Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Large Boulder Still Blocking Sidewalk ON 55th Avenue NE While Owner Submits Reports And Permits


In July, the Laurelhurst Blog posted about a large rock blocking the sidewalk, posing a safety hazard, on the 4200 block of 55th Avenue NE. 

Neighbors are curious why the rock has still not been moved for over 6 months and for how long the sidewalk will be blocked and pedestrians will need to continue to walk out into the street to go around the rock and back up onto the sidewalk.

The City's Department of Planning and Development (DPD) Case # 1031930  and Project No. 6426332, shows that the first complaint was made on May 8, 2014.

Here are the enforcement actions since that date:
Action CodeStatus DateCase Action Type Description
CMMay 09, 2014Complaint Made
InspectionMay 12, 2014Inspection:1 Failed
HCOMay 14, 2014HAZARD CORRECTION ORDER: SENT Compliance due:13-JUN-14
HCOMay 14, 2014HAZARD CORRECTION ORDER: ISSUED Compliance due:13-JUN-14
InspectionMay 14, 2014Inspection:2 Failed
EXTENSIONJun 19, 2014EXTENSION: ISSUED Compliance due:18-JUL-14
InspectionOct 03, 2014Inspection:3 Failed
Legal ActionOct 17, 2014SENT TO LAW DEPARTMENT

The Blog Staff contacted DPD and SDOT who explained that it is a complex and lengthy process as the entire retaining wall needs to be repaired along with the rock being removed and potentially put back into place. The owner must obtain various reports and then apply for a permit.

However if all reports are turned in, DPD told the Laurelhurst Blog Staff that the rock would not be removed until April, due to weather conditions, along with the construction and securement of the retaining rock wall from where it rolled down.

SDOT told the Blog Staff that they finally secured the location in October after nearly eight months. 

In July, the owner submitted a retaining wall design plan along with calculations prepared by an engineer, seeking approval to construct a replacement retaining wall within the right of way in order to replace a sixty year-old failing rock wall. The owner told DPD that he had specific construction company in mind, that specializes in retaining wall construction ready to begin the project once he has permit approval from SDOT and DPD.

The City has also asked that the owner apply for a Street Use Permit for the wall, including a geotechnical report supporting this wall design and associated plans for the wall construction.

In August, the owner said he had instructed his geotechnical engineer to provide a geotechnical report supporting the wall design and associated plans for the wall construction and would turn it in once he had the report. He added that, at that time he hoped to have construction completed by the end of September with an estimated construction time of three weeks. 

DPD told the Blog Staff:
The owner of the property is responsible for correcting the violation, since the rockery was not installed by the City, the City doesn't maintain the rockery walls..  Two agencies, DPD and SDOT, are involved in enforcement in this matter.  DPD’s issues are limited to the retaining wall itself on private property.  SDOT has authority to deal with right-of-way issues including the blocked sidewalk.
DPD has been in contact with the owner to rectify the outstanding safety hazard, letting him know in October that they had prepared his violation for the Law Department and urged him to continue to obtain all required permits.  The owner has been turning in some of the required documents, including the geotech report requested by SDOT for initial approval to construct a replacement retaining wall in the right of way, which would then allow the DPD permitting process to start.  

The owner wrote in a report to DPD:
A concrete brick retaining wall (Project No. 777-134) was constructed in 1970 by the City of Seattle that borders the failing rock wall to the north (see attached images).  This retaining wall was constructed to toe the sidewalk (see images – separate email “Part II”).  The sidewalk on 55th AVE NE is 1.5’ wider than the standard sidewalk, so 75% of the 2’ sidewaIk clearance already exists. As we discussed in person, I’m seeking SDOT approval to construct a new retaining wall linear to the existing concrete retain wall constructed by the City of Seattle in 1970. 
Without SDOT approval for construction within the right of way, the entire ECA hillside will need to be removed along with my brick patio, glass railing fence, the deck attached to my house, and the house suspended in order to construct a new retaining wall.  The possibility exists such construction could undermine and destabilize the foundation of our home.  Therefore, your help,  assistance, and ultimate approval by SDOT to construct in the right of way is being asked in order to bring quick resolution to this current public safety hazard.

