Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Give Your Input Tonight On Proposed Four More Portables On Laurelhurst Elementary School Playgrounds At Design Departure Committee Meeting

 looking north
 looking north
 looking north
 looking west
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 looking southwest
 looking south on east side of playground
 looking northeast
 looking east
 looking east

looking east

Tonight at 6:30pm, at the Design Departure Committee Meeting, is your chance to give input on Seattle School District’s request for a waiver from City zoning regulations to modify current regulations to allow up to four additional portable classrooms above the allowed lot coverage of 45% on both the north and south playgrounds at Laurelhurst Elementary School.

The public can sign up to speak for 2 minutes each during the hour long Public Comment portion of the agenda starting at 7:40pm. The agenda states that testimony will be given in the order that persons signed in on the attendance sheet. 

"If a large number indicate their desire to provide comments, each commenter’s time will be limited.  Because of time constraints, it is possible that not all persons wishing to provide comments will be able to do," the agenda states.

Printed comments of those speaking can be given to committee members for their continued review and reference as they discuss and form a recommendation to the City. Questions asked during the public comment period may not be answered right away but committee members can bring up those questions during their discussion time.

Written comments will also be accepted and can be emailed to steve.sheppard@seattle.gov.

"We hope to see a very big showing of concerned neighbors and school parents.  This meeting could be the only opportunity to voice opposition to a permanent increase of Laurelhurst School lot coverage zoning," Christi Nagle, who heads up a concerned group of parents called Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning.

Another parent said " Please consider attending this meeting tonight, even if you your kids attend private school, or other elementary schools in the area.  We all have a vested interest to keep our precious playground space."

Here is the meeting agenda:

  • 6:30 Opening of meeting and introductions Steve Sheppard – City of Seattle, Department of Neighborhoods
  • 6:40 Brief description of the process Steve Sheppard –
  • 6:50 Presentation on departures changes being - District staff and consultants requested - a) Introduction to the project and b) Presentation on departures being requested
  • 7:30 Committee clarifying questions - Committee members
  • 7:40 Public Comments
  • 8:40 Committee Deliberations -Committee members  - a) Determination whether the issue will require one or multiple meetings and b) Discussion of possible Committee recommendation - Committee members
  • 9:00 PM Adjournment and scheduling of next meeting (if needed)

Here is the list of the Departure Committee members who have been selected for the committee and their role as outlined by the City:

To gather and evaluate public comment, and recommend maximum departure which may be allowed for each development standard requested.  In making recommendations, the committee considers inter-relationships between the following factors:
A. Relationship to surrounding area (character and scale of neighborhood, location and design of structure, transitions to the neighborhood, traffic impacts, housing and open space). 
B. The need for the Departure: The physical requirements of the specific proposal and the projects relationship to educational needs shall be balanced with the level of impacts on the surrounding area.

Here is the City of Seattle Public School Development Standards Departure Process in order:

1) Committee determines if the departure is major or minor. 
If major, committee must complete its review within 90 days, and at least 3 meetings.  If minor, committee must complete review within 30 days, and at least one meeting. 
2) DON assists Committee to complete a report documenting its recommendations concerning the requested departure)s)Committee submits its report to DPD Director 
3) DPD Director issues a decision on the departure 
4) Decision is appealable to Hearing Examiner within 14 days

The Laurelhurst Community Club said "It is important for those speaking at the meeting to recommend that this would be a major, rather than minor departure.  If it is major, there would be three community meetings."

The Department of Neighborhoods (DON) sent out this information:

Meeting scheduled to discuss zoning change request for Laurelhurst Elementary School
Public is invited to attend and provide comments on March 17 

A public meeting is scheduled to discuss the Seattle School District’s request for a waiver from City zoning regulations regarding Laurelhurst Elementary School. The request is to modify current regulations to allow additional portable classrooms above the allowed lot coverage of 45%.
This meeting will include a presentation on the requested modification before the Development Standards Departure Advisory Committee, a group composed of neighbors and School District and City representatives that is formed to address School District requests for a zoning departure. After the presentation, the public is invited to make comments concerning the request.   
Following public testimony, the committee will make a recommendation to either grant outright, grant with conditions, or deny the requested zoning modifications; or it can decide to hold additional meetings. The final decision is made by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development.  
If the public cannot attend the meeting, written comments can be submitted to:

Steve Sheppard
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
700 5th Avenue, Suite 1700
P.O. Box 94649
Seattle, WA 98124-4649

"Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning," which is against higher lot coverage and the addition of more portables states:
  • Studies confirm that quality outdoor play space is critical for healthy learning. Open space that now serves as basketball, soccer, kickball and football play areas would be eliminated.
  • Families in the neighborhood benefit from the school’s recently upgraded playground (funded by neighbors -­‐ not SPS), whether it’s during school, evenings or weekends.
  • Laurelhurst already has the smallest lot size of all 11 NE elementary schools, in addition to the highest building:lot ratio.
  • More portables do not guarantee smaller class sizes.
  • Portables are inferior to permanent classrooms due to their isolation from the school community (safety concerns, less collaboration, less access to facilities), lack of natural light and HVAC issues.
  • Seattle Public School District needs to solve its growth issues without taking critical playground away from our kids and community.

