Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don't Miss City's Talaris Public Comment Meeting On Thursday At The Community Center

Talaris Campus (courtesy of Talaris website)

On Thursday from 6:30-8pm, the City's Department of Planning and Development, is holding a public meeting to hear comments on the re-development of the Talaris property. This important meeting will be held at the Laurelhurst Community Center (4554 NE 41st Street).

The meeting is being held following a petition signed by 400 people requesting an opportunity to publicly comment, not only on the subdivision of the property into 82 lots, but also to comment on various environmental issues that should be addressed in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement prepared by DPD (Department of Transportation and Development) - such as the presence of wetlands in the critical habitat area, the nesting eagles, traffic and transportation and other important issues that could have a lasting impact on the neighborhood. DPD has agreed that an EIS must be prepared about proposed site redevelopment

Neighbors can also send written comments, including the project number 3015404 until Thursday end of day  to
PRC@seattle.gov or by regular mail to DPD, Attention: Lindsay King, 700 5th Avenue, Suite 2000, P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA 98124-4019. LCC strongly recommends that neighbors submit written comments by email if possible.

Here is information LCC sent out to the neighborhood last week:
LCC's focus is on assuring that any redevelopment of the site is based on compatible land uses, preventing adverse impacts, and preserving as much public access and open space as possible.

LCC is concerned that the two development proposals most often mentioned for the site - the 82-lot subdivision or new hotel/commercial/office development - represent extreme propositions.

Regarding public comments, LCC suggests taking into account what should the EIS cover (its scope) and what issues are raised by the Talaris owner's 82-lot subdivision application and possible alternatives?

LCC suggests these point to address, along with a neighbor's own thoughts, observations, and concerns:

•Because of its location and size, the 18-acre Talaris site is pivotal to Laurelhurst as a whole. It occupies a key location at the east entrance to Laurelhurst and depends on the Five Corners intersection and Mary Gates Boulevard, both critical components of access to Laurelhurst.
•Alternatives studied in the EIS should include a residential development consistent with the site's longstanding Single Family zoning, but utilizing Code tools such as a Planned Residential Development ("PRD") for more flexible subdivision. These alternatives should include density variations and clustering options to preserve the maximum amount of open space.
•The EIS should assess the subdivision application in terms of site conditions including wetlands, riparian corridor, tree preservation, and habitat (including for eagles currently nesting on site).
•The EIS should address potential daylighting of Yesler Creek, located in an underground pipe on the site, independently and as mitigation for new development.
•Wetlands on the site should be studied by an independent expert not affiliated with prior studies, with results reported in the EIS.
•The EIS should fully disclose and analyze all options that may be considered by the Landmarks Board for "controls and incentives" as a result of the recent site landmark designation and should also disclose and analyze the relationship between the owner's subdivision application and the site's landmark designation status.
•The EIS should not rely on or credit claims concerning economic viability of any particular alternative or option unless all underlying information and assumptions are clearly stated and available for public scrutiny.
•Because they have been raised as possible results of landmark designation of the site, the EIS assessment of alternatives and impacts (including land use and traffic) should include adverse impacts of allowing more intense hotel, commercial, and office development.
•The EIS should disclose and analyze whether the site's landmark designation would prevent acquisition and redevelopment of the site by a state agency such as the University of Washington.
•The Talaris owner has filed a lawsuit against the City challenging the Seattle Landmark Preservation Board's designation of the site as a landmark. (King County Superior Court has granted LCC intervener status in the lawsuit). The EIS should disclose the potential effects of this lawsuit.
•The EIS should assess in detail each alternative's potential parking and traffic impacts on the surrounding community. In doing so, the EIS should take into account cumulative effects of current and planned expansions in the area along with effects of the proposed Talaris site development.

Here is background information put together by LCC, about the history of Talaris, formerly Battelle, and the longstanding parnternship of LCC and the various previous owners: 

The Talaris site was originally developed and for many years occupied by the Battelle Memorial Institute. In the mid-1980s controversy arose concerning the site's use. Battelle had expanded its lodging and conference center activities so much that traffic and parking problems were spilling over into the surrounding community. LCC, responding to neighbor requests for help, filed an appeal with the Seattle Hearing Examiner after negotiations with Battelle broke down. The appeal was successful. In its wake Battelle settled with LCC. The 1991 "Settlement Agreement and Covenants Running with the Land" includes a series of covenants, explicitly enforceable by LCC, that continue to bind Battelle's successors, including the current owner of the property.

