ALKI ELEMENTARY REBUILD: Update – district’s challenge to parking ruling dismissed, hours after hearing

(WSB photo, Alki Elementary demolition site in August)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

ORIGINAL 12:08 PM REPORT: More than two months after the old Alki Elementary was demolished, the rebuild/expansion project remains on hold because of what’s become a court fight. A short hearing in the case was held this morning.

First, the backstory: Seattle Public Schools needed nine zoning exceptions – “departures” – to get approval for its plan to build a bigger, taller school on the site. The city Department of Construction and Inspections granted the nine departures. Four Alki residents appealed the decision. After a subsequent daylong hearing, a city hearing examiner upheld the city decision on all but one departure – the one that would allow the school to be built without off-street parking; current zoning would otherwise require 48 spaces. The examiner’s ruling sent the parking issue back to the city for “further consideration.” The district could have opted to work on that issue with the city but instead decided to file a court challenge to the decision. That challenge is set for a full hearing in January, but the city filed a motion to dismiss it, and that’s what was heard today in an online hearing before King County Superior Court Judge Wyman Yip. We monitored the hearing, which lasted less than 15 minutes.

The case is not a lawsuit per se, but rather, a land-use petition. Lawyer Liza Anderson, representing the city, contends the district’s challenge should be dismissed because the hearing examiner’s ruling was not a final land-use decision – it simply sent the parking issue back to city planners to work with the district, Lawyer Katie Kendall, representing the district, contends the hearing examiner’s ruling is indeed a final decision, because if SPS, for example, found a way to provide parking in or near the project, it could get its permits without further proceedings,

Judge Yip had no questions, and said he’d already read the documents filed by both sides. He told the lawyers – who also included counsel for the residents who filed the appeal, though she did not speak – that he expected to file a written decision on the dismissal motion by Monday. (We’ll be watching the case file.) If he doesn’t grant the motion to dismiss the case, it will proceed toward a hearing set for late January. Alki Elementary, meantime, is holding classes at the former Schmitz Park Elementary, which it was expecting to do for two years even if construction of the new school had started this summer as originally planned.

5:35 PM: Just got word that the judge has already made his decision, and he has dismissed the district’s case, agreeing with the city that the hearing examiner’s ruling granting the appeal of the no-parking decision was not a final land-use decision, so this manner of challenge was not appropriate. Here’s how the ruling ends:

Having reviewed the pleadings, the Examiner’s August 10, 2023 written decision, and the
authority cited by counsel, this Court finds that the Examiner’s decision was not a final
determination under LUPA. The Examiner found that “more attention to parking impacts within this
highly constrained and unique setting is needed” and that the decision is “returned to the
Department” for proceedings consistent with the decision. This was not a denial of the requested
parking departure. It was a remand for more/better information before a more informed decision can
be made.

Based on the foregoing, pursuant to Civil Rule (“CR”) 12(b)(1) the Court ORDERS that:
1. Respondent Seattle’s Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED; and
2. Petitioner Seattle School District’s Land Use Petition Act Petition is dismissed.

This does NOT necessarily mean the district has to provide the required parking – it does mean that the city and the district have to work on the issue, as the hearing-examiner ruling ordered. We’ll be seeking comment on Monday.

30 Replies to "ALKI ELEMENTARY REBUILD: Update - district's challenge to parking ruling dismissed, hours after hearing"

  • Jay October 20, 2023 (1:07 pm)

    I work in construction. Delays like this cause obscene cost escalations and schedule extensions. It’s not like you can just hit a pause button to stop and start a project like this. The NIMBYs holding the project up are being unreasonably selfish and will probably add 20% to the cost if not more and turn it into a three year project.

    • WSB October 20, 2023 (1:35 pm)

      At this point, actually, it’s not the appellants holding it up further. The school district decided to go to court rather than work with the city to resolve the parking issue.

      • DC October 20, 2023 (1:57 pm)

        I don’t think that’s a fair characterization. ‘Working with the city’ would require them to add at least some parking. Their plan was to not have any parking. It is those asking them to make changes that are holding up the project as planned. 

