Planning Commission To Consider Changes To Comprehensive Plan For NERA

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of several articles focusing on economic development in the Highline area that will appear on The B-Town Blog in the next few weeks.

One issue that has elicited concern has to do with the city’s revisions of the current Comprehensive Plan for the Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA). We are doing our best to cover this from both sides, and we encourage our Readers to chime in with Comments below, or email us a Letter to the Editor for consideration of publication. We also encourage all concerned residents to speak up at the City Council and Planning Commission meetings, the schedule of which can be found on the city’s website here.

The following post includes concerns submitted by area activist Stuart Jenner, added to our original story by Editor Scott Schaefer; Jenner’s concerns appear in italics, indented, with a gray background:]

by Ralph Nichols

Burien Planning Commission members will review on Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m., proposed amendments that would delete from the city’s comprehensive plan outdated policies for the Northeast Redevelopment Area (NERA).

This has a few local residents up in arms, however, fearful that in doing so Burien would surrender to the Port of Seattle control of both developments in this area, north of Sea-Tac International Airport, and environmental regulations there.

Some residents say that the language being stripped out of the Comp. Plan implies that lands owned by public entities (like the Port of Seattle) do not have to be developed in a manner consistent with City regulations.

The Port owns a number of properties in NERA – which is located within the Burien city limits – where it hopes to attract businesses that will support airport activities.

Some say that this plan for redevelopment “happened when the Port approached the City of Burien’s planning staff to consider some new business working arrangements.” These same residents also “wonder what kind of businesses the Port is planning to put in their neighborhood? This is a neighborhood that has significantly suffered from the development of the Port’s Third Runway. They are wondering what the Port has in store for them next.”

But proposed changes to the comprehensive plan in what appears to be a housekeeping measure will not exempt NERA from city zoning requirements on developers who build there.

Some claim that the changes to the Comprehensive Plan appear to exempt the Port from the City’s planning, development standards, health and safety regulations, modifications, demolition and relocation of structures permits.

Several city staff said whoever buys or builds on property there will still be required to comply with all applicable zoning laws – whether the owners and developers are public or private.

Some wonder if these developers will have to comply with the vision of the City of Burien, and will the residential members of the NERA neighborhood be adequately protected without the safeguards that existed in the Comprehensive Plan.

Likewise, state law permits no exemption for the Port or any other public agency from complying with the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA).

Previously, the City of Burien was involved in the Lora Lake Apartments, which was proclaimed as a toxic waste contaminated site. Some wonder if the City will just leave that up to the Port to take care of all of the SEPA compliance. According to some citizens, the Port has not always been very good at this. These citizens are concerned for the water quality of Miller Creek, which runs through the NERA neighborhood, helps recharge the Highline aquifer, and drains into Puget Sound.

Furthermore, public agencies are prohibited by state law from using public funds to buy property or invest in uses that have no public benefit. A potential non-public use of public funds by the Port is another concern of these citizens.

The comprehensive plan policies in question are being removed simply because they “aren’t consistent with the most recent planning efforts and zoning implementation” for NERA, said Senior Planner David Johanson.

Some citizens question how zoning and planning could have been put in place before addressing the intended limits on public entities in the Comprehensive Plan. Essentially, they wonder why this did not happen in the correct order according to the City’s rules.

“We’re removing that inconsistency, based on the planning efforts which include residential uses that were done in cooperation with the Port.”

Some citizens are wondering how these new residential uses will change the character of their existing neighborhood. They thought they were going to just get some new car dealerships over on SW 152nd. But what are they really going to get with this new cooperation from the Port?

Allowable land uses in NERA were modified by the city council in November 2009 – among other things easing restrictions on the use of residential property for homeowners living there – along with related zoning changes.

However, someone apparently made these zoning changes without first checking to see if they were consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

These revisions were made over several weeks without extensive discussion and with no public controversy.

Some citizens say that they do not recall having gotten a mailed notice that this was happening. They simply don’t recall being notified about a hearing. Were there any hearings?

Since then, city staff found incompatibilities between the updated zoning regulations and older comprehensive plan requirements.

