Groundbreaking work on YarrowBay's The Villages development begins | Black Diamond

The Villages - Courtesy graphic
The Villages
— image credit: Courtesy graphic

Clearing and grading work began Tuesday on one of YarrowBay's master planned developments in Black Diamond.

Crews began work on The Villages Phase 1A, about a 93-acre area.

The two master planned developments, The Villages and Lawson Hills, have been a focal point of contention and controversy in the city since 2009.

In the November general election Dave Gordon won the mayor race with 68.55 percent of the vote defeating incumbent mayor Rebecca Olness. His platform was based on opposition to the YarrowBay development.


According to Brian Ross, managing partner of YarrowBay, this phase of the project includes plans for 378 single family homes, 395 multi-family units, nine townhouses, 190,000 square feet of commercial space, parks and a site where an elementary school could be built in the future.

The clearing and grading permit for the project was issued by the city in July. It was appealed and Phil Olbrechts, the city's hearing examiner, denied the appeal Oct. 7.

"This is not an optimal time of year (to start), but this is a 20-year project," Ross said. "It has been 20 years in the planning and (it will be) 20 years in the execution. There is no perfect time to start."

A Land Use Petition Act appeal filed by Toward Responsible Development is still pending on the Villages and Lawson Hills master planned development before the state Court of Appeals.

The appeal was denied by King County Superior Court Judge Patrick Oishi Aug. 27, 2012, and Toward Responsible Development filed with the Court of Appeals for review of the lower court's decision.

Ross said it will take a couple of years to get the phase 1A project ready with infrastructure improvements. He said YarrowBay will take an incremental approach, working on the clearing and grading while the engineering work is completed on the roads as an example.

Ross said once the appeal is completed "(we will) convey the elementary school site to the Enumclaw School District."


The two master planned developments call for more than 6,000 homes, which when complete could increase the current population of about 4,100 in Black Diamond to more than 20,000. It also plans for light industrial, commercial, retail space, parks, trails and schools.

The beginning of the project brought pointed comments from both sides of the fence.

"The MPDs for both The Villages and Lawson Hills were approved in September 2010, and the Development Agreements in December 2011," Olness wrote in an email Thursday. "Since then, YarrowBay has had a legal right to proceed with their projects. Delays have been caused by the many lawsuits filed by Toward Responsible Development, whose membership included both previous and current members of the Black Diamond City Council. The city and YarrowBay have prevailed in all of these court proceedings.

"The Clearing and Grading Permit for The Villages Phase 1/A was issued in July 2013. That too, was appealed, this time by persons known to be affiliated with Save Black Diamond. After a hearing conducted by the hearing examiner (at city expense) the appeal was denied. City staff has worked hard to ensure that the MPD conditions of approval and the development agreements, as approved by council are adhered to. YarrowBay has complied with these conditions and has every right to start their project. The city has a legal obligation to process their permit application in accordance with city code."

Gordon wrote in an email Wednesday night concerning the beginning of the project, "I am disappointed that this lame duck administration is still trying to rush its agenda through. The residents, City Council and I are studying our options. It appears that the outgoing mayor and the developer pressured city staff to issue this permit in order to evade the thorough review and tough standards that I will insist upon. I am hopeful that concerned residents will contact me."

Olness responded to that comment in a follow up email.

"The city would be in violation of code if a permit was held up," Olness wrote. "Every property owner has the right to have their permit application processed in a timely manner. If the city does not comply, the applicant can take legal action, which puts the city at risk."

Gordon responded via email to Olness' statement that, "We respectfully disagree with Mayor Olness."

Bob Edelman, one of the founding members of Toward Responsible Development wrote in an email Thursday, "YarrowBay told the Court of Appeals that delays could cause them to miss the dry construction season. Now they are rushing to complete as much as they can before the court makes its decision, even if it means clearing and grading in the mud. Clearing 7,000 trees off of 95 acres and flattening the landscape doesn’t fit their promise of a “rural by design” development that blends with the environment."


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