        • Kyle October 20, 2023 (3:53 pm)

          If you followed this from the beginning you would know the district did a truncated public comment, ignored all feedback and conducted their parking study during COVID in the winter. They have chosen not to be reasonable and provide some parking for a school sized too big. Only reason to have it this big is to close Lafayette.

          • Beachteach October 21, 2023 (1:58 pm)

            You are correct, the district truncated the comment period, taking orchestrated advantage of Covid and the fact that people avoided meetings, etc. I served on the Alki School Design Advisory Team (SDAT) and it’s important to mention that three years ago when the staff and community were surveyed as to the most important things to consider in the new design were parking and a SAFE drop off / pick up area. This was notable, and brought up MANY times. The district made the decision early on to IGNORE these important needs. As a Alki staff member, I’ve seen unsafe, dangerous traffic situations outside the school EVERYDAY. Last year we had a staff of under 30…. The new building will have approximately 70. No parking for staff, no parking or safe area for parents to pick up sick children, or attend meetings or events. For three years, the district NEVER paid attention to what the community knew would be huge issues. This arrogance is typical of SPS. I support the neighbors and applaud their efforts to hold the district accountable.

        • LoveAlki October 22, 2023 (2:31 am)

          Only seven parking spaces were on one possible designs, but at the cost of student spaces. There is no way 48 spaces can be designed into the space, unless above ground garage is built, but then the height will go up. I think the designers really looked at the impact on the neighborhood, especially those that live on Admiral. Some neighbors complained about the flagpole making noise. Or the bell. Don’t move next to a school. 

    • Tired WS Mom October 20, 2023 (1:43 pm)

      Yes! I was a project manager for land development. This causes so much money to be thrown away for such a ridiculous issue. Parking should be mandatory ESPECIALLY in alki 

      • Bus October 20, 2023 (2:31 pm)

        I think Jay is calling the “Four Alki residents” who opposed the no parking the NIMBYs. NIMBYs isn’t a blanket statement for people against building; it’s about obstruction against things that challenge the status quo. @WSB that’s kinda a bias way to frame this situation, as the district lawyer brings up an inturpertation of the situation that points to it being a final decision.

    • AccessibilityPlease October 20, 2023 (4:22 pm)

      @Jay – How about we hold SPS accountable for trying to dream-board a school into existence.

      • Reed October 21, 2023 (8:52 am)

        Just like these residents are trying to force the school district to add parking, perhaps these resident should be forced to add parking on their property to accommodate their needs?

        • Molly October 21, 2023 (5:37 pm)

          I actually know one of the ones of the alki residents that brought the lawsuit- she has parking and a driveway with a garage. Many who are going to the community center/school park in HER driveway and block her ability to get home or leave her driveway. I absolutely think parking for the new building is essential, and SPS needs to stop ignoring the needs of the parents and community. 

          • MagicBus October 21, 2023 (7:57 pm)

            Just to be clear: it was the school district who brought suit against the city when the hearing examiner ruled against the school district’s departure from parking requirements in an earlier hearing.

  • Ferns October 20, 2023 (1:23 pm)

    I don’t know who all was responsible for these no parking building decisions on the final proposal for an elementary school, but it’s like they thought they could get away with something. I don’t like the idea of an educational institution for children being built the way it is only because adults wanted to “get away with something” and make a mockery the law (disrespecting the will of the people who require minimal parking in a neighborhood and high tourist location). It seems unethical to try to get away with breaking the rules in this way. I hope the school is required to fit the space it has and include sensible parking amounts as already decided by code. Does the school really need to expand as large as is currently designed? 

    • SPS parent October 20, 2023 (1:48 pm)

      I don’t think it’s as nefarious as “trying to get away with something”. I think it’s more that the district has a prototypical school size that they want all schools to be going forward, and that size school on this small site leaves no room for parking. It’s bureaucratic inertia that is shoehorning an overly large building into a crammed space.Alki Elem attendance has declined from 359 pre-covid, to 272, and they are building a school for 500. People trying to say that the neighbors are being NIMBYs or that we are trading classroom space for parking space need to understand that there is space for both parking and classrooms, if the school was the appropriate size for the number of kids.