The covenants specify where, how, and under what circumstances additional development and use may occur on the site. There are numerical limits on expansion, parking areas and requirements, and landscape and buffer plans. In addition, the Settlement Agreement gives LCC special rights for review of plans for proposed new construction on the site. The 1991 Agreement also emphasizes the importance of maintaining the Single Family zoning designation for the site and responds directly to what was even in 1991 substantial expansion pressure by, among others, the University of Washington and Children's Hospital. The Agreement does so through a prohibition on any owner attempting to "lease, sell, or place the property in the control of a designated Major Institution under the City of Seattle Land Use Code."

The Settlement Agreement protections remain in effect at least so long as the property retains its longstanding Single Family zoning designation. This designation has been an important tenet for LCC for several decades. Last year, there was an attempt by the current Talaris owner to change that designation, but it was not approved by the City.

Depending on the details of the proposal that are not yet known, the current Talaris owner's proposed 82-lot single-family subdivision might not violate the Settlement Agreement. However, the "devil is in the details" because the proposal is cookie cutter at best: it appears to fall short on complying with Code restrictions on development to protect "environmental critical areas" and other sensitive site features. It also appears to overlook Seattle Land Use Code mechanisms that allow more flexible single-family development that respects important site features. These include provisions for clustering and density that allow for a more site-compatible development, potentially including housing types attractive, for example, to downsizing seniors.

The 82-lot subdivision application was submitted to DPD at the same time that a landmark nomination for the Talaris site was working its way through the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board. The neighborhood comments submitted to the City in support of that effort emphasized a desire to preserve the site in its current state and in particular as an amenity for the neighborhood. Those commenting noted they had visited the site, the ponds, the ducks, the trees, and even regularly played soccer there for many decades.

Although not widely acknowledged during the landmark process, a landmark designation unfortunately does not prevent and may even facilitate intensive redevelopment of the site. LCC nonetheless generally supported the landmark nomination, but cautioned that there was more to consider than whether the existing buildings would be preserved.

As neighbors have now seen, landmarking also does not maintain public access to the site. It has been fenced off and no trespassing signs posted, apparently enforced with surveillance cameras. Through its counsel, LCC has warned the Talaris owner that fencing off the site is inconsistent with the 1991 Settlement Agreement with LCC and potentially with the neighborhood's legal prescriptive rights to access. To date, neither the City nor the groups listed by the Landmarks Board as sponsors of the landmark designation have taken formal positions demanding that the Talaris owner roll back cut-off of public access.

The 82-lot Talaris subdivision proposal is not subtle. It does not attempt to utilize Code incentives for clustering, open space preservation, and the like that could make for a more compatible development. It may have been proposed in such an extreme form as a counterpoint to prod community acceptance of redevelopment of the site with new hotel, commercial, and office uses.

These are being floated as required to implement site and building preservation required by the recent landmark designation. However, depending on how it is implemented, this option could result in traffic and parking problems, as well as land use impacts. It could also encourage occupation and, as practical matter, eventual absorption of the site by Children's Hospital and the University of Washington, institutions that have already put substantial pressure on Laurelhurst traffic choke points. Other heavy traffic-generator institutions could be tempted as well. Some in the community may remember that two decades ago the Seattle Community Colleges attempted to acquire the Talaris site, in violation of the 1991 Settlement Agreement. LCC was forced to press the point, including legally, before the acquisition was abandoned.

LCC's Board of Trustees has not voted to support either of the two current, extreme options. Instead, it favors exploration of middle ground, more moderate plans that could be better for the community from an impact and land use perspective while accomplishing much, if not all, of other interests' goals. LCC is hopeful that the EIS the City is requiring will explore such alternatives and provide useful information about the impacts and implications of what the owner and other interest groups have already placed on the table.
Friends of Battelle/Talaris, made up of 5 Laurelhurst residents, sent us information on their own view of the proposed development. Last year, the group submitted the Landmark nomination to seek formal recognition of the property’s historic, cultural and architectural significance, which was approved by the City's Landmarks Designation Board on November 6th.

