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Black Diamond City Council unanimously approves the two YarrowBay master planned developments, The Villages and Lawson Hills

After weeks of deliberations, debate and discussion the Black Diamond City Council unanimously voted to approve, with conditions, the master planned developments The Villages and Lawson Hills.

The Tuesday evening vote directs the City Attorney, Bob Sterbank, to draft an ordinance with conditions for the two YarrowBay developments. Sterbank will present the document to the council at a closed-record hearing scheduled for Sept. 14.

There are more than 100 conditions attached to the developments, including mitigation for traffic, storm water, construction noise and fiscal balance for the city.

Once the council passes the ordinance approving the developments, YarrowBay will begin drafting the development agreement. The development agreement will address in more detail the conditions included in the ordinance.

The development agreement will go before Phil Olbrechts, the city hearing examiner. The City Council will then consider the agreement in another closed-record hearing.

The members spent the first hour of the Tuesday closed-record hearing discussing conditions concerning the development including parking in the town center commercial area and transportation. The council adjourned into a 10-minute executive session at 7:40 p.m.

When the members returned Councilman Craig Goodwin said, “I think it is crunch time and we need to make a decision to move forward on approval or denial of the application.”

Goodwin noted it appeared there were the votes on the council to approve.

“It is easy for me to do the popular thing and vote no,” Goodwin said. “As much as I think there is a case for denial, it is not strong enough. After wrestling with this as much as I possibly can, I feel compelled to vote for approval.”

Councilwoman Kristine Hanson noted the City Council had gone through a “long process and tried hard to get the right conditions.... I think I have to agree with Craig.”

Councilman Bill Boston brought a historical perspective pointing out the Black Diamond Urban Growth Area Agreement was passed in 1996 and, “since that time all the councils have done the best they could to put protections in for the city. This is the culmination of all those years of work from the councils and citizens.”

Boston added, “Is it absolutely perfect? No, but it is the best we can do.”

Councilwoman Leih Mulvihill said through design guidelines and the development agreement, “We can come pretty darn close to gaining a wonderful, award winning community.”

Councilman William Saas called the decision the “most difficult challenge I’ve ever had to deal with.”

Boston made the motion to approve and Goodwin added the second.

Kirkland-based YarrowBay plans to construct 4,800 residences or dwelling units on The Villages property and 1,250 in the Lawson Hills project. Each of the master planned developments has retail, office and open space.

Brian Ross, YarrowBay chief executive officer, said, “I believe the council took in everything they heard from the community. This is the most thorough legislative action we’ve been involved with.”

Ross said one of the hurdles ahead will be overcoming the fears and misconceptions about the developments.

“I completely understand the concerns on the part of the community with the unknown,” Ross said. “But this is going to take 15 to 20 years to develop out and people’s preferences change over time (in terms of housing, commercial and retail). What the City Council realized was we need to monitor as we go along.”

Ross added YarrowBay wants to “work with community groups on water quality, noise and traffic. We’re not afraid of the community involvement. We welcome it.”

Ross said the projection for breaking ground on the first phase is the spring of 2011.

The hearing examiner ruled April 15 the final environmental impact statements for the projects were adequate and recommended approval of the projects with conditions May 10.

Following those rulings the City Council began a closed-record hearing June 21 to consider approval of the projects.

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