      • Frog October 21, 2023 (4:29 pm)

        Another aspect of the problem is the architectural vanity design for the new school, which looks great in the architects’ brochures, but doesn’t meet the needs of the community.  The community needs efficient use of space on a small site.  It’s not about parking vs. classrooms, it’s parking versus atria.  The old building was mostly two stories with some areas of just one story, and was rated to hold 300 students (360 including two portables, which are long gone).  They could build in the exact footprint of the old building, raising it to two and three stories, and preserve the existing parking while still adding a lot of classroom space for students who don’t actually exist.  Also to note, parking is not about parents who drive students to school.  The site never had parking for that purpose.  Parking was 1) for staff, in the back, used only by staff during the day, closed at night; and 2) city-owned space in the front, closed off as a play area during the day, and sometimes available for after-hours parking for the community center, ball fields, and school events.  It worked well, though even better would be to somehow design the site so staff parking could be used for the community center and school events at night.  What they need to do is put the current design in a museum, and start over with a more efficient design.

    • Bus October 20, 2023 (2:17 pm)

      I don’t understand how you can focus on it being an institute for children, yet still advocate for a parking lot. Turns out children don’t drive, so advocating for parking is taking space away from them in their institution. It benefits keeping adult’s status quo and keeping them comfortable. @SPS Parent: the school is being built in anticipation for increased capacity. it’s an increase of 40% from pre COVID. do you want them to have to build additions in the near future, or have consistency in their learning environments.

      • AccessibilityPlease October 20, 2023 (4:03 pm)

        Ok Bus, could you please explain where people with mobility issues will be parking? People with disabilities very much do drive, and are also (gasp!) allowed in schools.

        • Bus October 20, 2023 (6:17 pm)

          hey, if all spaces added require a placard, I won’t argue it. but as I’m sure both you and I know probably 2-4 of those at least 48 will be for folks with mobility issues. also, as it turns out, a lot of people with disabilities can’t drive. public transit is the only equitable solution across all financial situations and abilities. so while you narrowly think about some hypothetical case that at the surface supports your status quo thinking, if you begin the actually think of others and true accessibility, you’d figure out pretty quick that cars ain’t the solution.

  • Bus October 20, 2023 (2:44 pm)

    I’d encourage folks to re-read this article, particularly about the things adding parking would take away: outdoor learning space and a playground (unless it can be 4 levels, but I’m guessing it’ll be impossible to get those with a view to agree to that): that’s the tradeoff you want to make for a most-of-the-time unoccupied slab of pavement because it’s easier to imagine driving your kid rather than alternatives? you are going to weigh your feelings that it won’t work than the time and research done by those proposing the design? wild…

    • High School Teacher October 20, 2023 (4:36 pm)

      @Bus, it’s not just about “driving your kid”. Schools need employees to operate. Few employees will live within walking/biking distance of the school, and bus service to the area is limited. Permanent on-site employees will find a way to make this work, but it won’t be easy to keep low-wage food service positions filled, and it will be difficult for teachers to arrange substitute teachers. 

      • Bus October 20, 2023 (6:37 pm)

        “staff parking” is fair, but it’s a bandaid solution. the remodel of this school is future thinking. why is parking the only way to sort out transport issues? you meantion low wage workers which are the folks most likely to not have a car and need public transit. most commenters here argue the neighborhood has too many cars, but another parking lot isn’t going to solve anything; it enforces the need for a car which is how the situation go so bad. focus efforts on improving transit in the area FOR ALL not just those privileged to be able to drive.

