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Students sign on to PEAK idea

Boys and Girls Club takes case to schools

Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

Mercer Island High School students are planning to present a petition signed by hundreds of Island teens to the City of Mercer Island Planning Commission in support of the Boys and Girls Club PEAK project next Wednesday evening.

Sparks of contention have flown in recent weeks over a PEAK video and petition presented to Mercer Island High School students earlier this year. Yet those truly upset about the issue are few.

On Jan. 16, the Reporter published a letter to the editor by North Mercer resident Dawn Leach. The Mercer Island High School parent was appalled that her children were shown a PEAK “propaganda video” and encouraged to sign a petition for the project during their Bridges class. “The MISD is using our students as misinformed pawns in the PEAK project controversy,” Leach wrote. The sentiment was echoed in another letter the following week.

Two weeks later, MIHS Principal John Harrison and Bridges coordinator Chris Twombly sent their own letter to the editor: “Our intent was merely to provide information about a project that, if completed, will have an impact on their high school experience.”

Both letters represent the two opposing PEAK camps — those adults in favor of the facility and those against. Leach voiced her concern with the former’s decision to use high school students to promote a still contentious project. Yet the majority of MIHS students, who see themselves as intelligent, able-minded citizens of the community, do not feel that the video was propaganda of any sort. In fact, some students asked were grateful for the Boys and Girls Club produced video. They said it answered a number of questions about PEAK, a project that, until this month, many students were uninformed about.

“I had no idea, until I saw the video, that PEAK was even being thought of,” said MIHS senior and Bridges leader Emma Eberts. “A lot of students were unaware of what’s going on. The video was very tastefully done. It was very informative.”

As a Bridges leader, Eberts was present at a December leadership meeting where Brad Chase and Blair Rasmussen of the Mercer Island Boys and Girls Club, discussed the upcoming project and presented the student leaders with a video on PEAK to show the rest of the school.

After winter break, the leaders relayed this information to their respective Bridges groups. The six-minute video, which overviews the design, facilities and purpose of PEAK, was shown in each Bridges class throughout the high school. Discussion then opened up for questions and answers, after which a petition was offered for those students eager to support, Eberts said.

“I think parents are getting paranoid. They should realize that if kids in high school want to sign a petition, they have every right to do so,” the senior said. “Some kids asked, ‘What’s the point of PEAK?’ But the majority thought it was cool.”

According to Eberts, a number of MIHS students went out and started their own petitions for PEAK.

Freshman class Vice President Will Goodwin is organizing a group of students to attend the Feb. 20 Planning Commission meeting — where the city will vote on approving a conditional use permit for PEAK — and voice their support for the project.

“I’m going to go with some freshmen friends to show that we’re really excited about [PEAK] too — not just the upperclassmen,” Goodwin said.

Senior Adrianna Bernal has also taken it upon herself to involve others. She talks to fellow students during lunch about the project, asking them if they would like to add their names to the petition. Her effort is being encouraged by the Boys and Girls Club.

“We tell the students that the faster we get the names and get people involved, the faster the project will get done,” she said.

Including 400 signatures from Islander Middle School students, Bernal estimates that nearly 1,000 student signatures have been gathered.

Such initiative, said Chase, speaks for itself.

“It’s a reflection of the quality of kids that we have. A lot of the kids won’t even be here when [PEAK] is built. They’re being extremely altruistic and deserve huge accolades for that,” the MIHS parent said.

In an effort to enlighten students about PEAK, a joint project between the MISD and Boys and Girls Club, Harrison met with Rasmussen and Chase earlier in the school term to discuss how best to inform Island youth.

“Our intent was merely to provide information about a project that, if completed, will have an impact on their high school experience,” Harrison stated in a letter to the editor printed in the Reporter on Feb. 6.

Chase echoed this point, explaining that the PEAK video had been shown to all stake-holders involved, and that MIHS students should be included in this audience: “When you’re building something for bright, active kids, it makes all the sense in the world to educate them and get input and opinions.”

Since it was proposed in 2005, the 45,000-square-foot youth facility has become the brunt of public complaint: the “goliath” structure could disrupt neighborhood harmony, increase traffic and noise pollution to an already congested area, and become an improper use of school land, among other arguments.

But there is just as much rallying in support of PEAK. Proponents say the project would provide a much needed recreational area for Island youth, from extra classroom space for the high school to a state-of-the-art multimedia lab, athletic facility and daycare center. If the city decides to approve PEAK, construction will begin this July.

Appeal to Planning Commission next week

J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter

A group of neighbors opposing the proposed Boys and Girls Club PEAK project will be presenting an appeal before the city’s Planning Commission next Wednesday night.

The open-record hearing is scheduled to take place at 7:30 p.m. in Council chambers at City Hall on Feb. 20. The meeting is open to the public, but only parties of record who signed the appeal are allowed to testify before the Commission. The Boys and Girls Club’s request for a conditional use permit is also listed on the agenda for that evening. A hearing open to the general public will take place then.

The appeal states that the city committed substantial error in the decision to issue a mitigated determination of non-significance (MDNS), and the MDNS is unsupported by the facts presented.

Amanda Clark, a resident of the neighborhood surrounding the high school and member of Islander’s for Common Sense (ICS), a group of about 65 residents that oppose the project, filed the appeal.

“Environmental impacts, specifically traffic and parking generated by the proposed project, will have a direct, and immediate adverse impact on and will adversely affect ICS members, the adjoining neighborhood and major access routes in the portion of the city,” the appeal states.

Charles Wolfe, a neighborhood resident and attorney, signed the appeal, which requests that the city provide better, additional mitigation measures for the traffic that the group expects the project will bring to the neighborhood.

To approve the request, the appellants must prove with a preponderance of evidence that the city made substantial errors, demonstrate proceedings were materially affected by irregularities in procedure and that the planning department’s decision was unsupported by evidence.

To do so, the opponents hired a transportation engineer to evaluate the proposal of the 45,000-square-foot youth facility. Michael Reed, of Transportation Engineering Northwest, wrote: “The conclusion of mitigation and configuration for site access onto 86th Avenue S.E. from PEAK remains as an uncertain or unmitigated SEPA traffic impact/safety issue.”

The Boys and Girls Club hired the Transpo Group to conduct a traffic impact analysis, which was completed in 2006. The city, Boys and Girls Club and School District also signed an agreement to mitigate the facility’s impact on the neighborhood. The city attached 16 conditions to its approval of the project’s planned development, which include several traffic and parking mitigation measures.

The Planning Commission’s decision may be appealed by either party. A city-contracted hearing examiner would hear that appeal. The Boys and Girls Club also has to obtain a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission because the commercial facility will be constructed in a residential zone. That decision may also be appealed.

Public hearings regarding the facility’s design will also be held with the city’s Design Commission, which must approve the project before it may be constructed.

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