(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.
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.
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