  • Staffing October 20, 2023 (5:05 pm)

    I think the real issue here is the staff parking. You’re dramatically increasing the size of the school building and the density of the neighborhood. Teachers can’t afford to live in the neighborhood and buses to and from a location like Alki Elementary are not fantastic and so yeah, you need parking. The idea that we can build density and then worry about infrastructure later, is a recipe for disaster. It feels like the city planners have made a conscious decision to get people to vote for infrastructure by creating pain first (assuming we won’t pay for it until we need it). In the case of light rail to the Junction, that’s only caused the build cost to sore and left us with fewer good options and seemingly endless delays. Social equity and especially housing equity start with transportation infrastructure. The consequences of putting the cart before the horse in Seattle “master” planning is manifest in projects like Alki Elementary. If we had real transit options, then no parking would be no problem. But we don’t. And with people making sure that the “Seattle Process” is applied with such vigor every single time we attempt to get a major piece of infrastructure done, like the fine we’ll meaning folks trying to derail our train, then we will continue to need parking for big new schools. 

  • WSB October 20, 2023 (5:42 pm)

    Update: Just got word the judge has made his ruling and dismissed the district’s case. Update above.

  • Dwg October 20, 2023 (5:55 pm)

    Your tax dollars are paying expensive lawyers to badly argue this frivolous case. 

    • High School Teacher October 21, 2023 (10:41 am)

      Alternatively, your tax dollars have been unwisely spent designing the largest school possible that could be built on a teensy, tiny lot, with multiple zoning departures and little consideration of how schools actually operate. The departures document and mitigations plan around parking states that the district will split evening events across multiple nights, so either Alki will be the only school with no community events such as Fall Curriculum night and an all-school Spring concert, or SPS is expected to ignore the mitigation agreement plans after the school is built. I assume positive intent, and that the people writing that mitigation plan were unaware of the many things that happen at schools.

  • Arash October 21, 2023 (12:45 am)

    building schools while simultaneously closing other schools 🤷‍♂️🤦‍♂️

  • MagicBus October 21, 2023 (1:58 am)

    This project illustrates the dysfunction and arrogance of Seattle Public Schools.  They are accountable to no one.  The school board consists of unpaid volunteers who may or may not have skill sets that include learning, teaching, budget  or business.  Excellent and good teachers notwithstanding,  the executive team is a failure.  Example = filing suit against the city instead of complying (or even attempting to negotiate) with the city’s directive.  Example = hiring an expensive law firm in order to bully their way through the process, instead of using in-house legal, as the city does.  It’s truly an eye-opening experience to observe how the school district operates (esp compared to how the city operates), something that was not visible to me as a student in their system for twelve years, nor as a parent of four children who went through the K-12 system.   I understand now why parents are taking their children elsewhere.

  • Josh October 21, 2023 (9:12 am)

    My kid went to Alki for a year and now goes to Gatewood. The two neighborhoods the two schools are in have very similar parking availability during school times (yes street parking in Alki can be a little hairy in the summer but during school there is plentiful street parking). Gatewood has an enrollment of about 100 more kids than Alki. Gatewood has like 20 parking spots on site and not all of them are used by staff, I’d say maybe 20% of the spots remain unused. 48 spots is dumb and unnecessary and in fact having none would still allow for teacher parking, kid pickup, and neighbors to have street parking available. The problem with the Alki project is building a 500 student school within a mile of another 500 student school in an area that will never ever ever have even 600 elementary aged public school students in it. Given talk of closing schools to save maybe 2 mil a school (all we need to do to solve the budget gap is to close about 60 schools, totally doable right?) the solution is obvious: the holding entity of the current Alki elementary property should sell the land to Star Parking and turn the whole thing into a big parking lot. Everyone wins!!!!!

    • High School Teacher October 21, 2023 (11:17 am)

      @Josh – A very big difference between the two sites is that Gatewood is on the C-line RapidRide while Alki will always be served by a less-frequent slower bus. Another big difference is that Gatewood has abundant dedicated space for school bus loading on an entirely different street from where parents drop off students. And there is a huge practical difference between a school having no parking at all versus having 20 spaces. For example, with 20 spaces, a teacher who usually rides the bus could come by after work to park close and carry in supplies.

  • LoveAlki October 22, 2023 (1:56 am)

    Maybe the city should give the field to the district and then they could build a parking lot there. Sounds like a plan to me. 

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