The proposed amendments are written for “compatible land use and economic diversification” in NERA, Johansen continued. “We don’t want just more retail in the city. We already have retail and residential. This is an opportunity to maybe diversify our economic base.”

What some citizens want to know is, what will this economic diversification look like and how will it impact their neighborhood? If it is not retail, light industry or the car dealers, what is it going to be? These citizens are not eager to have the NERA neighborhood become a dumping ground for businesses that no one wants, such as secured sex offender housing or adult entertainment. They already have the airport noise – what other nuisances will come with the new economic diversification? What type of image will this create for all of Burien? This is literally Burien’s front door and is even visible to people landing at the airport.

In addition to encouraging new commercial activity in the city, including airport-related businesses, more jobs for residents of Burien and the surrounding area are expected to be created.

Some citizens are asking what might this commercial and airport-related business and jobs look like and how will it benefit their neighborhood. They say their neighborhood has already “suffered the most significant damage from the Port and they have gotten very little in return from the Port.”

Des Moines is involved in a somewhat similar activity in planning with the Port for development of the Des Moines Creek Business Park south of Sea-Tac just west of Pacific Highway S.

Some citizens feel that if this process had been done in the correct sequence for a change to the Comprehensive Plan and if more city had done more public relations outreach on planning, they might have fewer questions about what is really happening here.

The policies proposed for deletion from the comprehensive plan “aren’t consistent with the most recent planning efforts and zoning implementation, and that’s why they’re being removed,” Johansen added.

Deleting these policies from the Comp Plan, the way this process was handled and the lack of public information that was available for citizens to look at are all cause for concern.

“We’re removing that inconsistency based on planning efforts done in cooperation with the Port and existing homeowners” in NERA.

These changes apply to all of Burien, not just NERA. Deleting one whole goal and nine policies from the Comprehensive Plan seems to be more than a housekeeping issue to these citizens. How much notification have all citizens been given? How much involvement was there? How much notification specifically to NERA residents and residents who live nearby NERA, including users of the nearby parks, schools, and bike and pedestrian trail nearby that will be connecting Puget Sound to Lake Washington?

Here are links to documents that are relevant to this issue (all are PDF files):

[Coming next week: A closer look at SEPA in NERA.]

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3 Responses to “Planning Commission To Consider Changes To Comprehensive Plan For NERA”
  1. Pauline says:

    Sounds like “some citizens” probably weren’t paying attention earlier and now want to entertain a conspiracy theory to explain why they weren’t aware. I periodically check the planning commission and council agendas online to see if there’s anything I should be interested in, and I don’t ignore any mail I receive from the city — I feel pretty well informed!

  2. Greg Duff says:

    Mr. Nichols
    Thank you for your article on NERA. I wish more of the media would cover what is happening in Burien so our citizens can be even better informed than what they are. I encourage everyone to attend the Planning Commission Meeting on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month. Get involved in what is happening in Burien and make it “your town.”
    Thank you
    Greg Duff
    Planning Commissioner

  3. Thom Grey says:

    Hey Ralph Dude,

    Thanks for writing this article. I thought that NERA was just going to be a wasteland or junk yard where old cars went to die or be traded in. Call me shocked when I read this and found our it was a neighborhood and that humans still lived there. Why does the city just call them NERA? It dehumanizies these dudes.Yep, they got screwed by the Port and they have a right to want some kind of protect from their city. Fairzies! Their property is worth dirt and they are dying from the noise. This looks like some kinda fanny tap dance that Burien is putting the neighborhood through to give the Port what it wants? But for what benefit to these poor suckers? Why the heck are the planning dudes in the city so eager to give all this power in our city to the Port? And why the heck wasn’t this done in the right order? Dudes, am I reading what happened here right? Was that like legal? What $ benefit are the Burien citizens going to get from this-like me? Am i going to get lower taxes or a swimming pool from the Port for this give away? Or just Dirty water in Miller Creek and Puget Sound? Or what other kinda creepy stuff? Dudes, I can’t figure our who’s making the $ on this?

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