SDOT and the reports say:
SDOT understands that the restoration of this slope and remediation is a high priority.  However, SDOT is also concern that the proposed repair and permanent mitigation measures meet standard of practice in the industry and ensure public safety in the long run.
At this time, SDOT is also anxiously waiting on the private owner to act on the restoration of this area.  SDOT will continue to monitor this hazard area periodically to ensure that sidewalk is closed until the restoration have been completed by the private owner.  
The closed off area is considered to be a potential hazard and thus SDOT Street Use had restricted public access in this area until this rockery failure had been restored.  As noted previously, SDOT considered this rockery failure to had originated from the private property and was waiting for the owner of the private property to provide a restoration plan.  The owner had submitted a plan previously, however, that submittal did not meet SDOT standards and requirements for this type of project.  SDOT wanted to ensure that proper design and engineering will go into this restoration.

At that time, SDOT had requested a geotechnical engineering report to ensure adequate design for this mitigation as well as minimize future wall failures.  Please see the attached.  The owner had coordinated and funded this geotechnical study and had just submitted this report to DPD and SDOT on Oct. 6, 2014.  SDOT had just reviewed this geotechnical study and concurred with the recommendations by the geotechnical engineer.  Both SDOT and DPD had contacted the owner to submit appropriate plans for review by both departments.  Once the plans have been reviewed and approved by DPD and SDOT, the owner will then be able to proceed with construction and restoration of this wall.  
As 55th Ave NE is a residential street the general traffic volume is inferred to be relatively light, it was SDOT Street Use’s opinion that pedestrian are able to traverse safely around this closure. Street Use empathizes with the frustration of the neighborhood on this sidewalk closure.  SDOT’s priority is consistently and foremost about public safety which is the reason for this sidewalk closure. 
Initial investigation earlier this year by SDOT Street Use determined that this rockery failure originated on the private property located in the 5300 block of NE 42nd Street.  The potential hazard zone was evaluated and appeared to be limited to the adjacent sidewalk area.  Thus, SDOT decided to close this section of the sidewalk due to public safety concerns.   This decision was carried out  in consideration that this is a residential street, and that in SDOT Street Use’s opinion, pedestrian does have a relatively safe alternative accesses around the closed off sidewalk.   This closure is consistent with other similar slides and/or wall failures that SDOT responded in other parts of the City.      
Further, SDOT Street Use was aware that DPD was working with the owner of the property to provide a permanent mitigate measure and restore this area.  As responsible steward of taxpayer funds, SDOT would expect the owner of this property to pay for the restoration of this section of the ROW and, thus, have not taken action to remove the current debris.  Unless the potential hazard is considered to be imminent, SDOT generally would only delineate and restrict entrance to the hazard area.  This policy or response, again, is consistent with other similar events that SDOT had encountered.  
As this failure had originated from the private property, SDOT would expect the private property owner to restore this failed slope.   SDOT understands that proper engineering needs to be used here to ensure long term stability of this wall and thus had waited for the owner of the property to paid for the required engineering.  The owner had shown that he/she is proceeding with a proper fix.
DPD gave the Blog Staff this latest update in October:
A DPD Hazard Correction Order was issued in this case in May.  The owner was required to obtain a geotechnical report as part of the resolution of that order.  Stability issues were identified by a geotechnical engineer and DPD instructed the owner to start the permitting process to rectify the problems.   
When he began to address the issues, an extension was granted to 7/18/14.  (DPD works with people, which might include granting additional time, when they are in violation but are making good faith efforts to resolve the violation—which seemed to be the situation here.) There have been several communications with the owner since July but at this point he has not made sufficient progress in the permit process and the case is being prepared for a referral to the Law Department for further enforcement action.  A lawsuit will be filed against the owner and he will be subject to civil penalties.


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