Last night the group met at the north playground and outlined with green chalk the proposed locations of the portables on the North playground, including where the ramps would go and the non-useable space, as shown in the pictures.
The true-to-scale diagrams show just exactly how big the portables would be and how much space they would consume, thereby taking away a huge chunk of play space.  The group filled inside the portable outlines with colorful St. Patrick's drawings and slogans about having enough play space for the children.   
The group did not outline the proposed double-wide portable on the south playground that would be placed where the current two basketball courts are. The portable would be by itself, disconnected and quite a distance from the entrance to the school in a small, already cramped area. If there was no portable on this playground, all four playgrounds would be on the north, larger playground.

The Laurelhurst Community Club is also not in favor of additional portables stating that the "district must find a permanent solution under the edict from the State Legislature. Taking away existing needed playground space was never the intent of city codes, nor the Seattle School District."
LCC also added that traffic impacts must be considered, including access from the very congested NE 45th Street, as well as enough on-street neighborhood parking for extra staff.
The City had building and zoning codes for a reason, and any variance must be granted only if due process is followed to the letter of the law, LCC added.

Seattle Public Schools released designs drawn up by Harthorne Hagen Architects, showing in detail two options for the placement of the portables.

First option:
  • 2 double portables on the North playground - 28 x 64' foot taking up 1,792 square feet.
  • One right along the north fence that runs along NE 47th Street
  • The other just to the north of the current second grade portable along 47th Avenue NE.
  • No portables on the south playground.
  • The design shows the kickball area moved just next to the NE 47th Street portable and 2 four square courts moved alongside this area.
  • These portables would eliminate a popular, heavily used large play area where currently a large number of students play organized games of  kickball, fliers, soccer and foursquare, as well as just general play by various students.

 Second option:
  • 2 single portables on the North playground - 28x32' portables, each immediately to the north of the existing LASER portables, occupying 896 square feet each
  • 1  double portable on the south playground - 28 x 64 ', occupying 1,792 square feet, along  the west fence bordering 46th Avenue NE and NE 45th Street.
  • This south playground portable would take up the entire narrower southwest part of the playground, eliminating both heavily used basketball court and several four square courts.
  • Thee design shows the new location for 3 - four square courts and 2 basketball courts in the southeast corner of the playground along NE 45th Street and 47th Avenue NE, currently where large number of kids play kickball and soccer.
  • This proposal eliminates the area where a large number of children play "Fliers," soccer, kickball, foursquare  and soccer and have generally play.

The Committee is not only charged with weighing the need of Seattle Public School's request but also the impacts as set forth in the City's land use codes - impact on the neighborhood, especially those living across the street from the playgrounds who will permanently live with the four new portables if that is granted.
 City land use criteria:
1) Appropriateness in relation to character and scale of surrounding area 
2) Presence of edges (setbacks, arterials, topographic breaks) which provide transition in scale 
3) Location and design of structures to reduce appearance of bulk 
4) Impacts on traffic, parking 
5) Impacts on housing and open space

The City of Seattle website says:
The impacts of these exemptions fall disproportionately on those residents who reside or own property closest to the school.  In order to assure that the views of nearby neighbors of the school, and the surrounding community, are given weight in any City decision to allow departures from the zoning, a departure committee is formed.
The Laurelhurst Blog Staff continues to receive many emails from concerned neighbors living close to the school commenting that the additional portables:

  • changes feel of residential neighborhood
  • changes tone of neighborhood  with that type of density and  structure - metals shells with aluminum ramps  and windowless shacks
  • gives residential, cozy neighborhood an industrial feel
  • devalues neighborhood
  • significant loss of valuable open space
  • highly negative visual impact for neighbors living in close proximity to the school ,as well as, current and future students and general neighborhood having to look at the ugly structures
  • loss of open space not only for students, but for community as a whole who use the playground seven days a week
  • potential for prospective families to not choose the neighborhood to live in lowering school enrollment and ultimately school funding, as well as property values
Here is detailed factual information gathered by "Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning:"

Background -
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is requesting up to four additional portables be permanently placed on the Laurelhurst Elementary School (LES) playground.  In order to do this, the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) must grant SPS a building code exception (“departure”) allowing 45% lot coverage, an increase from current 35% max.  
Currently, Laurelhurst is at 38% lot coverage.  SPS violated DPD zoning in July 2014, by placing an additional portable that was ultimately removed.

