Development agreement hearings for YarrowBay developments in Black Diamond begin

The development agreement hearings for the two Black Diamond master planned developments, The Villages and Lawson Hills, began Tuesday evening at the Sawyer Woods Elementary School.

The city’s hearing examiner, Phil Olbrechts, presided over the proceedings. The city’s Community Development Director Steve Pilcher, and Nancy Rogers from the Seattle law firm Cairncross & Hempelmann, representing the Kirkland developer YarrowBay, each made a presentation describing the agreement.

The two developments are projected to add about 6,000 residences with retail, office, light industrial, open space and recreational space. The projects are planned for a 15 year build out with a five year extension.

Black Diamond currently has a population of about 4,100 and the projects would increase the population to more than 20,000.

The population of the cities near Black Diamond are Maple Valley with about 22,000, Covington at nearly 18,000 and Enumclaw at about 10,000.

Following the presentations by Pilcher and Rogers six members of the public testified, all objected to various aspects of the projects including traffic mitigation, construction of schools and paying for schools.

Rogers based her presentation of the projects on the development agreement guide, which is posted on the website

The guide outlines the mix and types of housing YarrowBay has proposed, commercial development, transportation mitigation, parks, trails, open spaces, schools and the financial impact on the city.

Rogers emphasized YarrowBay's view that through a wide variety of housing styles and densities the projects "mimicks the small-town style."

The guide document noted, "Another reason to offer such a wide variety of housing is to offer homes that people will actually want to buy. YarrowBay is not interested in developing homes or commercial areas that will sit vacant for long periods of time."

Regarding the fiscal impact to the city, Rogers stated the development agreements "assures protection of the city's bottom line."

Rogers noted the city would collect taxes on the projects and as part of the conditions of approval for the projects there is a funding agreement where the developer pays for city staff needed for the development phases.

Mike Irrgang, a Black Diamond resident, spoke in opposition to the developments stating "I feel there is an enormous, unfunded legal liability in the development agreement. That is the issue of the schools."

Rogers objected to Irrgang's testimony stating it was not directly related to the development agreement, but addressed the mitigation agreement signed by the city, YarrowBay and the Enumclaw School District.

The agreement calls for YarrowBay to provide land for seven to eight schools including elementary, middle schools and a high school.

The hearing examiner stated the hearing was to decide if the development agreements meets the conditions of the approved MPD ordinances. However, he said the agreements were "fairly broad" and he intended to "be pretty opened ended about what can be discussed."

Olbrechts pointed out that if the issue discussed did not directly address the "conditions of approval you're probably going to need the applicant to voluntarily do something about it.... The odds of that probably are not sky high."

Irrgang said his point was, "The combination of the MPDs, the school mitigation agreement and the development agreement creates a situation that virtually guarantees the law cannot be followed."

Rogers again raised an objection that the statement did not relate to the development agreements. She noted she had to raise the objection in a "timely manner" so the hearing record had the objection noted.

Irrgang stated the residents of Enumclaw and people south of the Green River were not benefitting from the schools.

"If you have houses where the taxpayers will not likely approve the funding of the schools then I would propose you must include a condition in the development agreement where you have a hard stop to all continued construction until such schools are funded."

Olbrechts ruled again he would allow the statement over Roger's objection, but, he noted if the issue raised did not directly address the condition of approval in the development agreement it was "not likely to be acted on."

The hearing examiner also pointed out for the audience it was Roger's job to make certain the objections were on the record in the event of an appeal of the proceedings.

Olbrechts went on to describe the development agreement as a "type of horse trading" between the applicant and city, where different conditions can be addressed through trades. He stated his plan was to allow a wide range of testimony that may not directly address the conditions of the approval, but, may provide information to the council.

"Because the scope of the development agreement is so broad I think the testimony can be broad as well," Olbrechts said.

Irrgang also raised the issue of traffic mitigation and addressing the regional impact from the projects.

Ron Taylor said he was concerned with the "vagueness of the development agreement.... There are far too many yet to be determined in the development agreement."

The hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. at the school, 31135 228th Ave. S.E., Black Diamond. Saturday the hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m.

The two projects were approved by the City Council in September 2010.

A Black Diamond group, Toward Responsible Development, filed a land use petition act or LUPA  appeal in superior court and asked the Growth Management Hearings Board to review the projects.

The board remanded the ordinances approving the projects back to the city stating a legislative process should have been used rather than a quasi-judicial. The board said a legislative process would have allowed more public participation.

The board did not rule the ordinances were invalid, but, directed the city to send the projects to the Planning Commission for a hearing and a recommendation to the City Council.

The parties agree to ask the growth board to allow a direct appeal of the board decision to the state appeals court. The board agreed and the appeals court has accepted the case.

The LUPA appeal is still in superior court.

The board set up a compliance schedule for the city to complete the legislative process, but, superior court Judge Cheryl Carey granted a motion to stay the board’s schedule.

The development agreement is the next step in the process after the ordinances were approved by the City Council. The document is an agreement between the city and YarrowBay providing more detail concerning the construction of the projects.

The hearing examiner will provide a recommendation to the council following the hearings regarding the development agreements compliance with city code and the conditions set down in the approved ordinances.

Once the hearing examiner provides the recommendation, the council will consider the agreements.

The Villages calls for 4,800 residences with a mix of single-family and multifamily homes, 775,000 square feet of commercial, retail and light industrial and 481 acres of open space, trails and recreation use.

Lawson Hills proposes 1,250 homes, 390,000 square feet of commercial, retail, office and light industrial and 144 acres of open space, trails and recreation use.

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