City Council Rejects Request For Downzone In Lake Burien Neighborhood

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Photo of Moon over Lake Burien by Gregory Rehmke.

by Ralph Nichols

Homeowners around Lake Burien lost their request for a downzone to low density in their neighborhood on a 5-1 vote by the city council Dec. 13.

But Councilman Gordon Shaw, who voted against the proposed amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan, suggested a solution for the lakeside residents.

“If there is unanimous approval of all the folks around the lake, there is nothing the city can do to stop you from drafting an agreement to stop you and all your neighbors from subdividing your land,” Shaw said.

“That is your remedy,” he added, noting that 162 of them had signed a petition requesting the downzone to protect the water quality in 22-acre Lake Burien and adjacent wetlands.

Mayor Joan McGilton, Deputy Mayor Rose Clark, and Council members Brian Bennett and Kathy Keene also voted against the downzone.

Lucy Krakowiak cast the lone vote for the request, while Councilman Jack Block Jr. was absent.

For a second consecutive meeting, Lake Burien residents implored council members to downzone the area from medium density (lots with a minimum of 7,200 square feet) to low density (lots with at least 12,000 square feet).

There are only two areas in the city that have “the degree of wetlands that Lake Burien has,” said resident Chestine Edgar. “The best available science says critical areas should be low density” and it would be “purposeful and malicious” to ignore the scientific evidence.

And at their Dec. 6 meeting, Edgar told council members that the requested change was necessary to prevent future over-development around the lake that could threaten water quality.

In 1981, 12 years before Burien incorporated, King County zoned the Lake Burien neighborhood for development. In 1999, the city updated the zoning map to allow moderate density – but overlooked amending the text of its comprehensive plan.

The amendment voted on Dec. 13 brought the comprehensive plan text into agreement with the zoning map.

Edgar pleaded before the vote, “If you have made an error in the past … we are asking you to reconsider.”

Last week, during extensive public comment, Debi Wagner, referring to the petition, said “the people have spoken tonight … we’re all watching you and how you vote.”

Other comments, many of which were stated repeatedly, by Lake Burien residents in the two meetings included:

  • The proposed comprehensive plan amendment “has been done without an analysis of the Lake Burien wetlands.”
  • The Lake Burien area “meets all the criteria for a rezone.”
  • A downzone “will protect the lake” and “show that the Burien City Council is serious about protecting the environment.”
  • “Please be the stewards of the public trust.”

But, Greg Anderson said last week, the current map “is not a mistake” and the area “has been rezoned moderate density for at least 29 years.”

Burien Planning Commission member Jim Clingan, who voted against recommending the downzone, said at the earlier meeting that characteristics of the neighborhood “more closely match moderate density rather than low density.

“The entire lake is not a critical area,” Clingan added. “It has been zoned for development since 1981. The city should not deny those who want to subdivide their property.”

His remarks prompted Planning Commission member John Upthegrove to urge the city council “to ignore” property rights and “listen to the people” when they vote on the request.

“To discuss property rights when property rights is not part of the criteria is wrong,” Upthegrove said.

Planning commissioners deadlocked 3-3 when they voted earlier on whether to recommend the downzone to the city council.

At the Dec. 13 meeting, Sam Pace with the Seattle King County Association of Realtors, described the rezone request as “fundamentally flawed” and not in conformity with provisions of the state’s Growth Management Act.

Garrett Huffman with the Washington Master Builders Association noted that homes built today are so tightly regulated that runoff from new construction would not affect the lake’s water quality even with moderate density.

Upthegrove retorted, “When we have people from out of town telling us how to do this, that’s disgusting.”

Keene interjected that while future property rights was not one of the specified criteria for deciding the zoning question, “property rights apply to current property owners.”

McGilton, Clark and Shaw were on the Planning Commission in 1999 when the zoning map was changed. They agreed the primary critical-areas focus on the commission then was on steep slopes that are slide prone.

Last week Shaw said, “No one from the city is coming to [Lake Burien residents] forcing them to subdivide their property … to change the zoning to solve a problem that doesn’t exist is just irresponsible.”

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9 Responses to “City Council Rejects Request For Downzone In Lake Burien Neighborhood”
  1. Eaton B. Verz says:

    I like that:”Be the stewards of the public trust” . Yet the public has no access. Why don’t you say what you really mean? We are special and DO NOT want your riff raff invading OUR lake! I am surprised the council voted it down. Good for them! Smartest thing they have done in a long while!!

