Planning Commission PEAK deliberations start with listening

J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

After more than a year of deliberate isolation from anything regarding PEAK, six members of the Island’s Planning Commission were finally introduced to the Boys and Girls Club’s proposed PEAK project.

The commissioners were asked not to look or listen to anything regarding PEAK so that they could analyze the project design without prejudice.

Overseeing a public hearing as part of a request to obtain a conditional use permit from the city, the Commissioners listened to testimony from 31 residents last Wednesday night. Nearly 100 people were present throughout the night, with about 70 there at any given time. Despite the filing of a legal appeal regarding the project plans, the majority of those who attended the hearing were in favor of the PEAK.

Most of the commissioners said they had received a mailing about the project and but threw it away before reading it. Chair Bill Chapman was absent.

About half of the public speakers were teens from Islander Middle School and the high school. Ten residents voiced their opposition to the project, while 21 stated their support. There were also 56 written comments submitted to the city regarding the project.

However, no decision was made on any agenda item and the meeting will resume at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at City Hall. The public comment period closed with the end of last Wednesday’s meeting. City staff also recommended that the commissioners not issue the CUP until it has reached a decision on the appeals.

In addition to the application for the conditional use permit (CUP), there are two pending appeals before the Commission. Neighborhood resident Amanda Clark and Islanders for Common Sense, the group opposing PEAK, filed two appeals against the project.

One involves the city’s state environment policy act determination and the other is about the code officials ruling regarding impervious surface deviation. Both appeals are closed record hearings, in which only parties of record may testify at the meetings.

Joe Wallis, who lives near the campus on S.E. 48th Street and is an urban planner criticized, the needed lot line revision for the project and its code compliance.

“The lot to be created by the revision is not yet approved and the attempts to circumvent or ignore the review for compliance with the codes is not a good example to those PEAK is supposed to serve,” Wallis said.

Clark said she opposed the project because the campus continues to grow piecemeal and she wants to see a master plan before PEAK is constructed.

“This ignores the city’s comprehensive plan that states the city is to spread such facilities throughout the Island,” she said. “The campus has grown piecemeal. I think moving the buses enables this discussion to get the classroom, office and youth space sought. I want to reopen that discussion for long range planning.”

In response to the suggestion that PEAK should not be located on the high school campus, Mercer Island High School student and ASB president, Harry Spitzer, said the proposed location made the most sense.

“The location is one of the key aspects of the PEAK project,” Spitzer, a senior, said. “It kind of needs to be there.”

One resident who supports the project, Wasi Tetemki, also lives within blocks of the high school. He said he supported PEAK because he and his two children have experienced the lack of athletic and youth facilities on the Island.

“Donating $14 million shows how seriously the community supports it,” Tetemki said.

Another concern raised by one person was that none of the commissioners live in the neighborhood. Most live on the South end, with others living closer to the current club.

Clark and other opponents also hired a traffic engineer to study the data collected on behalf of the applicant. According to Michael Reed, the consultant, he believes a left- hand turn lane is needed for the PEAK’s proposed entry on 86th Avenue S.E. Reed also criticized the city for entering into a development agreement prior to the Commissioners approving the CUP.

“This seems like it is backwards, at least from my perspective,” Reed said.

Commissioner Ann Nielsen asked the city’s development services director, Steve Lancaster, about Reed’s criticism.

“This is not out of order,” Lancaster said of the study. “Development for projects proceed in stages, and we don’t require the proponent to demonstrate all building code requirements to obtain the CUP.”

Lancaster also noted that the development agreement is very project-specific and includes parking requirements and a traffic demand management plan. He told the commissioners that all conditions had to be in place before final building permits were issued.

That process, however, was not acceptable to the attorney representing the opponents, who is also a neighborhood resident. Charles Wolfe stated that the project should be denied for several reasons.

“The way it has been presented is unworkable, not only from a practical point of view but as a legal matter. I don’t believe you have any choice but to deny it because it does not meet code,” Wolfe said.

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