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PEAK foes, sponsors meet
Representatives of the Boys and Girls Club, neighborhood residents and members of the school district met in two different venues last week in an effort to find common ground as the PEAK project moves toward final approval.
Representatives of the Boys and Girls Club invited those opposed to the project to attend a mediated session to see if some issues could be resolved outside the public permit process. Individuals who attended the session were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement.
A conditional use permit is required for the structure as the site is zoned for residential use. Residential zoning allows for schools and churches, but not the kind of structure and use proposed by the club.
As the Mercer Island School Board prepares to finalize the lease of district property to the club, the city is still accepting comments regarding the permit required for construction. In order for the permit to be issued, the club, the city and the school district must have plans in place to minimize the impact which the facility will have on the surrounding neighborhood.
Thirteen conditions must be met in order for the club to obtain the final permit, including the provision of additional parking, and a unified scheduling system that coordinates the timing of both city and school district events. The city engineer must also approve the school district’s transportation demand management plan, which specifically addresses daily traffic, parking control and enforcement. This includes approved strategies to increase car-pooling to reduce traffic through the neighborhood. The Boys and Girls Club will also have to contribute to the costs of the street improvements along S.E. 40th Street and Island Crest Way at Merrimount Drive. The school district will also be required to restrict all school driveways on 86th Avenue S.E. to right turn only entries and right-turn only exits.
A neighborhood activist group calling themselves “Islanders for Common Sense” are contesting the conditional use permit. The mediated session was held to find a way to resolve some of the concerns without having to go through a lengthy appeals process or courts.
Amanda Clark, a neighborhood resident who opposes PEAK, said the parties of the mediation session had signed a confidentiality agreement. “Nothing was resolved, although a lot of interesting issues were raised,” Clark said of the meeting.
On July 11, the School District published a formal notice of transfer of property in the Reporter. By law, they have to wait 45 days before making it final. The date for finalization is the Board’s next meeting on Aug. 23, when they will vote whether or not to approve the lease.
At the School Board meeting last Thursday, Board members and the public openly discussed the PEAK draft lease and joint-use agreement. The school district had posted the 40-page document on their Web site a week earlier for the public to see. Neighbors and opponents came to voice their opposition to the project’s location on school district land.
Clark stood to contest the school district’s “disregard of its own policies on disposing surplus property.” Explaining herself, the resident cited district policy number 3261 on surplus, which states that “the Board of Directors shall rent, lease, manage and/or dispose of such properties in a manner consistent with existing statutes and the District’s educational goals.”
Clark argued that, in her opinion, the premises being leased for PEAK cannot be considered “surplus” as the District has a lease provision allowing it to “recapture” the land.
“While possibly legally defensible, the way you have sought to lease, rather than to sell, the land and to only one applicant is questionable,” Clark concluded, asking the School Board to withdraw the notice of transfer of real property.
A handful of other residents spoke out against the lease, mentioning parking problems, traffic logistics, building size and safety as concerns.
Preschool advocate Stowe Sprague argued that the proposed daycare center at PEAK, which doesn’t have a fenced-in play area, is neither a safe nor adequate environment for children.
“Children have a multitude of ways to run off, and anyone — adults, teens, children, unsavory characters — can walk on these sidewalks that cut through the play area. This is a major concern to parents entrusting their children to care.”
Another citizen asked why the PEAK lease agreement hadn’t been “made open to the public since the beginning,” suggesting that it was a deliberate attempt by the Board to set up a “back-room deal.”
School Board members responded to each comment with professional concern, answering the public’s questions as best they could.
“We feel very confident that we’re following district policy,” associate superintendent of business services Liz Dodd said.
Board member Lisa Eggers questioned concern that PEAK was turning into a regrettable investment.
“It’s challenging to determine the value of education,” she said. “How do you quantify this? How do you put a price tag on having a nice place for kids to go after school?”
The Board closed discussion on PEAK by saying that they would look into individual questions and concerns raised at the meeting. Vice president Adair Dingle reminded that the Board would take “no action on the lease agreement” for two weeks.
The city’s planning department is now accepting public comments for the proposed Boys and Girls Club’s PEAK project through the end of the month. Among other remaining issues with the city is how the City Council will apply or grant the $1 million of city money it set aside for the Boys and Girls Club.
Written and verbal comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Wednesday Aug. 29. People who submit a comment or testify at an open record hearing will be parties of record and will be the only ones who may appeal the SEPA decision. PEAK still has to attain a state environmental impact, or SEPA, decision. City Senior Planner Jeff Thomas said the SEPA will probably be issued some time in September.
The architects of PEAK, Weinstein AU, have also requested another City Council study session that is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12.
The Boys and Girls Club will pay the district an annual rental fee of $1 for a 10-year term with four extensions (a total of 50 years) for use of the property. In turn, the district has first priority to PEAK facilities during regular high school hours or from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Outside school hours, the building is open to students and the greater community as a whole.
According to the draft agreement, the Boys and Girls Club will lease the land from the school district and oversee the construction and operation of the youth center. The club holds all ownership rights to the building.
In turn, the MISD has the right to use the facility, which includes a youth center, gymnasium, teen lounge and computer lab, for student education and recreation.
PEAK will also offer preschool and day care facilities to the Mercer Island community.
“This agreement is also intended to provide a framework for the [MISD] and the [Boys and Girls Club] to use the center on a coordinated basis... The [MISD] has reviewed the Boys and Girls Club’s current programs and, as of the date of this agreement, finds that the club’s programs are neither objectionable to the community nor inconsistent with the MISD’s educational programs,” the draft states.
In its entirety, the document includes 40 pages of legalese, from opportunities for contract extension to detailed rental agreements, as well as the project’s overall purpose and history. Citizens are invited to view the draft agreement online, or they can request a copy at the District Administration Building.
The School Board is scheduled to approve the lease during their Aug. 23 meeting. It will most likely be signed by all parties shortly after, Dodd said. The city expects construction to begin in January 2008.