  2. Thom Grey says:

    Ralph Dude,
    I watched this on the TV and i think you have some of the details wrong in this story.Might want to go back and look at it. Gordon Shaw, Greg Anderson, Sam Pace and Garrett Huffman are all developers. They will build anywhere they can make a buck. According to them nothing should be protected-including eagles and wildlife. They have been haunting Burien public meetings for years like bad old ghosts who are always moaning build, build, build. This neighborhood wanted to protect the wetlands and critical areas in their neighborhood from dudes like this. Actually they wanted to protect the water quality of the lake and Miller Creek and the Sound. Wetlands and water quality are protected by state and federal law. This city is supposed to do this. This blog is always talking about saving the salmon, counting the salmon and putting salmon eggs in Miller Creek. There is no point is doing that if the city council is willing to let Lake Burien be poisoned by this toxic algae crap. All that toxic algae poison runs into Miller Creek. The toxic algae comes from pollutants from stormwater and surface runoff from streets, people’s yards and driveways. Burien has a run down old stormwater and surface water system. It can’t handle even the amount of properties that are currently built around the lake. This last storm was proof of that. Didn’t hear those developers yelling at the meeting to fix the stormwater system now, just heard them moaning on to do more building. The city can’t even peddle the Town Square housing. Duh, like no one is rushing to live in Burien. So Eaton Dude, if you ever get that park that you are like ranting about in every other blog, it would seem that you would want a park with clean water. Dude, you would probably want to go to a place where you or your dog or your kid didn’t get poisoned by the water. This city council voted against protecting the water quality and the wetlands and the critical areas and Miller Creek and the salmon and the citizens. Wake Up. Duh dude, Gordon S. is a developer. Follow the money.

    • Coverofnight says:

      Good letter, Thom. It must be very frustrating for those homeowners to work hard on maintaining the quality of their lakefront community, only to have government throw a wall of denial up in front of any good idea. But government regulation may end up working in their favor: With the expense and hassle of subdividing, along with the cost and regulations of SEPA review, the extreme cost of civil engineering regarding King County Surface Water Management. Putting in denser housing is just not cost-effective anymore; maybe in Hunts Point, but in blue-collar Burien – I don’t think so.

      Economic realities will probably keep the lake as it is for quite a few years. When things change, most residents will probably want to relocate away from the rat race that is the Puget Sound region anyway.

      Keep up the good fight!

    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      Re: Shawn, Anderson, Pace and Huffman. Right on!

      However, property owners don’t need government to stop them from subdividing their land. No one has to subdivide. We already saw the “stop me before I subdividing” in the city’s first comp plan that down zoned most of the west side.

  3. Gregory Rehmke says:

    Why stop at regulating lot size? Why not also regulate the number of people who can live in homes around Lake Burien? If the concern is impact on the environment, perhaps pets and plants should be regulated as well. Plus regulations limiting guests, parties, fireworks, and maybe ducks.

    Seriously, people know how to protect water quality, and can respond to new problems as they develop. Ecosystems are dynamic and change naturally as well as change from impacts when land use changes.

    If over time ten or twenty or one hundred more families were to have the opportunity to live on or have access to Lake Burien, there is no reason that should harm ecosystems, neighbors, or property values. But that is a decision for Lake Burien land owners to make.

    • Stephen Lamphear says:

      The biggest threat to Lake Burien is the people who live around it. Fertilizer washes into the lake causing algae explosion. Parasites abound in it nutrient rich soup. The real motivation behind the Lake Burien residents is self-sanctimonious. Exclusionary communities always mistake their self-serving motivations for the good of all. Not!

      • Thom Grey says:

        Duh Stephen Dude,
        The council you served on was one of the biggest dangers to the city-at least that’s what the citizens thought cuz’ they voted you out of office right after what you tried to do to the westside of the city. No respect for neighborhoods, zero zip.You declared a city emergency in the dead of the night when there was no emergency. Then you declared a moritorium on any citizen who might try to challenge that vote. Then you junked the Comp Plan that citizens had worked on for 4 years. Hum, dude that city council you served on seemed to most of us dude citizens to be an exclusionary community that was self serving and not willing to listen to us citizen dudes. Guess that’s why hundreds of us had to show up to meetings to stop your actions-remember your neighbors in Shorewood, Hurstwood, Seahurst, Three Tree Point and Lake Burien.
        Man, hundreds of them signed petitions to stop you. Getting old Dude, lost your memory?
        Take a course about stormwater pollution, it ain’t fertilizers from residents on the lake, it’s the lousy storm water system you didn’t work on when you were on council. It is also the same lousy system that lead to the floods a couple of weeks ago and has been causing problems for years. Opps, another senoir memory moment.

  4. Thom Grey says:

    Duh Dude,
    If people are so smart about protecting water quality, how come they float dead bodies in the Ganges River? Or how come farmers spray pesticides in rivers and streams? Or how come some people build their house so close to the water they fall in? Or how come some people crap on the shoreline or right in the water? Or how come someone always craps in the swimming pool? Or how come they let their dogs crap in the water and on the shore? Or why do we dump our toxic wastes and sewage and garbage in the oceans? Dude there is no evidence that humans are smart about water that is why most of the water on this planet is polluted. Opps, that is why we need some regulations about water!

  5. Paula says:

    What is Thom Grey on?? If he thinks he knows all the facts, and he doesn’t, when was the last time any of the 4 he mentions built, or developed (oooh) anything? Greg isn’t a developer anyway, and has no plans to. Sounds like Thom has his, and heck with anybody else. And about the 4 “evil” guys, when did they ever say they didn’t want wildlife protected? What’s one got to do with the other? Has there been long lines of people at the City wanting to sub-divide their property?….No. There is just no need for a downzone….no one is forcing anyone to divide and build.
    Thom should know the players he is trashing before he writes anything.

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