They can park on the street. They can walk half a block to get into the building. They’ll live. This is not a civil rights struggle. All I’m hearing is, “I don’t like walking.” Oh well. 

  • H March 17, 2023 (12:44 pm)

    Why in the world is SPS expanding a school when other school districts in the area are closing theirs?    Clearly district leadership is in denial about the fact that parents are fleeing SPS and for good reason.    This project should be cancelled, but we all know that won’t happen because leadership has their heads in the sand.

    • hj March 17, 2023 (12:58 pm)

      Alki Elementary, which is the topic of this discussion, lost only 11 students last year, so I’m not sure if that counts as “fleeing”. If you want to look at other West Seattle trends beyond that, WSHS and Chief Sealth are the #2 and #3 fastest-growing high schools in the city.

      • Me mama March 17, 2023 (10:32 pm)

        Amen.  There’s plenty of awesome things happening in public schools. We have some pretty amazing and well qualified staff.  It’s too bad some people are so scared of public schools because it’s been an incredible, well rounded, real life experience for my kids 

        • Beach Teach March 18, 2023 (6:18 pm)

          Me Mama- Thanks for your thoughtful words, and for the support!

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