Friends of Talaris told our staff: 
Our primary aim is to preserve and protect this historic, community and national treasure. To that end, we support the ownership and neighborhood groups when their plans focus on sustaining and preserving the campus, ie.e, the landscape and buildings, to the fullest extent possible.
We have been and are participating in meetings with representatives of the property owners and LCC to encourage them to work toward a preservation path acceptable to both parties, one that is best for the entire site and the buildings.  We belive that an insistence on focusing only on the subdivision of the property into single-family housing is not compatible with preservation. 
As part of the review process by DPD, the Landmarks Board will measure and evaluate any development proposal by applying the US Secretary of Interior’s Standard for Treatment of Historic Properties, which  include acknowledging the historic use of the property as well as evaluating the significance of the buildings and open spaces.
We believe that ideally, the current buildings would be updated, new buildings would be compatible with the originals, much of the open space would be saved, and the campus would continue to be used as a place where scholars, public employees and citizens could meet as they have done at the site since its inception. Most important, the final outcome, our group believes,  has to be one that makes the property economically viable to the owner.
The original master plan design by the Richard Haag Associates and NBBJ demonstrated a remarkable integration of site, nature and structure that has retained its low environmental impact and neighborhood compatibility for almost 50 years. We believe these characteristics should and can be retained with sensitive, compatible development.
We are hopeful that a solution compatible with the site’s environmentally sensitive areas, its historic use, and its nationally recognized architecture, while ensuring continuing compatibility with the character of the surrounding neighborhood and City can be reached. We believe this outcome is achievable in our city that seeks viable and sustainable redevelopment. 

Here are some neighbor comments we have received:

This will have a sizable impact on the density of our community, school enrollment, traffic, infrastructure, etc. I live very close to Talaris and feel strongly about what happens to this beautiful site. To give you an idea of the size of this land here is a map below to imagine the density of adding another 82 homes.

I would like to sThaee the best possible  development that preserves the most open space.
The Talaris property owners are solely economically motivated seeking maximum return on their investment. They are vying for the 82 houses option for maximum economic return on their investment and for vesting, thus getting the most amount of money off of our neighborhood. The owners have done calculations for each lot and house and are using that as a benchmark. They want to make the same ROI using that benchmark if they have to move forward with the commerical use versus housing option. The commercial use would contain a mixture of expanded conference. 
Letting major institutions possibly use the space, such as Children's and the UW, would result in continuing the institional creep that has been happening for many years in the neighborhood. Most recently with the enormous expansion of the hospital swallowing up Laurelon condominiums, shuttles congesting our neighborhood streets and so many other long lasting impacts this has had, that can't be erased ever. 
The way Talaris has treated the neighborhood in the last year has done so much to distance themselves from and outright anger their neighbors, those immediate and those living further away - putting up fences, signs, cameras, gates and cutting down trees secretly without City approval.  When will this stop and they start to be a good neighbor? Doesn't seem like a very good strategy if they want support for their proposed re-development.
I opposed the suggested development plan. The neighborhood and surrounding areas have already been hit by the impact of large developers and environmental changes. I believe that development on the Talaris property should be limited to single family homes with yards and high end town homes. The impact of this 'suggested development' design could bring in 200-250 cars into this neighborhood, implies rental and leased properly and retail opportunities. Is this what Laurelhurst neighbors really want?
We are surrounded by high density housing from UW student housing, to condos and town homes and an ever growing retail mall. Believe in preserving the idea of single family homes.
Both ideas presented by developer seem to be more about making money than in preserving the environment and enhancing the neighborhood. Against any rental property.
I personally am against such high density housing. More and more signal family neighborhoods have been impacted by high density growth. We need to include preservation of communities like Laurelhurst so that residents of Seattle have choices.
We would support the proposed development of the option presented by Talaris, if contracts and covenants can be developed in such a way as to protect the future of that type of governance/development, including adequate safeguards for the future, and ongoing interaction with the adjacent neighbors and the community at large.

In my opinion the investor is out to get his money, does not really understand or sympathize with the neighborhood.

Some of my biggest concerns is the loss of neighborhood and open space. If I wanted to live in a high density environment I could move downtown!

I sure hope that LCC and the surrounding neighborhoods are able to put a halt to this high density, transient type of building in this location. Hopefully the City Council will stand behind our community.

Talk about the gradual decline of single family housing just to suit big business! I think of the area surrounding the UW especially north of 45th and Greek row, There use to be beautiful single family homes, people I knew. They have left, their homes are not rentals and not well maintained. Is that where we are headed?
For more information on the proposed development as covered in the Laurelhurst Blog go here.

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