Laurelhurst Elementary School Lot -
1. Smallest lot of all NE Seattle elementary schools at 2.7 acres.  (The average lot size of the other 11 schools in the NE cluster is 5.7 acres – more than double that of LES lot.)
2. Highest lot coverage of elementary schools in the NE cluster already, at 38%.  (The average lot coverage of the other 11 elementary schools in the NE is 21%.)
3. Lowest open space ratio already in the NE cluster, with 171 square feet of open space per child.  (The NE cluster average amount of open space, at 438 square feet, is 60% greater than at LES.)
4. Proposed lot coverage increase to 45%.  If this were to occur, all of the above LES statistics would become significantly more disproportionate to NE cluster averages.
5. Only school in NE cluster with no off-street parking spaces.  Parking lots of 23, 26, 30, 35 and 41 spaces exist at other NE schools.  One NE school has separate staff and visitor lots, with visitor lot nearly empty at 10am.
6. Only school with a huge, recently-expanded hospital within one city block, resulting in overlapping traffic, and parking congestion.
7. No additional “spaces” such as drop-off zones.  Some schools have safe, buffered drop-off areas.  LES parking and drop-off activities occur on cramped, busy streets.
8. Two existing portables on LES lot privately-owned by LASER -- not available for LES educational purposes during the day.  One of LASER-owned portables is used as a revenue-generating preschool during the day. The other LASER-owned portable has
been available (2014/15 only) to LES as a classroom, in exchange for LASER use of the LES cafeteria.

Current and Projected Enrollment Facts -
1. Current LES enrollment = Approx. 425 students.  
o 400 general education students 
o 25 NE region SM3 and Access students
2. Enrollment data at all schools must be analyzed in conjunction with program placement, as special programs use space differently than gen ed classrooms.
3. Little or no increase in attendance projected for next year.
Outdoor Activity Space- 
1. Spending time outside playing is correlated with lower stress in children (NWF research).  Outside play equates to better student behavior and better school environment.
2. Standardized test scores are higher when children spend more time outside (American Journal of Public Health).
3. Portables remove from active use, not only the area under the footprint of the new buildings, but also areas behind and between the buildings due to loss of adult supervision sightlines.
4. Significantly decreased playground space would likely result in increased injuries.

Input From School and Surrounding Community-
1. 85% of LES parent community OPPOSES the Departure request for 45% lot coverage (per 2/27/15 online poll by LES PTA to determine if the school community was in favor, opposed, or needed more information).
2. Laurelhurst PTA Board voted unanimously to OPPOSE the Departure request for 45% lot coverage (3/9/15 PTA Board vote).  
3. 360+ community members have signed a petition to OPPOSE the departure request for 45% lot coverage (petition numbers as of 3/4/15; click HERE)
4. Laurelhurst Community Club providing its support to a third-party community group that OPPOSES the Departure request for 45% lot coverage.
Here is a letter the PTA Presidents submitted to the Department of Neighborhoods yesterday:
Dear Laurelhurst Elementary Departure Committee Members: 
Thank you for serving your neighbors and community in this important task.  We are writing to share our strong opposition to Seattle Public School’s (SPS) zoning departure request and provide background information regarding this issue.  
As the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Board of Directors for Laurelhurst Elementary, we have sought to engage SPS officials on the need for this departure and their development and enrollment plans for our school over the last several months. Some requests have gone unanswered, and the primary response was that land use departures are common and capacity issues throughout the region are necessitating additional portables. 
The PTA Board has shared information about the departure process and encouraged parents to apply for the committee and attend the March 17th public meeting. We also sent a survey to the entire parent community, asking people to share their opinions on the departure request for up to four additional portables and 45% lot coverage on our school’s property.  
Of 183 respondents, 82% said no, they do not support the departure request for four more portables. The majority of comments cited our already-small lot size and the importance of preserving valuable playground space. Ten percent of respondents said yes, they supported the request, and 8% needed more information. The comments related to support for the request focused on a desire for smaller class sizes, hoping portables would allow for that. 
SPS’ request for more portables at Laurelhurst has galvanized many concerned parents and neighbors. Of the eleven Northeast elementary schools Laurelhurst currently has the smallest lot (2.7 acres versus average of 5.7 acres for the other schools) and the highest lot coverage (38% versus average of 21% for other schools). Most important, Laurelhurst has the lowest open space ratio today in the Northeast cluster, with 171 square feet of open space per child compared to 438 square feet per child averaged over the other schools.  
Preserving our limited open play space is critical. All children need to run and play to be healthier and better learners. Portables currently on site have been there for many decades. Many parents do not want to risk permanently losing additional essential playground space. 
The PTA Board of Directors unanimously supports this sentiment and is opposed to the request for 45% lot coverage and four new portables.  We believe the City of Seattle’s zoning rules regarding lot coverage exist for good reason, and we ask that thoughtful planning and consideration for preserving open space - for our student’s health and well-being, be weighed heavily before any departure is granted. 
Amy Barss and Linda Chou 
PTA Co-Presidents, on behalf of the aurelhurst Elementary PTA Board of Directors

For more information about the "Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning," contact Christi Nagle at christinagle@yahoo.com or call 529-­‐9296.
For information on the Departure process contact Steve Sheppard, with the Department of Neighborhoods, at Steve.sheppard@seattle.gov or go here.
For more detailed information about the issue go here.  And go here for information about the portable that was delivered in August then removed.
And here is a KING 5 news report on the issue.

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