Long dispute over Westmark’s ‘Emerald Pointe’ ends with agreement
by Jack Mayne
After 23 years of battling between Neighbors of Seahurst Park and Westmark Development Corp., the two sides reached an agreement Friday, Sept. 13, that frees the developer to use its clearing permit and to seek other needed permits and financing to begin construction of the project at 136th and Ambaum.
The agreement was signed and approved on Sept. 13 by Hearing Examiner Theodore Paul Hunter of the Sound Law Center. The hearing examiner was appointed and paid for by the city.
The long-running battle started before the area became incorporated into Burien, and was in and out of courts and public hearings much of the intervening two-plus decades. In 2005, Burien was assessed $10.5 million in damages Burien officials in the 1990s illegally dragged out negotiations with Westmark over possible environmental impacts and building permits.
In a news release Sept. 16 from Janis Freudenthal, longtime volunteer for Neighbors of Seahurst Park, the group said the settlement agreement “ends the long-time contention over Emerald Pointe.”
Freudenthal said “planning for the Emerald Pointe was started over 23 years ago but had not been able to move forward because of legal issues over the potential environmental impacts to the steep slopes, wetlands, and Seahurst Park.”
“The agreement is not perfect,” said Julie Ainsworth-Taylor, attorney for Neighbors of Seahurst Park, but “it would help to protect the park which is Neighbors of Seahurst Park’s ultimate goal.”
Agreed changes of plans
The agreement was reached on the basis that the development would scale down and change its footprint on the environmentally sensitive property.
The actual wording of the settlement agreement remains private between Westmark and the neighborhood group but the group’s attorney and the press release spells out that, in general, Westmark agrees to changes in the latest revision to the Emerald Pointe project:
- Eliminating two proposed apartment buildings and an outdoor swimming pool, plus moving a clubhouse with an indoor pool “easterly and to a more central location and at a higher elevation on the site.”
- Reducing building site coverage by 30 percent and reducing by 10 percent the areas with impervious surfaces.
- Retaining “more significant trees on Westmark’s property near the wetlands.” The plans approved originally by Burien “retained only eight significant trees (26 inches in diameter at breast height).” The new agreement keeps 40 trees, mostly located on the southwest corner of the project at the border of the park near the wetlands. “Undisturbed area is increased by about 15 percent or 1.26 acres,” said the Neighbors of Seahurst Park.
- Increasing a protective buffer to approximately 108 feet from the wetland. It was 50 feet with a 15-foot building setback, or a total of 65 feet. That buffer will be “enhanced with native wetland species and cleared of non-native species by hand under the direction of a qualified wetlands scientist or botanist.”
- Planting of native species so that the “site will primarily be replanted with native species. Ornamental species will only be allowed near the buildings.” There will be monitoring for five years to ensure plant survival.
- Installing rain gardens to reduce storm water runoff from the roofs into the wetland rather than the normal storm water system of dispersal trenches that can be used on the rest of the surfaces on site.
- Developing trails on the property. The neighbors say that “to lessen disturbance to the wetlands,” Westmark agreed to move a proposed trail “further east into the new, bigger wetland buffer” and post interpretive signs along the new trail. The developer is to grant a permanent easement back to Burien’s Seahurst Park for the trail with hiker access “guaranteed into perpetuity. Westmark will install a bench near the trail for hikers to rest and enjoy the beauty of Seahurst Park.”
- Improving the original storm water system by putting it under one of the parking areas, and using a “new improved dispersal spreader design.”
In 2010, the Burien City Council approved a negotiated insurance settlement of the 2005 case where Burien was assessed $10.5 million in damages. After the state Court of Appeals upheld the judgment against the city, plus interest and other expenses. The city got an agreement with the Washington Cities Insurance Authority (WCIA) to resolve the matter.
At the time, The B-Town Blog quoted City Attorney Craig Knutson as saying the agreement holds Burien harmless (read that story here).
“The agreement with the WCIA resolves insurance coverage issues so the city will not incur any financial liability on what has been incurred to date or will be incurred in the future,” Knutson was quoted as saying at the time. Then-City Manager Mike Martin was quoted as saying, “In essence the city has come out unscathed after all these years. This is significant because (the liability) has had such immense financial consequences that it clouded our ability to plan for the future.”
But the issue of the development mushroomed into the news again in April 2013, when the city issued a clearing permit which “imposed mitigation measures and conditions to avoid potential, significant adverse environmental impacts of the project.
Immediately, the Neighbors of Seahurst Park filed an appeal of the permit and a public hearing was held on July 8, and recessed on July 9.
The hearing officer’s decision says that just before the hearing was concluded, “Westmark’s planning expert, Robert W. Thorpe, testified that in light of various concerns being raised, Westmark was evaluating a new, alternative site plan that would future mitigate potential environmental impacts.”
The recessed hearing allowed “the parties sufficient time to consider the new alternative and resolve their differences prior to entry of a decision by the City Hearing Examiner.”
That time out resulted in the agreement approved Sept. 13.
Park is ‘crown jewel’
The Neighbors say Seahurst Park is the “crown jewel” of Burien’s park system and “We appreciate the greatly undisturbed ecosystem within its boarders, the forest, wetlands, streams, fish, park trails and sparkling beach. What happens to Seahurst Park is important to the ecological health of Puget Sound and entire region.”
There could not have been an agreement “without the support and contributions of countless Burien citizens committed to protecting Seahurst Park. Thanks to everyone for being engaged and involved with our mission and your community.”