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Coval’s 18 homes on five acres is just too much, neighbors say

In a project some have compared to the size and impact of the Lakes neighborhood in the Southend of the Island almost 30 years ago, neighbors of the 5-acre Coval property are still petitioning the city to represent their interests.

The land, which has belonged for years to the Coval family, and features an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, koi pond, fruit orchards and library is pending approval of an 18 house development. Neighbors of the property at 3051 84th Ave SE, worry that it’s out of sync with their surroundings and that the cramped quarters could have serious environmental impacts the city isn’t anticipating.

“The property has so many environmental issues from steep slopes, to wetlands, to watercourses, all of which are significantly degraded if you get rid of most of the trees and vegetative cover,” said former councilmember Mike Grady, a senior policy analyst for NOAA Fisheries. “[The city] spends thousands of dollars every year dealing with slope failures because, I have to say, we’ve built in places we never should have.”

Neighbors have spoken several times before council. On Wednesday, Jan. 29, the Planning Commission voted on the proposed Coval property. Two of the six commissioners voted against it—former Mayor Bryan Cairns and Suzanne Skone. Based on the 4-2 vote, the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to council before a public hearing. Council will then decide whether to approve or reject it.

The 18 lot long plat at Snake Hill Road and 84th Avenue  S.E., would include a private road with lots ranging from 10,060 s.f. to 12,122 s.f.

Chief among neighbors’ concerns is the traffic generated on an already narrow stretch, traffic that could worsen with future construction at the corner of Mercer Island High School. A traffic study from November estimates 80 new weekday trips into and out of the plat daily, for a total of 161 net new trips generated daily during the weekday.

“There have been numerous close calls,” said neighbor Philip Wang. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Wang recalls the Sunset Ridge development, a construction project several years back and just next door to his house, that on paper looked to be seamless. At one point the reverberations from machinery used to remove a tree root, shattered his window. But while Wang was compensated and the nuisances of construction next door are to be expected, he says he’s worried most about developers skirting certain regulations.

Originally the city hired a company for an environmental review which found wetlands onsite and a watercourse running through the property. A culvert was reported at the north and south borders. The developer hired its own consultant, who came to the opposite conclusion. Soon after the city’s hired consultant, The Watershed Company, later recanted its initial findings, recounts Wang.

“I’m not an expert,” he said of the sudden switch. “But I’m just concerned all the reports are for [the developer’s convenience] and aren’t accurate.”

Glenn Blumstein, also a neighbor of the Coval property says while some view the plot as an almost historic landmark that should be preserved, his expectations are tempered: “I’d love that, but it’s not realistic. What I’d like to see is it developed in a way that preserves more trees, keeps the hillside, [and] respects the wetlands.”

Another feature neighbors worry could be lost are the more than 300 trees; everything from French Chestnut to Bing cherry trees.

“We talk a lot about sustainability and what that means,” says Grady. “Well we’ve got a perfect example here. We’ve got a piece of property where you’ve got a lot of environmental issues, many of which are being discounted all because we want to make sure we issue the building permit.”

The development would do away with 206 of its 300 trees, collateral damage that Blumstein realizes isn’t avoidable. But he says regulations often work in the developer’s favor. He suspects the developer could promise to save a fraction of the tree line, and later claim they were a safety hazard. Keeping the tree line intact, argue some, would actually stabilize the cliff that rims that western edge of the property. But says, Blumstein there is financial incentive to raze them.

“The property [value] would go way up with beautiful western views, by hundreds of thousands of dollars” said Blumstein. “The fee for cutting down a tree even if it is imposed, it’s like a penny to the hundreds of dollars from [your enhanced] house value.”

The developer, MI 84th Limited Partnership, which has an address of White Rock, B.C., has also raised eyebrows. Many of Mercer Island’s construction projects have been carried out by local companies, like RKK Construction and Synergy, responsible for the Legacy, Aviara and Mercer West. Neighbors worry that if the developer doesn’t have long-term investment in the community, it might not respond to their concerns.

“The city should do their part to protect neighbors,” said Wang. “That’s a huge development for a small neighborhood like this.”

 

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